Denzel Washington dishes out the punishment in style while a Streep-less musical makes do with a sublime supporting cast.
We’d watch Denzel Washington give a dramatic reading of a Doritos label.
The two-time Oscar winner is that good, and he hasn’t lost a step in his sixth decade. So it’s a pleasure seeing him revisit a character for the first time in “The Equalizer 2.” Only you need a heaping helping of patience to go along with the experience.
Once the story kicks in (phew!) this sequel actually trumps the 2014 original.
We reunite with Washington’s Robert McCall doing what he does best. He targets a wicked soul for a course correction aboard a moving train. That’s putting his handiwork mildly. Limbs snap. Bones splinter. And, when the dust settles, an innocent gets a second chance.
The bad guys? If they can limp away in one piece they’ll be lucky.
From there we see what Robert has been doing since the first film. He’s helping lost souls one car ride at a time via Lyft (along with copious product placement messaging). The retired soldier is still connected to an old CIA chum (Melissa Leo) and her spouse (Bill Pullman).
Vigilante films typically spell trouble for those closest to our antiheroes, though. Now, Robert has a new score to settle along with a big, fat target on his back.
“He’s here to help people. He’s not just out to get bad guys.”
— Cineplex (@CineplexMovies) July 18, 2018
That plot summary ignores the oh, so slow build up to the plot reveal. We see a brutal assassination, watch Robert thumb through a few books and meet a neighbor, Miles (Ashton Sanders), in dire need of a male role model.
The revenge tale is coming, of course, but the first 30 minutes could use more texture. “The Equalizer 2” is so casual it’s like it’s dressed in a shawl and ready for a nap. Still, Washington is here to guide our path, and that’s just enough to keep us from nervously checking our watches.
Director Antoine Fuqua, working with the star for the fourth time, has a keen eye for danger and deliberation. One terrific sequence finds young Miles (Sanders) hiding out while home intruders scour Robert’s abode.
Another shows how Robert can defend himself in almost any setting. Take that, Jason Bourne.
The sequel laps its predecessor by offering an original finale and less “Hostel”-like brutality. The latter seemed odd coming from a Washington joint. The actor is a man of faith and not easily swayed by genre trappings.
Here, the bone crushing is unapologetic, but the nastiness is dialed down a few notches. Once again, we’re in vigilante territory, but not a single media hand will be wrung as a result. That’s a story for another think piece.
Washington takes pride in giving his character tics above and beyond your standard vigilante. Robert grapples with OCD and lives a monk-like existence. He’s tender to a fault with neighbors and eager to help a lonely old man (Orson Bean) with flickering memories of his family.
Robert’s bond with Miles, a budding artist, is a thing of beauty bearing a message more young Americans should hear.
FAST FACT: Denzel Washington credits Boys & Girls Clubs of America mentor Billy Thomas for helping him achieve his goals as a young man.
There’s still a nagging problem with the fledgling franchise. Robert McCall is a killing machine, one so well oiled the baddies rarely stand a chance. Life isn’t fair, but the odds are almost always in Robert’s favor when push comes to shove. That puts a big, ol’ dent in the sequel’s ability to draw us in.
It’s equally odd to set the story in Boston and leave out any Beantown characters or flourishes. Otherwise, a third “Equalizer” outing is more than welcome.
HiT or Miss: ‘The Equalizer 2″ lacks the vigor of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, but its humble hero is different enough to make us care.
MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN
Turns out the ABBA song book isn’t as thick as suspected.
There’s no denying the greatness of the band’s chart toppers. They’re not hipster great or ironically cool. Songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” are pop gems of the first order.
And most of those tracks were used during the 2008 hit “Mamma Mia!”
Where does that leave the sequel? For starters, we’re stuck with tracks like, “When I Kissed the Teacher” which go in one ear and out the other without leaving a sonic trail. Have no fear. The minds behind this mini-franchise bring back the band’s best before the end credits roll.
What a shame that the suits have one big surprise in store for us by the film’s conclusion.
The sequel opens on a somber note not easily shaken. The luminous Donna (Meryl Streep) has passed, and daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is determined to re-open the family hotel in her honor.
She’s got plenty of help, though. Pierce Brosnan returns as one of her three fathers (If you have to ask you clearly dodged the first film). A Jack of all trades (Andy Garcia) is on hand to make the opening magical and buckle the knees of Donna’s old chums (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters).
Only there’s trouble afoot from all sides. The weather promises to turn the re-opening into full-scale disaster. Sophie’s beau (Dominic Cooper) is flirting with a job thousands of miles away.
Meanwhile, we meet the young Donna (Lily James, luminous) as she falls for the three men who would later embrace Sophie as their daughter.
Had enough yet?
There’s more, more more including mediocre dance numbers and an appearance by a singing legend. Only Cher’s arrival throws the film’s chemistry out of whack. And it’s not thanks to her Lady Gaga on steroids blond wig.
There’s already enough kitsch in this series, thank you. We don’t need another wink-wink element interrupting the fun.
The cast saves plenty of lackluster moments, including hokey homages to “Titanic” and several limp sight gags. Half the jokes are so corny a borscht belt comic might howl in protest. The rest? Easy layup laughs you’d find on a laugh track sitcom.
None of the dancing measures up to the movie musicals of yore. There’s no standout hoofer here, although the sequel wisely keeps Brosnan’s singing duties to a minimum.
The flashback storyline is cute but toothless. It’s hard to care about any of the three romances when they come in rapid succession. It doesn’t help that each is more bland than the next.
Yawn times three.
It’s hard to gripe too much about “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” on the surface. It’s inoffensive and occasionally buoyant courtesy of those ageless ABBA tracks. Still, a dash of discipline and more Meryl (the three time Oscar winner is reduced to a cameo…) could have made this sequel as frothy as the original.
HiT or Miss: “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” has its cringe-worthy moments, but it’s sly enough to deliver what franchise fans demand above all else.