african-american directors series: two by antoine fuqua: the equalizer (2014) and (by request) the equalizer 2 (2018)
In 1982, I saw The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) for the first time. The early 80s were a great time for watching action movies. The first two Indiana Jones movies ... The Terminator ... the first Mad Max. It was such a good time that I would often go to see more marginal action movies, because even when they were dumb, they offered a good time. Escape from New York was one. I saw the first Rambo movie (First Blood) ... I even paid to see a much lesser Stallone film, Cobra. And we can't forget the King of all of these movies, Arnold, who had a great decade, and was the epitome of "even when dumb, they were great". Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Commando, Predator, The Running Man, Total Recall, Terminator 2, and others ... what a run!
It's not that my tastes have changed all that much, but I don't have a desire to revisit 1980s action. Of course I'll always watch Road Warrior, and the better Arnold movies (not just the Terminators, but Predator and Total Recall). But while I still love great action movies, I'm not so big on the mediocre ones anymore. Something like Mad Max: Fury Road is simply a great movie, but it's not alone ... it is once again a good time for action movies, especially if you move outside the USA. The Raid films of Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais ... Korean horror classics like Train to Busan and anything by Joon-ho Bong. Attack the Block. Black Panther.
Who knows why I no longer have patience for the fair-to-middling action movies? Just because I loved Road Warrior didn't mean I avoided all the other action movies ... on the contrary, that movie probably had a lot with why I went to the lesser films. But Korean horror movies mostly make me watch more Korean horror movies. (It's like when I first discovered Hong Kong action movies ... I'd watch a couple of HK films a week, not just action, either.)
All of this is a long-winded way of saying I wasn't impressed with the two Equalizer movies from Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. Both films have things to offer, most importantly Denzel himself.
Fuqua is a solid director who rarely goes wrong (his first film, The Replacement Killers, was an unfortunate stinker, unfortunate because it was Chow Yun-Fat's first American film and thus was a real letdown). I told my wife that Fuqua is the ultimate in what I called "Robin Is Knitting" movies, where she knits and watches movies and TV where she doesn't need to pay attention: Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Magnificent Seven, the two Equalizers. His movies are usually successful at the box office, starting with Training Day, the one of his movies that really stands out. Not overwhelming box office smashes, but, to use The Equalizer as an example, that film made $192 million on a budget of $55 million (if you're wondering why they made a sequel.) Fuqua pleases audiences more than he pleases critics ... his last five features (including EQ2) have received CinemaScore grades of A-, A-, A, A-, and A, while Metacritic assigns those same five films within a range of 41-57 on a scale of 100.
Denzel Washington is great in the two Equalizer movies. You don't think too much about him being too old to play an action hero, because he doesn't move around that much to begin with ... and it's not like Big Steve Seagal limiting his movements because he can't get around anymore. No, Denzel's acting in these movies is like what Clint Eastwood does, i.e. not much. Clint squints his eyes and the combined power of every role he ever played lends weight to those squints. Yes, Denzel is like Clint, except where Eastwood never seems to be acting, Denzel is always acting. Not in a showy way, but just enough so we understand his character is always thinking three steps ahead. And if, like Eastwood, Washington rarely shows emotion in these movies, nonetheless he is expert at showing the emotion just beneath the surface. It's a master class from a master.
As for the rest? I would have loved these movies in the 1980s. Now I can take them or leave them. The Equalizer 2 was especially obvious ... characters turned up for a few minutes, and their only purpose was either to be a victim so Denzel could get revenge, or be the bad guy that Denzel revenged on. Orson Bean (Orson Bean!) turns up, gets a decent amount of screen time, and his part could have been eliminated and no one would have noticed. The Equalizer 2 kept me awake for two hours, even if my attention started fading near the end. But it was no Training Day.