The Equalizer 2 (2018)

2020 #25
Antoine Fuqua | 116 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English, Turkish & French | 15 / R

The Equalizer 2

Now we’re equalised, bitch.

Sadly, that is not a line Denzel actually says in this movie. The film would be about 50% better if he did. Instead, what we get is an action-thriller where both the action and thrills are, literally, few and far between.

For those who skipped the first film, Denzel is playing Robert McCall, a former Marine and intelligence agent who retired to a life of inconspicuous normality, but has been tempted back into righting some of the wrongs of the world — or “equalizing” them, I guess. This time, an array of subplots eventually gives way to a story in which McCall sets out to avenge the murder of a friend.

I mention the subplots there because they’re the film’s biggest problem. As a result of them, it’s… so… slow… To start with, the subplots are a couple of small ‘cases’ introduced in the first half-hour, presumably to try to liven the film up because the main storyline is crawling along. Neither works. I’m not here for a pleasant drama about a Lyft driver who does kindly things for others — I want to see Denzel Washington kicking the asses of nasty buggers. The first film was noteworthy for investing more time in its supporting characters than is typical for the action-thriller genre, but this one takes that notion to extremes.

Even when the main plot does get moving, it takes over an hour to get to a ‘twist’ that’s obvious just from reading the cast list. At least it doesn’t try to save it for the end, I guess. That reveal leads to a wannabe-Taken-phone-speech declaration from Denzel, which should’ve come a lot earlier. It’s not as memorable as the Taken one (though the final line lands), but at least it’s a moment of drama and the film perks up after it — but by then we’re well over an hour in to a less-than-two-hours movie.

A rare moment of almost-action

From there it’s a short hop, skip and jump to a climax set amidst a horrendous storm in an abandoned seaside town. It’s a nice concept and it’s solidly executed, but it’s an at-most 20-minute sequence and it’s not exceptional, just a lot more engaging than the film’s other 100 minutes, so it doesn’t really justify sitting through the rest of the movie. However, I did not realise that flour could be explosive, but turns out it can, so in that sense at least this was educational for me.

(FYI, the film was cut in the UK to get a 15 certificate, removing some of the more extreme gore (insides hanging out, a spine being severed, etc). The 4K Blu-ray release is uncut and rated 18 (presumably so they could just port the disc rather than having to faff with edits/a new transfer). On Netflix it has an 18 icon, so I guess it’s also the uncut version, should that concern you either way.)

The Equalizer 2 isn’t a terrible film, but it is quite a boring one. Not just slow paced — genuinely boring. A raft of subplots don’t really go anywhere or serve any purpose, the main story is incredibly thin, and the limited action sequences do little to balance the books.

2 out of 5

The Equalizer 2 is available on Netflix in the UK from today.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

2017 #57
Antoine Fuqua | 133 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Magnificent Seven

Despite sharing a title and setting, this second Western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is almost as different from The Magnificent Seven (1960 version) as that was from the original. Maybe that’s over-egging the point, but The Magnificent Seven (2016 version) is certainly not just a straight-up do-over of the popular Western classic.

The broad sweep of the plot is the same: a small town is being terrorised by a local big-man and his gang, so they hire a septet of down-on-their-luck warriors to defend them. Here, said town has been relocated to America (from Mexico in the ‘original’), and the characterisations of the seven gunslingers have been struck afresh rather than recreated, albeit with some near-unavoidable similarities to the previous seven.

What you want to see in the film affects whether these changes are sizeable or not. As I said, the basic shape of the plot remains untouched, with the defenders recruited one by one, training up the townsfolk, and then engaging in a lengthy climactic battle when the bad guys return to town. So at a story level it works as well as this tale ever has, with the same pros and cons for its characters: with so many principals some get shortchanged on screen time, but they’re a mostly likeable bunch. In the lead roles, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke are decent modern stand-ins for Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Robert Vaughn (respectively, more or less), though of course that varies depending on your personal like or otherwise for the actors in question.

The magnificent action

Looking to the combat, the film is again similar but modernised. The action scenes are slick, well choreographed and littered with dead bodies and big explosions, rather than the slightly off-the-cuff style of older action films. Framing it as a few-against-many last-stand skirmish, the film constructs the finale as a battle with strategies and tactics, ebb and flow, rather than an everybody-run-at-everybody-else free-for-all. That seems to be the way movies are going with their depiction of large-scale conflict, and I think that’s a good thing.

Where the remake’s changes have most impact is if you want to consider the film politically. The town in need of defending has been switched from a Mexican village to an American outpost, a symbol of good honest hard-working folk trying to establish a life for themselves. The villains terrorising them have been switched from a Mexican criminal gang to a power-hungry businessman, with a group of heavies and the local sheriff in his pocket. The seven encompass a greater deal of racial diversity: a black leader, a Mexican fugitive, an Asian knife-thrower, a Native American archer… The other three are white guys, but that doesn’t negate the point. In our modern political climate — particularly in the US — there’s a lot of different stuff to unpack there.

The diverse seven

I’m not sure the issues in question really need spelling out, so I’m slightly more curious how much of it was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, and how much an incidental side effect of changes they made just to differentiate the film from the 1960 version. Frankly, I don’t think the movie is interested in making any big political points — you can’t reasonably deny those readings are there, but it’s all subtext (whether intentional or, I think more probably, accidental) to be analysed by those who are interested. I think director Antoine Fuqua and co were more concerned with creating an entertaining action movie than a political tract, and I think they’ve achieved that.

Judged as such, The Magnificent Seven probably isn’t at the forefront of its form, but it’s mostly a rollicking good time. And, as if to cement what I was writing recently about my preferences generally erring towards modern cinema, I actually enjoyed it more than the 1960 one.

4 out of 5

The Magnificent Seven is available on Netflix UK from today.

The Equalizer (2014)

2016 #37
Antoine Fuqua | 127 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English, Russian & Spanish | 15 / R

Back in the ’80s, everyone’s favourite actor whose name is also the punchline to a joke (“what do you call a man with three planks on his head?”), Edward Woodward, starred in a US TV drama about a former secret agent who uses those skills to exact vigilante justice for innocents who can’t help themselves. I’ve never seen it, but I guess it was popular back in the day because, 25 years after it ended, it was rebooted on the big screen. Or maybe they’ve just run out of popular stuff and are now rebooting anything and everything they can get their hands on. Either way, it’s a decent enough IP to fashion into a contemporary action-thriller, and indeed director Antoine Fuqua has made a decent-enough contemporary action-thriller.

In this iteration, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is, by day, a mild-mannered member of staff at whatever the US equivalent of B&Q is; but by night, memories of his former life as some kind of special agent keep him awake, so he hangs out at a diner where he regularly bumps into working girl Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). After she’s hospitalised by a client, McCall feels he can’t sit on the sidelines anymore, and applies his Very Special Skills to her pimps — just to, you know, equalise things. Unfortunately, turns out those pimps were Russian gangsters, and now McCall has a bigger fight on his hands…

The Equalizer is a decently-made, well-performed, pretty entertaining action-thriller for fans of the genre. There’s nothing fundamental to complain about if you take it for what it is, and anyone who enjoys inventive deaths will be tickled by some sequences. Otherwise, it lacks originality, remixing familiar tropes and plot points into a passably-new shape.

Viewers who as a rule don’t enjoy this kind of movie will find nothing remarkable. Equally, fans of the genre will be perfectly entertained for a couple of hours.

3 out of 5

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

2015 #55
Antoine Fuqua | 107 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Olympus Has FallenThe first of Summer 2013’s “Die Hard in the White House” movies, Olympus Has Fallen casts Gerard Butler as the top Secret Service agent who’s also super chummy with President Aaron Eckhart and his kid (Finley Jacobsen). However, after Something Goes Wrong™, Butler is moved to a desk job… but then, when the White House is attacked by terrorists, he’s the only good guy left standing inside. You know the rest, even if you haven’t seen White House Down.

The remarkable thing, watching both movies, is just how many plot beats are so similar. Even when they’re not exactly the same, they’re functionally identical. For example, a plane shoots up Washington merely as a distraction to get the President sent to the White House’s bunker; in White House Down, an explosion at the Capitol is staged merely as a distraction to get the President sent to the White House’s bunker. Both films feature a kid sneaking around the building; a former-Secret-Service traitor-in-their-midst; major characters, including the Speaker of the House, managing the crisis remotely… At least the villains are different: White House Down was based on the Middle East conflict, the villains being Americans wanting it to continue; Olympus Has Fallen is based on the Korean conflict, with nasty foreign villains. Maybe that’s why America liked this better: foreign bogeymen rather than unpatriotic Americans. To be frank, the latter is more interesting.

The real problem with Olympus Has Fallen is that it’s just as daftly OTT as White House Down, but with none of the self-awareness. There are slow-motion shots of characters screaming “no” as someone dies; bullet-torn American flags are tossed to the ground… It’s just as clichéd, but without the knowing wink that makes the other one fun. Foreign bogeymenIn fact, it takes itself very seriously indeed — Fuqua even puts characters’ names and jobs up on screen, as well as timecodes and locations, as if it’s a dramatisation of a real event. Obviously we all know it isn’t, making it feel incredibly odd. The CGI is just as bad as White House Down’s, though the exterior White House stuff looks more real than the obviously-greenscreen locales of the other film. Strikingly, this cost less than half as much ($70m vs. $150m).

On the bright side, the battle on the White House lawn is a good sequence. It’s played as straight as the rest of the film, but on this occasion it works. That said, it’s still just a big shoot-out, of which equally-strong examples can be found in many other action films. White House Down may come up a little short in the exceptionally-memorable sequences stakes too, but at least things like the car chase around the White House lawn — complete with the President firing a rocket launcher! — are trying a bit harder to be original.

Most of the time, the po-faced-ness would render this no more than an adequate and semi-forgettable actioner. By direct comparison to White House Down and all its irreverent fun, This. Is. AMERICA!however, Olympus Has Fallen looks like a far lesser movie. It’s a shame it made it out of the gate first, and that some viewers are not blessed with enough of a sense of humour, because their comparative success has left some quarters with the impression this is the better movie and White House Down is just a clone. Hopefully that’s a wrong we can eventually right.

3 out of 5

Sequel London Has Fallen is out in October.