Friday, July 20

The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2

Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, and Melissa Leo

The avenging hero is a classic cinematic archetype that has been represented as a lone samurai, a silent gunslinger, and a vigilante law enforcer; it’s a character that functions to offer that satisfactory pleasure of watching terrible people find their comeuppance with violent, brutal actions. These kind of heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and watching them in all their different formats can be either a tedious lesson in gratuitous violence or an intriguing insight into the composition of human behavior and emotion. The film catalog of director Antoine Fuqua is spotted with these characters, Mr. Fuqua even offered his version of the classic vigilante posse film with the remake of the seminal western “The Magnificent Seven”.

Denzel Washington returns for his fourth outing with Fuqua with “The Equalizer  2”, the follow-up about a justice seeking loner who can disassemble an entire room of bad guys while keeping track of time on his wrist watch. “The Equalizer” was a film that worked mostly because of its simplistic approach to the story and because it was fronted by the talent of Denzel Washington who can make any movie better. “The Equalizer 2” offers another dedicated performance but struggles with making a story worth returning for.

Robert “Mac” McCall (Denzel Washington) has transitioned to another town, taking up occupation as a Lyft driver. On the daily Mac transports people around the city, hearing different happy moments of their lives but also encountering some pretty terrible people along the way, most of these encounters don’t end well for the terrible people. Mac helps the people in his apartment complex, specifically a young man named Miles (Ashton Sanders) who is being coerced into joining the local gang. Tragedy strikes as Mac’s old friend is killed, leading him to track down the killers responsible.

 Vigilante films are structured fairly similarly, however it’s not so much the story that makes these films interesting but rather the character that moves the film into intriguing territory. Characters like Mac in this film, The Bride from “Kill Bill”, Jack Carter from “Get Carter”, Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”, or Sanjuro from “Yojimbo” are all different kinds of justice seekers, each with different moral compasses. Denzel Washington composes this character here with a rigid structure, the character is a man with a code and it’s that design that makes him interesting to a large point. 

The narrative with “The Equalizer 2” overstuffs the storylines, adding side stories that range from interesting to unnecessary. The story with a young artist named Miles offers the best moments and insight into Mac’s rigorous code. Still, the narrative seems to be trying for too much; this hurts the pacing of the film in spots, leaving it hindered with dull moments. There are still some very interesting moments throughout the film, specifically the relationship with Mac and Miles and of course when the avenger is left to bring havoc to the bad guys.

There are few unnecessary technical flares incorporated into the film; an annoying first person video game perspective takes all the suspense out of a late scene and the atmospheric overload of wind and rain in the final battle makes it hard to distinguish what is going on. 

“The Equalizer 2” doesn’t always work in creating the kind of story that will compliment an interesting character like the one here. Denzel Washington is consistently engaging in the role; when given the opportunity to function as purely an adrenaline fueled action film with, the film eventual comes to life. 

Monte’s Rating 

3.00 out of 5.00

Friday, July 13

Skyscraper Review


Dir: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Roland Moller, and Chin Han

Take the barebones plot of “Die Hard”, now add fire to the building like “The Towering Inferno”, and lastly let Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fight some bad guys. The elevator pitch for director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “Skyscraper” probably went something like that. And for a summer popcorn movie I’m sure that was more than enough information to greenlight this 80’s-esque action throwback. Having Dwayne Johnson as the foundation for a behemoth building-on-fire film is a pretty good way to guarantee that even though your film might check every single genre cliché, it will still have charm and entertainment value.

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a retired FBI hostage rescue agent, also retired soldier, who is doing building security contract work in Hong Kong. However, this isn’t just a regular building, this is the tallest building in the world. It is Will’s job to make sure it is also the safest building in the world. Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) are the only people living inside the luxury rooms located high up in the skyscraper. While checking an offsite facility, where the sophisticated building operations system is located, the building is suddenly set on fire and blamed on Will who soon finds out his family is still in the building and he is the only one who can save them.

During one of the pivotal action scenes, the moment in the movie when our everyday hero moves from ordinary to extraordinary, Mr. Johnson’s character utters the line, “This is stupid”. The same may be uttered by some audience members during the movie as well. However, taking a look at the movie poster, which shows Dwayne Johnson jumping from construction equipment into a burning building, it’s obvious the kind of movie you are paying for. It’s a nonsensical, physics defying popcorn film in the vein of the movies teens from the 1980’s fondly recount. 

The story is simplistic and idiotic at times, however the composition of Will Sawyer as a determined tough guy who, after an accident, must deal with having a prosthetic limb adds some nice moments of suspense. And it also limits the physicality of the character and specifically, for someone with an intimidating physique like Dwayne Johnson, it seems to give the bad guys an advantage during combat scenes and it makes the high-flying action scenes have increased suspense. Yes, we know nothing is going to happen to the character, that’s not how these kinds of films work; but when fire is blazing, when the ground seems miles away, or when our hero is dangling from a building by his prosthetic leg (as seen in the trailer), it’s intriguing to see how the character will escape his predicament. 

Dwayne Johnson fits perfectly into the mix as the good guy out to save his family. Think about the Bruce Willis’ character John McClane in “Die Hard”, an everyday officer trying to save his wife, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character John Matrix in “Commando”, a masculine soldier trying to save his daughter; Dwayne Johnson’s character here is a mix of both of them and he is completely likable in the performance. Add Neve Campbell, who could easily transition her career with this type of tough character, and the character development nicely accompanies, and many times carries, the hampered script.

“Skyscraper” is a good action film, if you can overlook the fact that coherency will play no prime directive in the film. Still, Dwayne Johnson is a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger and has more charm than Sylvester Stallone. If he could only get that Jean-Claude Van Damme roundhouse kick, Johnson would have it all.

Monte’s Rating 

2.75 out of 5.00

Monday, July 9

Ant-Man and The Wasp Review

Ant-Man and The Wasp

Dir: Peyton Reed

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas

With the stakes operating on the highest level, Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” ended a ten-year superhero saga convergence on a serious final note. Marvel assumingly understood that fans would be seeking some levity after the tragic “Infinity War”, so they brought back the dependable super shrinking everyman, packed on a few more lighthearted laughs, and added a new winged partner to help with the heavy lifting with “Ant-Man and The Wasp”.

Ant-Man, also known in civilian clothes as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has had a fairly tumultuous run since putting on the super-shrinking and, as we found out in “Captain America: Civil War”, super-sizing suit. Scott got out of prison, stole a super suit from a scientist, almost died, helped The Avengers, became a wanted man, and at the beginning of this film is on house arrest. One thing is better for Scott however, his relationship with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) is strong and he is on speaking terms with his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer). Having only a few more days until his release from house arrest, Scott is forced into helping some old associates, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who are conducting an experiment to help a loved one.

Ant-Man doesn't fit the mold of his superhero constituents; he is a former thief who wasn’t a soldier, wasn’t a scientist, or wasn’t born with secret powers. This makes the journey with Scott a little more difficult simply because of his normalcy. Having a charismatic comic actor like Paul Rudd helps the journey; Mr. Rudd displayed in the first “Ant-Man” film that he could handle the burden of introducing a new superhero character into the Marvel universe with the same cool and calm demeanor that he has brought to most of his roles. The same quality is present here; whether in the middle of the battle on busy San Francisco streets or drumming to tunes on his electronic drum set in his house, Mr. Rudd remains as goofy and carefree with or without the costume. 

Director Peyton Reed returns as well, seemingly less restrained than his first outing. But maintaining a sequel with the momentum to keep up with ever-evolving Marvel universe can be a task. While “Ant-Man” was a surprisingly pleasant introduction, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does something very important in making this sequel hold its own ground, it adds The Wasp. Evangeline Lilly is a fun addition to the superhero fold, but more importantly she is a great counter to Ant-Man. Ms. Lilly establishes a nice chemistry with Mr. Rudd, her character is the authority and expertise to Ant-Man’s more amateur proclivities.

What’s missing here is a better adversary, it’s hard to recognize what devious or sinister purpose the bad guys are serving towards the narrative throughout this film. Walton Goggins plays an entertaining gangster and Hannah John-Kamen has a breakout role playing a morphing character in a cool costume named Ghost but neither provide much consequence in the end. These confrontations, which should challenge the good guys in some way, are played more for spectacle than suspense. Still, the narrative is nicely interwoven with themes of family and the sacrifice one makes for them. Add the scene stealing moments from supporting actors like Michael Pena, Michael Douglas, and Judy Greer and the film shines in moments.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” functions with nice amounts of heart and humor, the heroics aren’t as flashy as other comic book movies but there are still some really amusing sequences that play on the big and little abilities of the heroes. For a summer superhero film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a better than average sequel.

Monte’s Rating

3.75 out of 5.00