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.

 

Wayward Pines: Season Finale Cycle Ends on Sour Note (SPOILERS)

Ethan and Theresa in Wayward Pines Cycle
Wayward Pines provided a season finale with Cycle that ended the show on a somewhat sour note. While the final reveal was a twist, including the David Pilcher statue in the town park, it left a bitter taste. Matt Dillon’s character Ethan Burke blows himself and a group of Abbies up to save the town’s remaining citizens and son Ben, who is draped over the blazing elevator shaft calling for his dad, is knocked out cold by falling debris. Before looking at the rest of the season finale perhaps the whole episode, with its moments of revealing clarity, should be looked at overall.

In last week’s episode, A Reckoning Pilcher proved once and for all that under all that visionary rubbish, along with his massive case of megalomania and control freak issues, that he was essentially that snotty kid who takes the basketball home if he does not get his way. In Cycle he also revealed that his noble words about “his people” were empty.

Turning off the fence and leaving the denizens of Wayward Pines to the hands of the Abbies was equal to a child’s stomping their ant farm flat because its occupants dare to escape. Pilcher may have suffered from a Deity complex and had more than his fair share of hubris but in the end, the only ones that walked away fairly unscathed from David’s destruction of the town were his 1st class of the Wayward Pines Academy.

Megan Fisher proved that her devotion and zealous brainwashing hid an innate lack of common sense. Either that or she chose to be eaten alive by Abbies who broke into the compound entrance at plot 33. Viewers can be forgiven for giving a little clap when this annoying woman got her “just deserts.”

Theresa showed that when a “mother bear” is protecting her cub and his girlfriend, no Abbie on earth is too much to handle. Sure, Ethan finished the creature off, but his wife was handling things just fine thank you very much. Kate and Theresa have a moment where she binds Theresa’s wound, from the hospital encounter with the Abbie, and for the time being things are okay between the two women.

Without going into specifics, this is after all more of a review than the usual recap/review format, it is time to look at what was pretty annoying about the episode.

The Death of Ethan:

After an entire season of acting his little cotton socks off, Matt Dillon’s character, former Secret Service Agent Burke, blows himself up and what looks to be about 100 Abbies. Dillon was an integral part of the show and his death is particularly galling and the manner of it even more so; sitting on the floor of the elevator with the detonator in his hand, smiling gently at his memories of wife and child…

It could be said that this is a satisfactory character arc for Ethan Burke, a man eaten up with guilt at the deaths caused by his release of the Easter bomber (before Wayward Pines) and his “affair” with Kate that threatened to destroy his marriage. The main problem with this character’s exit is that the whole show revolved around Ethan, taking him out of the equation is not only a bad idea but it removes Dillon who “rocked it” in this role.

The Death of Pilcher:

Granted, there cannot be many fans of the show that, while applauding Toby Jones for his performance, could not wait for Pilcher/Jenkins to be taken out. Despite the fact that his sister Pam, whom he had a very odd relationship with, was the one to shoot David, one really wanted to see Theresa shoot him and have the power mad dictator be put in stasis. Pilcher’s exit was too fast and felt rushed.

Jason Not Dying:

There cannot be many who did not want to see this major douchebag character get eaten by an Abbie. Unfortunately the “I’m special” kid lives through being shot by Ethan and the Abbie attack and manages to get to the Ark in the Ark.

Ben as the New Burke in Town:

Nothing against Charlie Tahan, the Frankenweenie actor did a bang up job as Ethan Burke’s “Wilbur Milquetoast” son who, under the tutelage of Megan Fisher, becomes a more confident character. His romance with Amy, while a little disturbing, was cute and the fact that Ben has survived a bomb blast and being conked in the bean with falling debris, means that he is pretty resilient if nothing else.

But…

The kid is not Matt Dillon…just saying.

Pam as Hero:

From the very first time Pilcher’s sister appeared, she was destined to be an off the wall character who would blindly follow her brother’s lead. Melissa Leo did such a good job as psycho nurse Pam in the beginning that it is very hard to believe her turn around. It should be mentioned, however, that her shooting of David fits. It must have been obvious to her that he did not think much of his drug addict sis.

Conclusion:

There are other things that were annoying about the finale but these are smaller in nature and not quite as irritating at the above mentioned items. Although the Abbie’s ability to cut off electricity and shut down the elevator did stretch things just a bit. As did the head security guy who forces Pam into stasis/suspension only to do a complete about face and take her out moments later. (Of course he had to, otherwise she could not have so ironically shot down her maniac brother…or as one wit once said, “it’s in the script.”)

The final twist of Ben waking up to find his one time potential “baby mother” calling him sir and being very distant was interesting and for a brief moment all kinds of possibilities were opened. Once he demanded, and got, his clothes and left the hospital though, things got interesting. Only for a short while however.

The fact that Jason and the rest of his special group made it to the ark, and that three years has passed since the massive Abbie attack, made the Nazi-ish spin to the finale almost fait accompli. The conversation in the hospital, “They’re listening,” harked back to the beginning of the series and the additional shock value of seeing a man hanging in the town square by the carousel and a nuclear family having their picnic practically at the corpse’s feet, worked very well. The end result of that final set piece is that the viewer nods and thinks, “yup, Jason lived…”

Some entertainment sites are touting that a second season seems to be on the cards. That may well be. The viewing figures for Wayward Pines were impressive and the right demographic was appealed to. Deadline spoke to M Night Shyamalan who hinted, “very diplomatically” that there may just be a second season.

Sadly, unless they can bring back Ethan Burke from the dead, sorry Ben, the show will have limited appeal. Dillon made the whole thing work, along with his continuing interaction with Jones’ David Pilcher, he brought a certain gravitas to the role. Granted Jason may make a great season two villain but it is doubtful whether Charlie Tahan, great actor that the kid is, can pull off a “Dillon.”

So, the recap of the finale is: Kate lives, Pilcher turns off the fence and Ethan arms the citizens to fight the Abbies. Theresa saves Ben and Amy, Pam gets put to sleep and then woken up and Meg Fisher learns that staying behind can lead to being eaten. Ethan blows up a slew of Abbies and dies, Pam shoots David, Ben survives a bash to the head and Amy is now a nurse. Wayward Pines survives and is now worse than before, Jason may just be in charge and all the “adults” are in suspension. There could very well be a second season with Ben Burke as the lead protagonist.

Wayward Pines: The Friendliest Place on Earth (recap and review)

Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) in Wayward Pines
Last week on Wayward Pines in Betrayal, Ethan’s race to find all the bombs ended with Ted’s truck blowing up and injuring Ben and Amy. The Friendliest Place on Earth begins with the two children in hospital and Ben has a concussion. Pilcher is furious and Pam tells her brother that they should do something good for the townspeople. Eric is dying from being penned between the dumpster and the truck. Kate is reliving her first days in Wayward Pines and her dealings with Dr. Jenkins. In her flashback she is convinced that the town is a “Potemkin village;” not real at all.

In Kate’s flashback Nurse Pam gives her an injection to calm her down. She wakes, the memories of her and Jenkins came while she was sleeping in the jail cell, to the sound of sweeping. The town is clearing away any signs of Ted’s destroyed truck. Ruby, one of the insurgents who left the woods early so she would not be late for work, comes into the coffee shop to the sounds of speculation. The people are not buying the gas leak explanation.

Pilcher notices that Ruby is late and goes back to the control center to see where she was. Her chip says she is home at bed, which David knows is not true. They check her home and the camera reveals that there is no one at home. David tasks the team to see who else is “home in bed.”

Ethan tells Kate that Ben almost died from one of Harold’s bombs and he blames his former partner. She tells Sheriff Burke that there is a reason that he was chosen to be the town’s law enforcer; he follows orders. She reminds Ethan that he made the same mistake before and he replies that he is just trying to keep anyone else from dying. He asks her what happened and why she does not trust him. Later more flashbacks show that Kate fought a vigorous form of brain washing and lied to Dr. Jenkins to be left alone.

Pilcher tells Pam that Ruby is one of the insurgents and he tells his sister that they need to do an in-depth security review of all the surveillance camera operators. She learns that one, Reggie, is troubled when he observes citizen’s questioning policy and the wall and their fear. He admits that he blurs or wipes video footage when this happens. “It’s human nature to ask questions isn’t it,” Reggie asks and Pam agrees.

This interaction is observed by her brother David and Pam, not knowing that he saw the interviews, lies and says no one is being slack in their duties. Ben wakes up and Megan Fisher stops by to use her skills as a hypnotherapist again, to turn Ben against his parents. She emphasizes Harold was let go by Ethan because of his friendship with Kate, Harold’s wife and that Ben would never have been hurt if Harold had stayed in jail.

Fisher also convinces Ben that as he has survived a “terrorist attack” he is a hero and people will want to know what he thinks. She also presses home the importance of “clear and severe” rules and punishments. It is clear that Fisher is a real danger to Ethan Burke and anyone else who questions the status quo. Later when Theresa warns the teacher to stay away from her family, Megan checks to see if the moment was caught on camera.

Ethan shuts down the Wayward Pines festival and tell everyone the truth about the explosion and that several of the insurgents are missing. He urges them all to go home and keep safe. Pilcher is not happy with the sheriff for shutting down the festival or for telling them the truth. Burke stops by to see his son and Ben confronts him about letting Harold go and about his friendship with Kate.

Theresa comes in and tries to make Ben stop and Ethan explains that he can ask whatever he wants. The sheriff tells his son that he would have done the same thing regardless of who it was. Ben’s mother figures out that it is Fisher behind her son’s actions. Amy comes in to visit and the parents leave.

Amy is still focussed on Ben and the two visit in his hospital room. Ethan tells Theresa about the bombings and how his “following orders” led to over 641 innocents being killed. He could never tell her before because it was classified and he explained about having to use Kate as a sounding board as she was his partner and privy to the information. At the end of their talk, it looks like Ethan and Theresa are closer together.

Harold and one of the other insurgents plan to take Eric’s body, he died from his injuries, outside of the fence to bury him. The two men steal a 30 foot dump truck to smash through a gate and Ethan is on their trail after getting a call about the theft of the vehicle. Jenkins stops by to see Kate and they talk.

He accuses her of being a fanatic and Kate reveals that she knows he is really David Pilcher. The self imposed savior tells her everything in Wayward Pines is a question of safety versus freedom. Later, as Pam serves her brother a cup of tea and a piece of pie, David has Reggie picked up by security. He tells his sister that the man is a traitor and will be dealt with.

Pam volunteers herself for punishment, “Kill me,” she says and David replies that they will not do that any longer. Reggie’s penalty for treason is to be put back into the cryogenic stasis pod. Harold backs out of crashing through the gate and Ethan catches up with him. All that Burke learns from Kate’s husband is that he is too late.

Harold’s friend crashes the truck through the fence and drags Eric’s dead body out of the vehicle. Holding Eric, the man begins to laugh and says, “We made it buddy.” Suddenly several naked Nosferatu looking creatures converge on the man and Eric’s body. They attack and one of the monstrous creatures looks at the gate and roars.

Anyone watching Wayward Pines who has not read the books that the series is based on will be eagerly following each new episode and perhaps asking just what the truth really is about the little town. Other questions that need answering are: What is the significance of Plot 33 and that metal thing under the ground? Is Boise the only town so perfectly destroyed by Pilcher’s “evolution” and is the rest of the world just like the city outside the fence?

Other questions deal with the choices that Pilcher made in terms of his residents. Each one was pre-chosen, for instance he apparently hand-picked not just Ethan Burke, but Kate Hewson as well, why? Considering the “late” arrival of Theresa Burke and Ben, why did Pilcher abduct the two way back in 2014 when he could not know that Ethan would be so adamant about his family that it could be a deal breaker?

On the face of things, it appears that Toby Jones’ character is one half megalomaniac and one half mad scientist. Ethan may believe his eyes, and therefore believe David’s assertion that Wayward Pines is an ark and the only safe place in the world, but Kate’s conversation with Pilcher seems to suggest otherwise. Is this a government test of some sort; she was warned of just that possibility before waking up in the town, or is the world really in some sort of futuristic post-apocalyptic wilderness where mankind has evolved into some sort of animal.

Wayward Pines airs Thursdays on Fox. Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Shannyn Sossamon, Toby Jones, Hope Davis and Melissa Leo are working perfectly with the show’s creators to provide some quality mystery/thriller television. This is one of the network’s best shows on offer, miss it you will be missing some quality entertainment.

Wayward Pines: Betrayal (recap and review)

Still from Wayward Pines with Pam and Ethan
Last week’s episode of Wayward Pines, Choices, ended with a bomb being put into a music box and Harold saying “it’s ready.” This week in Betrayal before the opening credits we learn that other bombs have been manufactured and one was put in the new sheriff’s official vehicle. It is also immediately made clear that despite Ethan’s telling Pilcher last week that he would tell no one, he did not mean that to include his wife (or just about everyone else he talks to this week).

“There is no Seattle,” he tells Theresa. She assumes that he has been taken back to the hospital and had something done to him. It is after their terse little conversation that he discovers the bomb in the car. Heading to his office he looks up the file of Franklin Dobbs and finds the man is an explosive demolition expert.

Pilcher’s sister Pam offers to help and Ethan is still not comfortable with the woman. He reluctantly agrees to accept her assistance to see what Franklin has been up to via the surveillance system. Later he questions Dobbs and comes up with a priceless reference to Caddyshack and Bill Murray’s mad groundskeeper. As Ethan found a stick of C4 attached to his ignition, he asks Franklin to help him with the gophers in his lawn. Franklin pales and says he cannot help the sheriff out, the man then hurriedly leaves.

At Wayward Pines Academy, Ben and his fellow classmates are looking at the biology books that Megan Fisher referenced earlier. They are told that for “obvious” reasons the books must stay at the school as parents are nervous about the images in this particular section. The nervous giggling and laughter immediately signposts this is a sex education lesson.

Fisher, proving that she is a zealot in all things and not just David Pilcher’s teachings, explains that all of the children in the room will be parenting the first 100 percent “original” generation. That one day in the very near future they will begin to procreate, which is their most important function in Wayward Pines. Ben and Amy are singled out and made to stand at the front of the class as Fisher talks about bees and flowers, hands and gloves, and that their co-parent is probably in the same room. The teacher also states that it is her job to help them “find each other.”

It is pretty obvious that there is no room for homosexuality in this new system. Unless it can be overlooked if they still manage to procreate, despite their sexual nature. One can easily imagine the subject of gay sex wiping that zealous look off of Meg Fisher’s face. Until that crisis rears its head, Fisher will continue to be sexual councillor and match maker of the first generation.

Procreation is on someone else’s mind as well, Pam rushes in to tell her brother that two new pregnancies have been reported. Pilcher/Jenkins is not overwhelmed by the information, he is consumed with worry about the subversive group and their plan to blow up the fence. Sheriff Burke discovers that the perimeter wall is not the only thing the group want to destroy.

Ethan follows Franklin to Harold where he sees the two talking at the coffee shop. As Franklin is leaving the sheriff comes in to take Kate’s husband to the station. Harold claims he knows nothing of the bomb in Ethan’s truck and he tries to run once they get outside the shop. Burke tackles him and warns that if he tries to escape again, he will not be so gentle.

At the station, Harold confesses and Ethan gives him a note for Kate. The two talk and Ethan tells Kate that there is nothing outside the fence. He asks her to get the group to give up their weapons and explosives and thing will stay between the two of them. Later Kate speaks to Theresa and tells her that “they’ve gotten to Ethan.”

She also tells Ethan’s wife that before she wound up in Wayward Pines that Adam Hassler from the bureau told her to prepare for some government test where another agent would be testing her severely. Kate believes that Wayward Pines is that test and that Ethan is the other agent. Theresa believes that Ethan was brainwashed on the mountain as she reveals what she and Kate talked about.

Burke goes to pick up Ben after school and Kate’s group go to their backup plan. It is revealed that Ted planted the bomb in Ethan’s truck. Harold gives Ted a paper bag which he puts in his delivery truck. Ethan is tracking down Kate’s group and stops them just as they arm the bomb. The sheriff forces Franklin to disarm the explosive and arrests them all. He angrily says to Kate, “I trusted you.”

She tells him that he’s been brainwashed and that the bombings have just begun. When searching for Harold, Ethan discovers that Ted has another bomb and he goes to intercept the man and his vehicle. Meanwhile, Amy and Ben sneak out to meet in the woods, she is interested in getting a head start on all that procreating, and they hitch a ride in Ted’s truck.

As the two sit in the back of the vehicle Amy opens the paper bag and discovers the music box bomb. Opening the lid, the dancer swirls, the music plays and the device is activated. Sheriff Burke rushes to catch Ted and his truck. As the truck pulls up to a crosswalk, Ethan drives up and the back of Ted’s vehicle explodes.

While the music box bomb does not appear to have been powerful enough to blow up part of the fence, it is capable of blowing Amy and Ben through the side of the truck. She stands bloody and dazed while Ben lies in the road. He is not moving and does not respond to Ethan.

Wayward Pines, Betrayal, is all about breaking trust, and in at least one case, the rules. Amy and Ben break the rules so that she can start romancing her assignment. Theresa goes to plot 33 and discovers a metal substance under the ground and she still believes that Ethan has been brainwashed. Kate betrays her former lover’s trust and the FBI agent is convinced that all of Wayward Pines is a test of some kind.

Ethan is proving that as an agent, he can be pretty pedantic. Now that he believes the world has been destroyed, he is on board with Pilcher and his ark. The only sticking point is that Burke keeps telling people part of the truth and as the saying goes, this will surely end in tears.

Despite being shown the state of the world immediately outside the fence, there is still a feeling that this is not 4028 but 2014. The state of the players in charge, Pilcher and Pam, makes it seem that they are either delusional or just not telling all the truth. Toby Jones is perfectly off-kilter as the “mad scientist” saving the world and Melissa Leo as Nurse Pam, is just downright creepy.

This is solid entertainment and the mystery thriller element keeps the viewer guessing from one frame to the next. Wayward Pines airs Thursdays on Fox and can be seen on Hulu. This is cracking television, well done Fox.