Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Equalizer

Year 8, Day 135 - 5/14/16 - Movie #2,335

BEFORE: I'm working my way toward the Liam Neeson chain, perhaps it's fitting that the path there goes through another action film - still, it's going to be a bit of a mixed bag over the next week, as Bill Pullman links to Ethan Hawke, and Jude Law links to Ed Harris - but I'll get there.  Marton Csokas carries over from "The Great Raid".

THE PLOT:  A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can't stand idly by.

AFTER: Watching as many as 300 films each year puts me in a position to compare, contrast, and juxtapose certain things - and I've spotted a trend, maybe you've seen it too.  It's popped up in no less than FOUR films I've watched in 2016 already, so I'm not sure if I'm ahead of the curve on this one, or far behind it.  But when I saw certain sequences in this film, they immediately reminded me of "Kingsman: The Secret Service", and to a lesser extent, both "John Wick" and "Batman v Superman".

Here's the situation - a single man is in a room full of bad guys, here it's Russian mobsters, but that's not important.  That man calmly assesses his surroundings, takes mental notes about where everyone and everything is in the room, and then uses what's at hand, which could be very common household (or bar, restaurant, whatever) objects to take down an impressive number of opponents.  Drinking glasses, corkscrews, an umbrella, whatever, they all can be used as weapons in such a situation.  And I don't see any of the same screenwriters listed on these films' credits, so that means it's a trend where everyone's pulling from the same playbook.  And they're competing with each other for the highest body counts, like when John Wick worked his way through an entire building full of mobsters, or Batman took down a warehouse full of gunmen.  

(I mentioned this ability of "The Equalizer" to my wife, and she said, "Oh, so he's got OCD?"  This seemed funny until I  read the trivia items for the film on the IMDB, and reportedly Denzel Washington created a back-story for the character, which included him having obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Now, this does explain a lot, from him cataloguing the room to sticking to a regimen of daily physical training, plus an urge to "put things right" when he witnesses an injustice taking place.)  

These characters are meant to represent the top-level of human achievement, and through this spies (and ex-spies) are portrayed as having what is essentially a super-power, the ability to not only "read" the room but to know enough about weaponry and combat to achieve the near-impossible.  So while the comic-book superhero film is more popular than ever, there's also been an up-tick in the spy/action genre, a more quiet but just as valid revolution.  Do I trace this back to Ethan Hunt performing the "impossible" or to the "Taken" franchise, where the lead possessed a "certain set of skills", or does it go all the way back to James Bond?  

Another point is clear - Hollywood loves its action heroes who retired from the life, but keep getting pulled back in.  Bryan Mills in "Taken", John Wick, John McClane from "Die Hard", and every character from "RED" - it's like we can't bear to think that these guys are having adventures that we're not seeing, so they just stand unplugged in a closet or something until they're needed, then bring 'em out and charge them up again.  Oh, you can try and retire and live anonymously, take a part-time job, but you know that clock is ticking, and the sequel comes out in three more years, so we're gonna need you again. 

This is also a reboot film, though I never watched that CBS series with David Woodward as Robert McCall.  But that McCall was a retired agent who worked with the police, and this McCall works completely outside the law, as a vigilante.  Yet we know he's got a stronger moral compass than the police, especially in Boston, which if you believe movies, is full of corrupt cops.  (Note to self: when does "Black Mass" start airing?  Keep an eye out...)   

So this film does cover a lot of the same ground as other recent films, a retired agent works his way up the ladder of a crime organization, as in "Taken", but there's also something that sets this one apart from the others - they gave McCall a formidable adversary, the 2nd in command for the Russian mobster, who has a similar understanding of espionage techniques.  So while McCall might be playing the game on a higher level than the average cop, his counterpart has some understanding of the game as well.  McCall can "read" the room, but his foe can "read" him.  

McCall's attacks on the Russian mob's operations in Boston keep escalating until there's a showdown in the home improvement store where he works, and probably after this you'll never look at a hardware store the same way ever again.  But we already knew those places were dangerous, right?  Full of power tools and electrical equipment, not to mention fertilizer...and the snacks in the break room might be the most life-threatening of all.  

Also starring Denzel Washington (last seen in "Flight"), Chloƫ Grace Moretz (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), David Harbour (last seen in "Revolutionary Road"), Bill Pullman (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Melissa Leo (last seen in "London Has Fallen"), David Meunier, Haley Bennett, Johnny Skourtis, Robert Wahlberg (last seen in "Gone Baby Gone"), Vladimir Kulich.

RATING: 7 out of 10 ceiling fans

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