The Equalizer 2 (2018): Languid Denzel Washington Sequel (Review)

The Equalizer 2 (2018): Languid Denzel Washington Sequel (Review)

It is fair to say that I was a bit underwhelmed at the first outing of Denzel Washington as Robert McCall. The Equalizer 2, while moving at a frustratingly languid rate, does perform a tad better. The stormy ending of this sequel, directed again by Antoine Fuqua,  manages to make up for much of what is lacking in pace and storyline.

Once again, McCall deals mostly with “foreigners” versus the more homegrown baddies of the television series. The Russians have taken a backseat this go around with a trip to Brussels and a very short outing to Turkey. McCall helps out another unfortunate; Miles – played by Ashton Sanders and exacts revenge for the murder of an old friend (Melissa Leo).

However, without giving too much away plot wise, the bad guys he goes after this time around are a mixture of nationalities and at least one, is another old pal. An member of McCall’s old governmental group is murdered in Brussels and when Susan (Leo) and Dave York (Pedro Pascal) go to investigate, Susan is exterminated with extreme prejudice.

This sequel gives Washington another chance to deepen the character of McCall. We see his personal side, this time as a valued neighbor and helpful Lyft driver. (His character no longer works at the DIY store) Although he does little to help Fatima (Sakina Jaffrey whom we see far too little of) when her garden is destroyed, opting to clean up her graffitied mural instead.

Jonathan Scarfe is splendid as the nasty bit of work who murders for hire, Bill Pullman is not used enough and Pascal steps out smartly in his role. Sadly, no one has a chance to shine too brightly as the plot, despite trotting out an impressive amount of backstory, moves at a snail’s pace.  

Washington makes McCall just as believable this time around as he did in the first outing. The double Oscar winner never disappoints, bringing an impressive amount of gravitas and truth to whatever role he plays. (Take for example, his gunfighter in the abysmal Magnificent Seven remake. Washington was the one shining light in a classic western destroyed by a modern script and poor understanding of the genre.)

All in all, The Equalizer 2 does deliver in the entertainment department. The action pieces are very good – the battle between Susan and in the Belgium hotel room is impressive and it looks painful and believable. As usual, Washington, as McCall, comes across as the ultimate “bad ass.” While this ability shone through in The Book of Eli, he makes each move and countermove look impressively easy.

(Kudos to Stunt Coordinators Jeffrey J. Dashnaw and Mick Gould who make everyone’s fight scenes look gritty, painful and pretty darned realistic.)

The cinematography is spot on and the effects, especially at the end of the film, are brilliant. The Equalizer 2 is languid, as sequels go, but Denzel Washington and his fellow actors deliver across the board.

The film earns 4 stars because, despite the slow pacing, it does deliver. It has several redeeming features, like those brilliantly staged fight scenes, and is well worth watching at the cinema.

 

Van Helsing: It Begins – Tactical Error (Review)

 Van Helsing - Season 1

To the most casual observer, the season finale of Van Helsing was slow and perhaps a tad too expository. However… Neil LaBute added enough peripheral details to keep the start of the episode from dragging. Things came together nicely as many questions were answered by the show’s creator.

Personal favorite Amanda Tapping kept the pace steady as the sesaon finale’s director and while the episode  was, in many ways, word heavy, the fall and rise of Vanessa was satisfactorily told.  

On a sidenote: For those who do not wish to read to the end of this review; Axel does return…

Dimitri proves yet again that he is not the cleverest vampire in the pack (Question: What does one call a group of vampires? A bevy? Could they be called, like crows, a murder? Answers on a postcard please…) when he makes the tactical error of giving blood to Van Helsing for a snack.  Almost predictably, she becomes uber strong and almost rips the heart out of the vampire leader’s chest.

Somewhat disappointingly Vanessa does not rip Rebecca’s head from her shoulders. Still, that would have circumvented the nasty twist in the tale of Van Helsing’s confrontation with Dimitri’s treacherous sister and Dylan.

Although the shock of seeing her daughter with bloodstained lips may not necessarily overly upset Van Helsing. She can, after all, turn the kid back with one well placed bite. Rebecca playing the Dylan card seems to suggest that, like her brother Dimitri, she too is capable of committing the odd  tactical error.

“It Begins” brings the story of Mohamad and Sheema to a close. The guy was trying to free his sister from the clutches of Dimitri’s sister.  Sadly, she liked living like a bird in a gilded cage and when Mohamad tries to take her away, she bashes him in the head with a candleholder.

Twice.

Sheema then grabs the backpack loaded up by her unconcious (Dead?) brother and runs right into the breaching blast by Taka’s fighters. Apart from a bitter dose of irony, the last movements of Mohamad’s sister are confusing. It does look as though both have paid for their treachery dearly.

In this episode it appears that the only characters who are without sin may well be Vanessa, Dylan and Axel. Taka, the sanctimonious leader of the resistance group turns out to be in cahoots with Rebecca. He then betrays her betrayal (She arranged for Taka and his people to inhabit Fox Island, a place that was supposed to provide a safe haven for the bent resistance leader. Dimitri reveals that the Island is a lie.)

The episode ends with Van Helsing confronting Rebecca, who then shows off vampire Dylan.  Flesh, who was the only member of Taka’s group to go after  Vanessa to save her, is nowhere to be seen.

After the episode’s final reveal, the camera speeds toward the bunker where Axel was locked by Doc earlier. Sure enough, the Marine climbs up the air duct to escape his prison. Axel sounds odd though, and from that brief glimplse of his eyes, he has been turned.

With guttural breathing and a sort of grim determination, the Marine heads toward town.

Van Helsing’s last episode of the season tells us who the woman is and that there is something in her lineage that “mum” was not too keen on. Hence the hiding her daughter in plain sight move.  The ingestion of blood by the savior of humanity was a game changer and the only frustrating thing about “It Begins” was Rebecca coming through with her poisonous head still on her shoulders.

We also learn that vampires do age, albeit very slowly, and that they do die. The creatures also, just like many of their human counterparts, fear death.  “It terrifies them,” says Dr. Sholomenko just before he sets Vanessa up for a futile escape.

Dimitri also shows us his achilles heel; it is an overwhelmng sense of hubris. This is what motivates him to use his own sperm to impregnate Vanessa. “This was not the plan,” cries an angry Rebecca.  It does not matter though as the rejuvinated Van Helsing takes this moment to really reach out and touch the vampire leader.

LaBute has given fans of the show a decent cliffhanger ending. Axel looks to be heading off to find Vanessa (Even in his vampiric state, the Marine would go after the woman he’s so close to. Although, he may be looking for Doc first for a little “pay-back.”) Van Helsing has found Dylan and the two-timing brother and sister may be dead.

Sam is nowhere to be seen but since his focus was on Mohamad, he may not return for a second season. SyFy have already ordered another 13 epiosdes of this dark and unsettling retelling and revamping (See what we did there?) of the Van Helsing mythos.

Vanessa Seward dies in this season finale and Vanessa Van Helsing has risen from the ashes of our heroine’s previous identity to take on the vampires.  This was a splendid series that disregarded genre tropes and created a new sort of blood sucking menace.

Well done.

Cast:

Van Helsing: Help Out – Guilt (Recap/Review)

 Van Helsing - Season 1

The strain of being trapped in The Farm is beginning to take its toll on Van Helsing and the others. “Help Out” manages to cut the survivors down by two and Mohamad meets a girl in the woods outside the bunker.

It is the morning after the night before and John’s body is on the floor with blood surrounding its head.  Van Helsing begins cleaning the blood up and as she gets the corpse ready to be moved a hungover Axel and Flesh arrive to help out.

Flesh is troubled by Axel’s “disrespect” for the dead and later thanks the Marine for his help in “getting them this far.” The two men then discover a number of putrefied bodies in one of the kitchen freezers.

Vanessa and Susan share a bunk and later they kiss.  Van Helsing admits to her friend that when she killed John, she wanted to kill and could not wait to do it again.

Doc does an autopsy on one of the corpses. She suddenly vomits and believes it is down to the alcohol from the night before.  She tells Axel and Gorman that the new bodies in the freezer need to be moved.

Vanessa goes to help Axel and thanks him for “having her back.” As their conversation continues, Vanessa learns that he read her personal file back at the hospital. The atmosphere between the two changes.

Van Helsing locks Axel in the quarantine area but lets him out when a vampire appears. The Marine shoots the creature before he leaves area.

Mohamad runs into a woman, Emma,  who is gathering wild mushrooms and berries for medicine.  She initially thinks that he is a feeder.  After introductions they two go to find more mushrooms.

Axel and Susan try to hunt down the vampire and they discover that the thing has healed itself. They also find a room that looks like a abattoir with blood all over the walls.

Rebecca, Darius’ sister, sets up Quaid to take the blame for her bloodhound, Sheema.  She and the doctor return the woman to a human camp to be killed. This will allow the vampire to use Sheema longer as a way to hunt down the rest of the  resistance.

Doc discovers that her nausea is down to radiation and not her hangover. Once she finds the levels are way too high for them to remain in the shelter, Doc passes out.

Axel gets concerned and all the group, except Gorman, go to check on her. He manages to wake her up and she unlocks the door to the lab. Doc tells the group that the entire place has been contaminated. She hands out iodine pills to counteract the radiation.

Vanessa now distrusts Axel and Doc explains that if they do not get out quickly enough  the radiation will kill them anyway.  Susan and Doc get into an argument and Axel notices that the only one who is not getting sick is Van Helsing.

Emma kisses Mohamad and then runs off. She runs past two of Julius’ special vampires and they ignore her. Moments later Mohamad runs past and they ignore him as well.

Rebecca’s plan works and Quaid dies, shot by Taka after Sheema backs up the vampire’s version of events.

Axel finds Doc crying and she confesses that she was not trying to save Smith when she got bitten. Doc also tells Axel that she is a coward, not a  hero and that she is a bad person.

This scene is a huge signpost for what happens moments  later when the two go looking for Gorman.

The Marine comforts her. Susan and Sam come in looking for Gorman who has gone missing. Sam finds a way out of the bunker and the survivors all head out except for Axel and Doc.

Axel heads into the quarantine area and Doc holds the door open for him. Gorman finds Axel and the two fight. As they get closer to the door, Doc panics and locks them both in.

She screams through the door and runs off leaving the Marine to die. Gorman attacks Axel and the two disappear beneath the glass in the door.

Later a bloody hand raises up and smacks against the glass.

On top of the bunker the escapees are attacked by vampires.  Vanessa becomes a one woman killing machine. Doc climbs out of the bunker and tells Van Helsing that Axel is dead.  She says that Gorman bit him.

The fortified ambulance runs out of gas and Vanessa learns that Axel lied to her about her file. Van Helsing also finds out that she was meant to be taken back to The Farm before the vampires took over.

As Susan and Vanessa talk, the bells begin ringing again and she decides they need to check them out.

This episode finally allowed us to see what has been eating Doc for so long.  Her guilt over sentencing Smith to die and her continued cowardice in the face of the vampires is overwhelming. It is not, however, enough to let her save Axel.

Mohamad’s new friend may not be all that she appears to be.  It is a bit odd that Julius’ special troops completely ignored her. Although that could be down to their mission to find Van Helsing and bring her to back to Julius.

Clearly Axel is not dead, although he might have been turned by Gorman. Either way, the tough Marine may not be quite so attached to Doc since she left him to die in the contaminated bunker.

The feeling of this episode was one of confusion and melancholy. Certainly the group was not as tight, it was as thought the death of John broke something. Radiation sickness may have caused a lot of the disharmony but some it may be down to the group dynamic changing.

Vanessa is evolving, her abilities to kill are improving exponentially as the series progresses.  It is odd that Axel  lied about the file but he may have done so to make Van Helsing feel less exposed.

It will be interesting to see how Axel gets out of the bunker. With Mohamad searching for the group; the smart money is on the young man and  his new friend releasing the Marine from the quarantined section.

Overton and Scarfe have brought a lot to their characters and Bernard, as Doc, is just killing it. Heyerdahl has managed to make Sam much more than the big silent type. David Cubitt will be missed as his character was one we loved to hate. 

Van Helsing airs Fridays on SyFy.

Cast:

 

Guest starring  Chris Ippolito as Gorman,  Christie Burke as Emma, Jennifer Copping as Quaid  and Gwynyth Walsh as Magdalena.

Van Helsing: Coming Back – Inside Information (Review)

Van Helsing - Season 1

Van Helsing “Coming Back” gives a bit of backstory through visuals; Vanessa’s apartment has police tape over the front door showing that civilization had not crumbled until after she died. It also proves Axel’s point, Van Helsing was not ready to go outside.

Inside the hospital, one of the survivors has been murdered. Set up to look like a suicide by hanging, the body is missing a finger and she was strangled to death. Doc almost misses the evidence.

The survivors are still not comfortable with one another nor are they bonding very well.  John is still a douchebag and the dead girl only heightens the existing stress between members of the group.

Vanessa lights a fire as a diversion in the restroom so she can escape and find her daughter. Mohamad  comes along as he knows the door code and he has a sister; Sheema,  to find.

More is learned about the vampires in this episode. Mohamad reveals to Van Helsing that the brand on his neck is a sign that he was the property of a feeder.

There is discontent amounts the hierarchy in the vampire ranks.  Dimitri may be the leader now, but it appears that a disgruntled Julius was there first.

At the start of the episode a young black girl, Sheema, watches through a grate as a female vampire has sex with a young man and then kills him. The vampire senses the girl’s presence but Sheema leaves before getting caught.

There is a human resistance movement trying to gain traction.  (This bit was a tad “overblown” as the man who pushes for the group to take action  makes it sound like the vampires have been in charge for decades instead of a few years.)

Sheema talks to the man and assures him all is not lost.

Back at the hospital fingers of suspicion point to Flesh and Doc as the possible murders of the dead girl.  John also, rather unwisely, accuses Sam’s friend Mohammed. Sam takes offense at this and John’s nasty attitude about his deafness and grabs him by the throat.

Oddly, John refuses to look at Sam during the subdued attack.

Outside the hospital, Van Helsing and Mohamad stop at the apartment. As Vanessa retrieves a shotgun, she notices bloody footprints leading outside the apartment.  Clearly her daughter Dylan was alive after Vanessa died.

After a meal of canned peaches and some sharing of information the two head outside. They come across a small band of survivors, out-of-towners, who are being attacked by feeders.

Vanessa steps in, against Mohamad’s wishes, and saves the group. There is one injured person among the members of the group and a small girl.  Van Helsing tells Mohamad to take the survivors back to the hospital and that she will hold off the feeders who are organizing around them.

Reluctantly Mohamad leads the survivors away and Vanessa waits to fight the approaching vampires.

Van Helsing takes out quite a few feeders before being overpowered and taken prisoner. The vampires know not to feed on her and as she is taken away, “In the Year 2525”  begins playing.  Vanessa is shown wearing a bite guard as the feeders take her away.

This is an impressive scene that brings up a very interesting question. Unless the writers have made a complete boo-boo, aka written a huge and somewhat gaping plot hole, the feeders have inside information about Van Helsing.

The only vampire/feeder bitten by Vanessa was Doc. Inside the hospital.  In front of the survivors and no one else.  How do the feeders know to keep Van Helsing from biting?

They cannot, obviously, know that Vanessa can cure their vampirism by means of biting unless someone in the group is a plant.  Added to this line of speculation is the missing finger and the murder staged to looked like a suicide. All this means that someone in the group is an outsider.

Doc thinks the finger is a souvenir but perhaps it is a small snack for the feeder in survivor’s clothing.  The two best suspects are Mohamad (who gave up the search for his sister pretty easily and who is, self admittedly, some feeder’s property) and his accuser John.

Of course it may not be John, just being a colossal douche and an a**hole does not instantly mean he is the mole of the group.

With Vanessa now a captive of the feeders, Axel will eventually go after his “assignment” although he has stuck with the group for now. On a sidenote, the dynamic between the Marine and the doctor is a bit strained after her rescue. A bit disappointing but not too surprising, Doc does has a slightly skewed view of things.

Van Helsing airs Fridays on SyFy.  Tune in and see how the savior of humanity will be saved herself.

Cast:

Van Helsing: Help Me/Seen You – Two Hour Makeover of the Myth (Review)

Van Helsing - Season 1

Forget Bram Stoker. It might be a good idea to give Anne Rice a miss as well. Van Helsing takes what it wants from the vampire myth and leaves the rest.  The two episode open “Help Me” and “Seen You” establishes the characters in the most fundamental way possible.

The plot, in a nutshell, has vampires running amok after a super volcano erupts and shades the earth with a cloud of volcanic ash. This massive explosion of lava and rock unleashes the vampire horde that has been hiding until now.

At the same time, a young coma patient; Van Helsing, is under guard by a Marine detachment. She is special, they are told,  as she should be dead.  The volcano erupts and after the vampires have decimated the human population Vanessa Van Helsing wakes up.

Van Helsing has, it seems, three distinct types of vampire.  Feral’s which are pretty much as the name implies; wild, savage and not too intelligent. The other two are feeders, who can track their prey down, and the last smaller group consists of vampire leaders who run the whole shooting match. Dimitri is the big boss.

These creatures of the night (yes they are still allergic to sunlight, hence the need for the volcanic ash cloud) have no apparent fangs. They also cannot fly, do not control other creatures of the night, are not afraid of crosses,  nor are they allergic to garlic,  and they do not need to be staked through the heart to be killed.

Vampires in this world need only suffer massive blood loss or a lot of blunt force trauma to be extinguished. (They also do not disappear in a flash of smoke or disintegrate into a pile of ash a’la Buffy The Vampire Slayer.)

Bloodsuckers in this verse can be killed with something as simple as a baseball bat, or a section of steel pipe.

They have more in common with the 30 Days of Night vampires although these blood drinkers do not have a special language. (Dimitri does, however, speak Romanian.) In essence these monsters have more in common with zombies than actual vampires.

If Count Dracula were to have a family reunion it is a sure bet that none of this lot would be invited.  The Walking Dead, however, would make room at their table.

Van Helsing feels like an offshoot of Daybreakers where the vampires look very much like normal people. The main difference being that normal folks do not drink each other’s blood.

Another thing this show shares with Daybreakers is the ability of vampires to be changed  back to the human they once were.  In traditional vampire lore, the only escape is death. There is no “turning back.”

Van Helsing - Season 1
Axle Miller

At the start of the first episode, Axel is alone except for the unconscious Vanessa and a vampire he feeds via a transfusion tube.  She sucks his blood through the tube and he talks to her during the process. This captured vampire turns out to be Doc;  the woman who looked after Van Helsing initially.

A group of survivors, one of whom Axel knows, gain entry. One man’s wife is still out there and it causes some friction. As a matter of fact, all  of this new group, barring Sam and Mohamad, are a royal pain. The women are aggressive and not grateful at all for being saved.

The man whose wife was left behind attacks Axel and Ted (played by Tim Guinee) – a friend and former colleague of Miller’s – turns out to be a vampire sympathizer. He tries to take Vanessa, dead or alive, to the monsters that surround the hospital.

Van Helsing kills the Ted, by ramming the knife shoved through her hand into his eye socket. Impressive as this is, her incredibly fast healing powers actually trump the kill.

Vanessa, despite her claims to the contrary, is very special. Her blood turns vampires back into people. This “borrow” from “Daybreakers” relegates the whole demon aspect of vampires into a sort of viral infection that can be cured with the right antibody.

The second half of the season one premiere is all about backstory. Vanessa’s and  the world’s devolution into vampire territory are shown.  In “help Me” Van Helsing is desperate to get to her daughter. Miller tells her that the girl is most likely dead. This half of the premiere shows the little girl with her mother.

It also shows that the vampires were already present in this world.

Vanessa is a single mother whose ex fails in the father sweepstakes. Van Helsing turns out to be a tough woman who is not afraid to stick up for those less capable.  She is also devoted to her daughter Dylan (Hannah Cheramy).

Everything falls apart on Dylan’s birthday when Vanessa is attacked by a vampire. The two fight and Van Helsing gives as good as she gets in the scuffle.  The vampire rips open her throat as Dylan watches.  The creature is affected by her blood and rushes out of the apartment.

Van Helsing “dies.”

This introduces her “dead body”  to Doc who discovers that she may look dead but  her blood is still active.   Miller and his fellow Marines are dispatched to the hospital to grab Vanessa. As the doctor argues with the detachment commander all hell breaks loose outside the hospital.

Vampires attack the hospital and the Major orders Ted and Axle to keep an eye on “Sleeping beauty” and the Doc.  Three years later, the vampires are, it seems, trying to procreate and they are searching for Vanessa  at the same time.

Van Helsing - Season 1
Doc

A squad of Marines head out to get supplies from the base and Doc is turned by the means of a bite as she saves Axel. Her turning is painful and disturbing. She pleads with Axel not to kill her.

He decides to strap Doc to a hospital gurney instead. Within seconds she transforms into a vampire struggling to get out of its bonds and kill him.

Van Helsing takes two hours to make over the myth of the vampire and it does so admirably.  The major characters are interesting, especially Sam who must be the luckiest deaf man alive to have avoided being killed.

There are some concerns about the deviation from traditional vampire lore but, in the end,  they are still frightening and a pretty impressive foe to be conquered.

Overly as Van Helsing is a change from previous heroines in the horror genre. It is interesting to see that,  thus far, her ability to change vampires back to human consists of being bitten. Hopefully a less painful, and intrusive, way will be found.

Van Helsing airs Fridays on SyFy. Tune in and see what you think.

Cast: