The Equalizer II / EQ2

Let’s face it, the review for this is simple. Denzel is at his stone cold best killing people who deserve to die. If you want that, here it is.  That’s it.

OK, as much as I want to leave it with the above couple of sentences, there really is more to the movie and it is worth talking about. If all you are looking for is a recommendation, see above. Mr. Washington is back as former government operative Robert McCall. He is a man with deadly skills who is putting them to use in the most productive ways he can think of. The 2014 film was something of an origin story, if like this film, you can see this character as a superhero. In my original review of that film, I suggested that this is an inversion of a horror story, but I think the superhero metaphor is apt if a little too on the nose.

There are several episodic sections of the film where we get a chance to see the hero/monster McCall in action. He rescues a stolen child, avenges an abused woman and draws a line for a local drug network. We also see him engaging with people on a superficial but empathetic level. The TV show used classified ads in a newspaper to find people who needed help. At the end of the last film, it sounded like we were going to connect with the downtrodden on line. Those approaches disappear in this film. Mr. McCall is working as a Lyft driver and he seems to happen onto the people who need help. Maybe it is an interesting twist, maybe it sheds the string that held the tv series together, neither matters. What happens in this story is a trip to the past for the character. The one friend that he kept from his time as a government asset, gets involved in s plot which we never quite know anything about, and trouble ensues.

Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo return as the one set of friends Mac has, and they are knee deep in some kind of nefarious activity that is not authorized by the agency but does turn out to have some connections. Pedro Pascal is introduced as Robert’s former partner, who provides some assistance in investigating the events that turn McCall loose. No other characters from the first film return but there is another mentor relationship in the film that gives Denzel a chance to be the kind of father he wasn’t in “Fences”. Two or three other people are going to benefit from his largess as well. So like Robin Hood, McCall is taking from some to give to others. It is not profitable, but it seems to sooth his guilty soul from time to time.

Duplicity is inherent in films like this. The one thing that makes the betrayal in this story tolerable is that we get a chance to see a bit of the life of the betrayer. Another film would ignore this aspect of a story, or try to turn it into a subplot in some way. Here it is presented as a casual piece of character development that makes you wish even more that the reality of the backstabbing were not true.  Usually, all we get is the bad guy’s rationalization for his or her actions. The unique part of this story is the mundane way of life the villain seems to lead. You might even feel sorry for the character as you empathize with those who will be hurt by what has to happen. Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk have added a bit of character to the film that makes it step up from the shoot’em up that this really is.

Sometimes the plot is murky. There are characters that get taken out pretty quickly, and maybe before we really get a sense of what is going on. It may not matter that we don’t quite understand how the dominoes started falling in the plot mechanism, but it felt noticeable to me.  It doesn’t really matter however because plenty of people die at Denzel’s hands and he knows how to convey cold-hearted justice. He is smart, brutal and efficient, just like this movie.

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Skyscraper

Do you all remember when action films were being described as a variation of “Die Hard”? You know, “Speed is “Die Hard” on a bus, and “Under Siege” is “Die Hard” on a boat, or the ultimate variation, “Die Hard” on Air Force One. Well it would be redundant to describe this as “Die Hard” in a building, that’s what “Die Hard” was all by itself. Instead, lets call this “Die Hard” in the “Towering Inferno” because that is a lot more specific. Don’t think that the film makers didn’t realize what they were doing either, because they clearly intended us to call back to those other films.

So do you see any resemblance in the marketing of these films?  The key art folks who created the posters certainly did.

This is a bone rattling, eye popping, eardrum shattering popcorn film that should meet the needs of all the adrenaline junkies looking for their next fix.   It is a well put together piece of nonsense that doesn’t have to make any sense, it just has to fulfill the expectations for this genre of film. In case you are wondering, here is a partial list of tropes that make this sort of film a “Die Hard” experience:

1. Right Man in the Wrong Place

2. A Family endangered

3. A Violent Crime occurring during the disaster

4. A Loathsome Villain

5. Duplicitous Character

6. Skeptical Police

7. Over the Top Action Sequences

8. A satisfying comeuppance for the bad guys

9. Faith Restored in the Hero

When you have Dwayne Johnson in your film, you are pretty certain to have the right man. “The Rock” as he continues to be referred to, delivers the charisma in big chunks and he gets to be a better actor with each film he makes. When that brief cameo of Arnold showed up in “The Rundown”, it really did serve as a passing of the torch to a new generation of action hero. The Rock has lived up to his part of the bargain, choosing roles that fit him for the most part, with occasional comedy misfires like “Baywatch“. I’ve not yet seen this years “Rampage”, with the giant animals, but I suspect it fits into the same category as this.

The endangered family include Neve Campbell. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything since “Scream 4”, although I’m sure she works regularly somewhere. I thought she was a nice fit as Johnson’s wife, a Doctor with a military background. She doesn’t have to do too much that would require her background include SEAL training, for the most part she is a competent mother. caring for her kids in a desperate situation. The kids have a little personality but they are not an annoying focal point as you see too often in these film,s.

The fire in the building is created as a way to get access to a macguffin, which turns out to be a flash drive with important information on it [It doesn’t matter so don’t worry what it is].  The building itself is described more than it is shown in the lead up to the events that form the spine of the story. We get enough to be impressed with the imagination and engineering, but it might have been more interesting to get a tour of more of the building before disaster arrives.

The bad guy is less satisfying than he ought to be. That is not the fault of the actor Roland Moller. He has one scene where he can inject a little bit of performance, but mostly he has to snarl through the film. There is not any trading of quips as if he is Hans Gruber, he is just another Germanic thug with an agenda. We also get two characters who are not what they seem. You will not have any trouble spotting them early on. The telltale hesitations and the insistent advise they provide gives away their secret agenda to the audience without much work on our part.

The cops in this Asian city are like cops in NY or LA. They are quick to make assumptions, and late to the party. They also require the assistance of both the hero and his spouse.

There are plenty of action scenes in the movie, including a solid fight sequence and some car chases. The criminals shoot everyone, so obviously there is violence but the amount of blood is sparse. What is not hard to come by in this movie is fire. Johnson has so many scenes running through, jumping over and being chased by fire and explosions, that he is lucky he did not singe his beard to go with the shaved head. The highlight is of course the leap from a crane, into the burning title character. While it is visually spectacular, they over do some of the fingertip moments so that they lose a little tension sometimes.

We of course are spoiler free on this site, so I won’t do anything with the resolution except say that it is not a surprise, and it minimally meets our wants for this kind of film. This movie will probably not end up a go to film for anyone, but it won’t be something you turn off if you run across it on your TV or cable channel. As for streaming, it’s had to say what demand there will be for it, but if you are a fan of “The Rock”, it will sit nicely between “San Andreas” and any of the “Fast and Furious” movies.