Friday, 17 August 2018

IN THEATRES: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Following the events of Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team are on the hunt for the remnants of the Syndicate, a group of unaffiliated intelligence agents hellbent on sowing chaos around the world.

After Hunt puts the safety of his team above completing a mission to take possession of two rogue nukes, the CIA take over the operation, pairing Hunt with bagman August Walker (Henry Cavill). As Hunt goes on the hunt for the anonymous cabal of 'Apostles' before they can unleash these weapons on the world...


It is still unbelievable now this series has progressed. For the first three entries, it felt like a franchise built on star-power, whatever was popular at the time, and whatever the particular interests of the filmmaker are. With Ghost Protocol, the filmmakers started to actually do some world-building.

Cruise's Ethan Hunt has been a placeholder hero with no real history or personality. The first attempt to add backstory, Mission: Impossible III, signalled a shift with the addition of a serious love interest, but its sequel is where Hunt begins to exhibit something resembling a human personality.

Whereas M:I I-III's Hunt is ready to jump into action at a moment's notice, with Ghost Protocol he becomes more weary of what he is getting into. As the veteran of the team - with a history of dare-devilry - his teammates expect him to handle the most physically daunting tasks, no matter what his feelings are. The best example of this is Benji (Simon Pegg) taking Hunt's lung-power for granted when coming up with the aquatic heist in Rogue Nation.

This gives the films' signature stunts a level suspense and drama that they have previously lacked, beyond the thrill of seeing the star in real danger. Unlike previous directors, Chris McQuarrie has made this feature of the character, and uses it as the basis for delving into Ethan's psyche: why is he so willing to risk his life for others?

McQuarrie's Hunt is the first iteration of the character who feels like a part of the team - he is the squad leader, the team captain. He wants to get the job done, and he does not want to lose any of his team-mates in the process. This Hunt does not see people as expendable, and is driven to make sure that this is never the case. The brilliance of this shading is that McQuarrie does not offer some cod explanation or backstory - instead it ties in perfectly with Hunt's ridiculous actions from the previous movies.




Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust returns, and kudos again to McQuarrie for bringing back an interesting character and not negating what makes them interesting - thankfully, her relationship with Hunt does not turn romantic. It never feels like she is being wedged in, and the film gives a neat resolution to her (and Hunt's) running battle with the villain of Rogue Nation, Solomon Lane.

This is also the first movie where Henry Cavill fits in. As a leading man, he never shows the charisma or weight to hold attention. But as the defacto second lead (and - spoilers - antagonist), he is really good. Without the need to shoulder the movie, and as a counterweight to Cruise, he fits. Even his character, August Walker, feels like an inversion of Cruise. He does not care about the destruction and deaths he will cause.


McQuarrie does great job of marrying the con-focused spy craft of the original TV show with the more action-based hijinks of the film series. The action here is clever, funny and immersive.

McQuarrie has a great facility for pilling the pressures on Hunt and his team.

The fight between Hunt, Walker and 'Mr Lark' in the bathroom is wonderful. Playing out in sustained wide shots, it is paced like a great dance scene or pratfall, with plenty of reversals as the IMF agents struggle to figure each other out while also trying to get a hold of their opponent.

The other highlight is the third act, which involves three different scenarios in three different locations. It is truly jaw-dropping, above and beyond Cruise's commitment to doing his own stunts. The finale throws in so many spinning plates so deftly it deserves to be studied as an example of maintaining and building tension.

As far as pure enjoyment goes, I don't know if this one hits the same highs as its predecessor, but it is a great movie regardless. Fallout has thrown down a gauntlet for action movies going forward. From star vehicles that cribbed from other movies, Mission: Impossible has moved to the front of the pack.

But what is the pack? The landscape is awash with superhero properties. The closest competition are Fast and Furious and James Bond, but even those examples don't fit. F&F is past parody now, and Bond is stuck in the same perpetual loop of reaction to itself that the franchise has been in for decades.

Fallout reaffirms indisputably that Mission: Impossible really stands alone as the best action spectacle franchise of the last decade.  

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Mumble noir: Aaron Katz's Gemini (2017)

Jill (Lola Kirke) works as the personal assistant/confidant to starlet Heather (Zoe Kravitz), curbing her excesses and keeping her career on track. After breaking up with her boyfriend and dropping out of a big project, Heather is starting to spiral.

Before Jill can get a handle on what is troubling her friend/employer, she finds Heather shot to death.

As the last person to see Heather, Jill quickly comes under suspicion from police. In an effort to clear her name, Jill goes off the grid to figure out who killed her friend.


I was a big fan of director Aaron Katz's last genre effort, Cold Weather. That movie married a fairly simple detective plot to the subtle untangling of a sibling relationship. It was a wonderfully compact little movie that found a way to re-contextualise a genre within the frame of an indie-dramedy.

Eight years later, Katz has returned to genre cinema with Gemini, a noir-tinged murder mystery that feels like an attempt to expand upon Cold Weather's modest canvas, with a more ambitious aesthetic and big name actors (Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz).

Though it has many qualities to recommend it, Gemini does not quite have the same lo-fi thrill as his earlier film. While its pacing is measured, and there are no generic plot conventions (e.g. a villain, a chase, an (onscreen) murder) to make it predictable, there is something weirdly rote and shambolic about the story that makes it somewhat frustrating.

Gemini feels like an aesthetic exercise in search of a strong cinematic idea: by that I don't specifically mean narrative, but the movie does not add up to anything. It is disappointing because for about the first hour I was digging the characters and the overall vibe.

I enjoyed the time Katz took to build the rapport between Jill and her self-involved employer, Heather (Kravitz). The actresses have a neat dynamic where each character has power over the other in a series of overlapping relationships: employer-employee; friends; mother-daughter; big-little sister.

Frankly, if the movie had been about their relationship rather than a mystery it might have worked as a small character piece about a spoilt movie star and her assistant/confidant trying to navigate the cesspits of LA.

Visually, Katz does not try to recreate classic noir - his approach vaguely reminded me of Soderbergh, in that he did not go for visual or aural cues that provoke an emotional response. The camerawork is pretty restrained - there are many scenes which take place in extended wide shots, with few high or low angles that would betray an obvious affinity with classic noir.

The most interesting part of the movie from a visual standpoint is the use of colour - Katz makes subtle use of chiaroscuro and splashes of neon that cast LA as a flashy, empty wasteland of broken dreams. It is a great visual evocation of Heather's desensitised reaction to her life and career.

The real standout element is Keegan DeWitt's (Heart Beats Loud) score, a contemporary riff on mid-century noir that combines trap-like beats to a lonely saxophone. It is so atmospheric and mournful, while avoiding obvious emotional cues, that it gives the movie a cohesion and pathos that it would otherwise lack.


With its focus on building the relationship between its leads, this movie is the definition of a slow-burn. The movie takes its time, and the two actresses - particularly Kirke as the no-nonsense Jill - make it worth watching.

In the early going, the mystery is kind of interesting. There is the kernel of an interesting idea in Jill's (Kirke) sleuthing, as she follows Heather's various associates, trying to figure out which one is the guilty party. The fact that she is effectively on the run from the cops adds an additional layer of danger that makes the middle section of the movie rather engrossing.

But when - spoilers - it turns out that Heather is not dead, the movie falls off a cliff. With a movie like this, slow burn tension is great  if it has a payoff.

To be honest, the final twist is easy to catch, but the way the movie resolves is such a non-event that it  retroactively lowered my enjoyment of the movie until that point. The main problem is that after the reveal, we get a basic confession of motive, and then cut to some time later, with heather being interviewed by Ricki Lake (not playing herself) about her disappearance.


While Gemini  has included some narrative ellipses up to this point, the choice to cut away with no real explanation comes off as a cheat (especially considering Heather technically killed somebody who looked like herself), and the disconnect between the story and the style becomes detrimental to the movie: after creating all this chaos for our protagonist, to have it all swept away in an edit does not come off like an attempt to re-work dramatic resolution, but an easy way to get around having to figure out how our heroines sort out the legal and personal fallout of their actions (well, it's really Heather's fault, but still).

The movie ends up feeling incredibly silly and unsatisfying.

BUT, and this might sound strange, despite its failings, I will admit that I was really taken in by the first two thirds of this movie. The combination of noir and mumblecore makes sense here, with the fatalism of the former blending with the latter's struggle for purpose. It is an odd marriage that - in the end - does not go the distance, but as an attempt to bring a genre into contemporary times, both literally and stylistically, Gemini is an intriguing watch.

Related

Cold Weather

Sunday, 5 August 2018

IN THEATRES: Whitney

A look at the life of superstar singer-actress Whitney Houston (1963-2012), Whitney is directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Kevin MacDonald.


The official counterpoint to last year's Can I Be Me, this documentary adds more voices and context, but still leaves its subject in shadow.

Once again, the big omission is Houston's best friend/offsider/potential lover(?) Robyn Crawford looms over the story but is not present to offer her story. Like Whitney, she is compiled from the recollections of other people. Considering the place she had in the first half of Houston's life and career, her non-appearance here immediately hobbles the claim in the film's tagline that this story is 'untold'.

The one big reveal is the alleged child abuse that the movie points to as the catalyst that defined Houston's behaviour for the rest of her life. It is the movie's trump card, and it adds a layer of shading to the speculations of the other documentary - whether that adds to our understanding Houston the woman, is another story.

While it is interesting, and MacDonald avoids making Houston (and the supporting players in her life) look squeaky clean, there is something light and superficial about it.

While it is rougher, Nick Broomfield's documentary was built on the bones of an unfinished concert documentary. That limitation ended up being a benefit, as it forced Broomfield into focusing on a specific point in Houston's life, which - whatever its fidelity to the subject - made it feel like a stronger portrait of the singer at a point in time.

MacDonald goes the full biographical route, which results in a vague lack of focus.

Bracketed by montages of pivotal world events during Houston's life, there are great sequences scattered throughout the movie - the breakdown of her Star Spangled Banner performance is a standout - but cumulatively, there is a sense of over-simplification. Maybe this is an effect of comparing Whitney to its unofficial predecessor, but the abundance of content seems to work against creating a coherent, focused portrait of its subject.

When the Broomfield documentary ended, the question marks surrounding Houston felt like parts of the text. Here the sense of incompleteness feels like a flaw.

Every now and then the film hits a critical point - like the Dee Dee Warwick revelations - that feels like the filmmakers hitting a dramatic turn that solidifies their portrait of Houston, and her motivations. But these moments do not stick because - once again - the filmmakers lack the input of its subject.

Like Can I Be Me, there are aspects of Houston's emotional life that are compiled from the assumptions of other people. And while that is not in itself bad (it's hard to avoid here), the way the filmmakers present it gives it a weight that these testimonies should not have to take. For the filmmakers to be so definitive when the key players - Houston, Warwick or Robyn Crawford - are absent (either in-person or on the record), feels sloppy and works against the film's presentation as the 'true story.' It feels like a sliver of truth built on assumption and conjecture.

After watching the two documentaries, I am still left wondering about who she was. To compress anyone's whole life into a movie's runtime feels simplistic and reductive.

Is Whitney worth watching?

For a relative neophyte like me, it is interesting, and MacDonald does provide some emotional punches - the tours of Houston's homes, intercut with home views of Houston in the same spaces - is powerful. However, overall it feels scattershot in focus, and fails to craft a portrait of its subject that feels true to the person, or her talent as a musician.

Related

Whitney: Can I Be Me

Monday, 30 July 2018

IN THEATRES: Unfriended - Dark Web

Obsessed with designing an app that will allow him to communicate with his girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), Matias (Colin Woodell) has stolen a laptop that will help him complete the project.

While online with a group of friends, he begins to burrow into his new machine, discovering a hidden cache of videos, and a link to an illegal online forum known as The River, where its mysterious denizens buy and sell their personal brands of pain and suffering. 

Soon, Mattias and his friends are drawn into a running battle with the laptop's original owner, and the other members of the mysterious cabal of psychopaths.


I had no idea that this movie was a sequel, and thankfully it will have no bearing on your viewing experience.

This movie has a premise which could come off as extremely contrived. We are forced to watch all the action on a computer screen, with individual windows for other characters and the important action to tackle place on. It is bleedingly obvious what is going on in terms of suspension of disbelief.

But I have to say, the filmmakers managed to pull it off. All of the acting is good, the character dynamics feel natural and are fun to track (One note about the cast: Somebody at Blumhouse needs to give Betty Gabriel an office. She has been in almost every single Blumhouse movie (The Purge: Election YearGet OutUpgrade and this) I have seen in the last two years). Throughout the movie we get interesting glimpses of their lives e.g. a marriage proposal leads to inferred discord with a homophobic family; one character's mother interrupts the main characters' through line to badger her out of the 'game'.


Dark Web is a nu-age spin on a sub-genre I love - the locked room thriller. Like Rear Window, Narrow Margin and Road Games, we are trapped in a single location, but one that becomes a contained world with a small community of characters. While the main story is incredibly tense, I really enjoyed the first half, which is basically a cyber-dramaedy, with Matthias's storyline offset by the character games of the rest of the cast. If this stuff was done poorly, or missing entirely, the silliness of the premise would be exposed.

But by spending so much time on Matthias, Amaya and his friends, it makes the whole thing more immersive.

Some of the scares are probably rote shocks that will lose impact on re-watch, but considering how much attention hacking has been given recently (particularly the recent story about Russian hackers attacking US utilities). Few films have successfully managed to make the internet scary, but Dark Web nails it. Of course, the movie goes to some ridiculous extremes by the end, but even some of those plot turns feel like they are not entirely out of the realm of possibility.


There is one sequence involving a SWAT team, which plays upon the militarisation of American police. And while it is a popcorn flick, the movie does have some meat.

Like A Quiet Place, this movie includes a subplot involving a disabled character - Matias's girlfriend Amaya, played by Stephanie Nogueras - where the focus is not their disability, but rather the non-disabled characters' inability to overcome their own ableism. The movie's plot ultimately hinges on their relationship, and his unwillingness to meet her halfway. As the reviewer on Film School Rejects notes, he stole the laptop so he could finish working on a programme to help him understand her, rather than trying to learn her language - and hence, gaining a knowledge of her culture that will strengthen their bond. This is a throwaway horror movie, but I am impressed by how two genre movies have been able to create storylines about disabled characters that do not fit the usual ableist stereotypes.

There is little real violence, but the filmmakers deliver some absolutely horrific plot reveals in the final stretch. There is one sequence in which a character is forced to choose between saving two loved ones - we do not see anything explicit, but thanks to the investment the filmmakers have made in these characters, this action still feels like a violation.

Is Dark Web a masterpiece? No, but it is a really good movie. It is a fun genre piece with interesting characters and exploits its premise to the full. It may lose some sense in the final reel but that just adds to the fun.

After watching so many Blumhouse movies over the last couple of years, I think it has reconnected me with the kind of low-budget sci-fi/horror movies that I grew up loving. They may not have the violence or the slight tang of unsavoury nastiness that 70s and 80s genre flicks have, but I think Blumhouse have been around for so long, and have been so consistent in their approach, that they have staked out their own uniquer place in the pop culture zeitgeist.

As a collection of films, ideas and filmmakers, there is no brand like Blumhouse around, and no filmmaking unit that I look forward to more. In 20 years, I can guarantee that your average film and genre fan will look back on this period, and Blumhouse in particular, with the same excitement and obsessiveness as my generation do the films of Amicus, Troma, New World and Cannon.

Related

The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Election Year

Get Out

Happy Death Day

Upgrade

The First Purge


Sunday, 29 July 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Den of Thieves

Big Nick (Gerard Butler) is a big cop with a bad reputation and a love of donuts. His latest case involves a gang of violent bank robbers who have killed cops. Big Nick does not like this.

With the clocking ticking down to the robbers' next big score, Big Nick will have to go above and beyond (including having sex with the bad guy's favourite stripper) to bring these men to death. Or justice. Whatever comes first.


The only thing that would make this movie better is if it featured a scene in which Gerard Butler and Pablo Schrieber stand inches from each other, and pull down their pants to finally decide who is bigger.

The latest instalment in Gerard Butler's one-man attempt to become the 80s action star of the 2010s, Den of Thieves rvteams the burly Scot with London Has Fallen scribe Christian Gudegast. If the Mike Banning films pitch Butler as the heir to the 80s hard body action genre of Sly and Arnie, Den of Thieves is a testosterone-fueled riff on Heat.

This movie is so close to Heat in terms of its narrative specifics (the opening scene is basically the same, just set at night), and its attempt to create a dichotomy between Big Nick and Ray (Pablo Schreiber), the leader of the robbers, that it ends up feeling like a weird game of Mad Libs between a couple of bros with some brews.

But whereas the struggle between Hannah (Pacino) and McCauley (DeNiro) was between different codes, Den tries to pitch both sides as two gangs, one that has badges, and one that has 50 Cent. That idea would be interesting, but outside of Butler's performance, I'm not sure that idea filters into the movie. It comes off more as a battle between two brands of machismo: Butler as a wild man; Schrieber as a soldier' with various degrees of beta male scurrying between them. I mentioned it earlier, but there really is a sequence where Butler scopes out Schrieber's favourite stripper, and then runs into Schrieber post-hook up wearing nothing but a towel.


Ultimately it's pointless trying to draw parallels - Den of Thieves is just an action movie, in which the hero's injuries act as a purifying ritual preparing him for his final victory, while the villains' signify how close to death they are.


The real highlight of the movie are the scenes of Butler off-work, and the pinnacle is the sequence where Big Nick parades into a party his wife is attending, to make a big show of signing the divorce papers, is wonderfully silly, but there needed to be more of this.


The scenes of his home life are  just an excuse to show off how much of a macho loner Butler is. He cannot be contained by monogamy! With how virile he is, I am surprised they did not lean into the sleaze and give him multiple girlfriends and ex-wives ala Richard Gere's bent cop in Internal Affairs (1990).


The action scenes are decent - there is some confusion in terms of geography  but overall they work. The final shootout is a great idea on paper - it takes place in the middle of a traffic jam. Like all the action, it is begging for some more long takes to show off the choreography, but it is such a cool idea for a set piece that the average execution does not work against it.


Den of Thieves is probably destined to be a Netflix-boosted semi-classic. It's totally watchable, but mostly for the parts (any scene where Butler alphas another dude) that you probably would not expect (the action).

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Breakdown (Jonathan Mostow, 1997)

Jeff (Kurt Russell) and his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are in the middle of moving from the east coast to California.  When their car breaks down in the middle of the desert, she hitches a lift from a friendly trucker (J.T. Walsh) to get help.

When she does not return, Jeff tries to figure out what happened. Soon, it becomes clear that Amy has been taken by a group of unscrupulous kidnappers.

With time running out, can Jeff outwit these evil men before Amy's time runs out?


I watched this movie after a debate with someone about why I was not interested in watching Ant-Man and the Wasp, despite the good buzz.

Watching this film really crystallised where my taste is at in this Marvel-centric time that we are in. Breakdown is not a big movie - it runs a brisk 90-ish minutes, features a few scenes of vehicular action and that is about it. And it is so exciting.

Co-written and directed by Jonathan Mostow (U-571Terminator 3Breakdown is an underrated gem. A no-nonsense thriller, it is not a particularly deep or complex movie. It is a story about someone who is not special in any particular way who is pushed to extraordinary lengths to save a loved one.

It is a pure, simple story with a strong, visceral drive: our heroes are average joes who are moving across country. They have financial problems, but their relationship does not seem to be strained: there is literally nothing exceptional or interesting about them. And that is so refreshing.

It also works for the story - the frightening part of the story is that the reason they are targeted is because the kidnappers clock their new car as a sign of affluence. In order to keep his wife alive, Jeff has to play into their perceptions of him - one of the key suspense threads is waiting for the villains to find out it is a ruse.


As Jeff, Kurt Russell is great. Despite his credibility as an action star in Escape from New York and Tango and Cash, he brings a nervy credibility to the milquetoast. What works about Russell as an action star is that he always feels like an everyman - it allows him to play the Eastwood-style outsider (Snake Plissken) with no interest in geopolitics, and the buffoonish sidekick who thinks he is John Wayne in Big Trouble In Little China. With Jeff, he is playing a guy with no comprehension of what he has gotten into. Jeff is not somebody who is used to being this scared, or angry. There is actually a sense that Jeff is terrified of his own rage.

At no point does he feel like an action guy - thrillers like this occasionally let their protagonists suddenly gain proficiency in firing a gun or firing a gun. Jeff always feels one step behind the ball.

The filmmakers downplay Jeff's metamorphosis, keeping him in the reactive role for two thirds of the movie, ending when he himself is kidnapped. This movie's effect is comparable to a rubber band being pulled back, as we watch Russell lose more and more ground to the villains. When the tables finally turn, it is like the band snaps back.

One of the joys of this movie is how small it feels. Despite most of the film taking place in cars, it rarely feels like a chase movie. There are few real chase sequences, or major stunts. Relatively speaking, as a Hollywood thriller Breakdown feels down-to-earth. Combined with Russell's performance, this level of verisimilitude gives the movie a level of danger these kinds of movies rarely attain.

A really great movie, Breakdown deserves to ranked alongside Steven Spielberg's Duel and the Ozploitation classic Roadgames as one of the best road-set suspense thrillers.

Monday, 23 July 2018

IN THEATRES: Equalizer 2

Denzel returns as Robert McCall to equalise more people into an early mass grave after the only friend he has/significant female character in the movie (Melissa Leo) is brutally murdered.


I liked the first Equaliser. It's a fun action movie that gets in, does the job and gets out. It had a couple of interesting qualities (good acting, a fun villain) but was just generic enough that a more ambitious sequel sounded intriguing.

While it is fun, Equaliser 2 feels a little bit more cookie cutter than its (already pretty generic) predecessor.

Every element of the first movie felt familiar, but there was at least a smattering of interesting touches to add a bit of flavour (the one that really sticks in the mind is the minor bad guy with a bald head, a stove pipe beard and a kaiser moustache).

Equaliser 2 feels like the same recipe, but made totally to template, with generic ingredients and no love or attention.

First of all, the inciting incident is total 80s b-movie tacky story-telling: from the beginning, you can see Leo's death coming. There is even. a line ('I'm the only friend you got') which was so on the nose I thought it was only shot for the trailer. The inclusion of Pedro Pascal as the only other character of significance makes it fairly easy to figure out who is responsible for her death.


I was expecting there to be something more unexpected (how about making Leo the villain?) but the filmmakers do not deviate from the obvious path.

Leo's death scene plays out like a sequel to her hair-pulling histrionics from Olympus Has Fallen (also directed by Fuqua) - Leo is ambushed by two assailants in her hotel room, cueing an extended scene in which she alternately beats and is beaten by the villains. Plenty of blood and screaming included.

The one interesting aspect of this sequence is how long it goes on, with Leo turning the tables on her attackers. In the end, Fuqua cuts away from her death. I was surprised at the restraint (it turns out to be in service of a plot reveal).

I had three problems with the scene:

a) killing Leo is just a lazy way of personalising the story.

b) the whole point of the Equaliser is that he helps people. He does not need a personal story.

c) while it is cool to see Leo lay the smack down, it feels tokenistic, considering her fate (and the lack of opportunities she has had in the films to show off these skills).


As with the first movie, McCall is paired with a younger person who helps to break out of a bad situation. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) plays Miles, a young man with a talent for art who is falling into drugs and gangs.

This subplot is where the politics of The Equaliser are foregrounded. In a scene that feels reminiscent of a million action movies, McCall finds Miles in a drug den and uses his equalising skills to get him out. This leads to an extended monologue from McCall about personal responsibility, brushing aside any context (Miles's brother's death; or broader issues like systemic racism). McCall's blunt approach to personal problems may be an extension of the TV show, but it also calls back the messaging of action movies featuring ageing stars, which would often emphasise how the action hero's 'old school' approach to life is applicable to contemporary issues (while also being superior to contemporary ways of addressing them).

While it is familiar, there is something oddly out-dated and disquieting about this subplot, mostly because McCall's mentoring of Miles does not feel like tough love so much as it recalls the arbitrary brutality of Lean On Me's Joe Louis Clark (Morgan Freeman). It is hard to see how this action hero who solves problems by equalising people with guns and corkscrews can equalise personal problems.


My biggest disappointment with this movie are the villains. On paper, they sound promising: four of McCall's former colleagues have gone private, working as contract killers. One of the joys of the first movie was that the villain was basically an evil version of McCall, with a similar skillset that made him a formidable foe. Taking that bad guy, and multiplying him for the sequel makes sense.

Sadly, the filmmakers do not take advantage of this to create some great set pieces wherein McCall has to out-think his opponents.

The final sequence is not bad - McCall lures the Fearsome Foursome (copyright, Tim George) to the coastal town he used to live in. The town has been evacuated due to a massive storm, so the final showdown is basically One Equaliser v four not-Equalisers in the middle of storm-swept ghost town. In concept, it is great.

But in execution, the scene leaves something to be desired. Aside from Pascal (who takes up position as a sniper with a viewer of the entire town), none of the other not-Equalisers are given any distinguishing skills or personality (the one bad guy with a beard is nowhere near as memorable as Kaiser Mo Stovepipe from the first movie!). To add further indignity, there is nothing special about any of their showdowns with McCall - they die as innocuously as the cannon fodder he dispatches in the rest of the movie.

Pedro Pascal is a fine actor, but at no point does he feel like an equal to Denzel Washington. He feels more believable as the corrupt government stooge who (spoilers) killed Melissa Leo.

Overall, while it is never terrible, Equaliser 2 never really surpasses the unpretentious charms of the original film.