Here’s a movie that almost missed me. I mean, I remember the old mid-80s TV drama featuring an old spy who could somehow still take care of business. So when I heard about a film version starring Denzel Washington in the title role, my initial thought was “Meh, I’ll pass.” And the trailer didn’t do much to warm me up either. But then I read a review by A.A. Dowd at the Onion AV Club, actually quite critical (Dowd gave the film a C Minus), but something about it piqued my interest. Maybe it was a boring weekend, but I went out to see it, and man, I am glad I did! This new version of The Equalizer is nothing like the TV show. It’s more like Washington’s other role as a retired CIA killer, Man on Fire, except instead of being a moody, alcoholic, suicidal psychopath he’s a friendly, obsessive-compulsive, do-gooder psychopath. In his review, Dowd claims Washington’s character is “Blessed with the fighting skills of Batman.” He must have forgotten that Batman got his ass kicked by Bane last time out. In The Equalizer, ain’t nobody kicking Denzel’s ass… I would say he was blessed with the omnipotent fighting power of Bruce Lee. The very first action piece, in my mind, is worth the entire price of admission, but Sony is going to do you a favor and let you see it for free in the clip below.
Check out the action, and then my 5 things after the jump:
1) The copious kicking of ass. Oh man, the world can always use another hero story, and in this one, Denzel gets to play an almost unstoppable one. He’ll make you look at those old codgers working at Home Depot with a little more respect.
2) A superbly capable foe. Early on, the bad guys decide they need to bring in their own equalizer, so they send for The Wolf. Sorry, Tarantino took that one already. No, they send for “Teddy,” fantastically played by Martin Csokas. THIS guy comes to town and really starts to set people straight. Teddy is quite the dapper dresser, which the local thugs foolishly take as some sign of weakness or softness. They learn just how wrong they are rather quickly. Teddy is a psychopath’s psychopath, just smooth as silk.
3) Just enough of a hint at a fabulous back story. I mean, who doesn’t love old, special forces, secret agent, licensed to kill guys? And this one apparently left the agency/government on good terms, so he basically has all the resources in the world at his fingertips. I already used the word “unstoppable” didn’t I?
4) Ridiculously absurd demolitions. I mean, dude singlehandedly blows up an entire cargo ship. You know, one of those big, container ships. The explosion is so violent, it sets off other explosions around it… while our hero walks past them in slow motion, naturally. Corny? Absolutely. Exciting? Without a doubt.
5) Super solid production values and crafty use of scene. This isn’t one of those movies where the fight scenes are so muddled and jumbled you’re not quite sure who is hitting whom. No, in this one, every single blow counts and is captured perfectly. And the finale inside the Home Depot where the title character works, makes the most of the setting in entertainingly inventive ways.
Director Antoine Fuqua works well with Washington, having directed him to his second Best Actor Oscar in Training Day. And while I really enjoyed Fuqua’s work in Shooter, some of his other films (Olympus Has Fallen, King Arthur) are not quite as good. Here at Visonary or Hack, Fuqua is in undecided territory, with two hack votes against him. I have him In the Lobby, and after this latest, am inclined to leave him there. The Equalizer is a solid crowd pleaser, one that I certainly recommend, but it doesn’t quite reach the level of visionary work.