For sequels, ‘Equalizer’ serves its predecessor, ‘Transylvania’ not so much

This photo released by Sony Entertainment shows Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer 2.” (Photo courtesy Sony Entertainment)

Equalizer 2/Hotel Transylvania 3

 

This weekend marked peak summer, at least as far as movie going went — two movies in one day. I know that’s a silly milestone, but you take them where you can get them. There was one major release this week: “The Equalizer 2,” starring Denzel Washington, and then I also took the family to see “Hotel Transylvania 3.” Both sequels, both kind of trashy, and both fun in their own way. Those are not two movies I’d normally pair, but maybe they’re on opposite ends of the same spectrum.

Speaking of milestones, “Equalizer 2” marks the first sequel for either star Denzel Washington or director Antoine Fuqua, who re-teamed for this film. Washington stars as Robert McCall, a shadowy, ex-government assassin who, after the death of his wife, began a campaign of redemption by helping the weak and underserved in society. In the first film he, through various means, helps a young prostitute, a Hispanic family, a poor community menaced by corrupt cops, and managed to take down a Russian mafia kingpin as the cherry on top.

Here, McCall is up against a team of similarly skilled assassins after the death of his one and only friend, retired CIA agent Susan Plummer, played by Melissa Leo. The nice thing about a movie like this is that there is plenty of room for meandering action without it dragging down the plot. McCall also manages to mentor a young artist in danger of tipping into gang life, rescue a kidnapped girl, and even help a holocaust survivor.

Fuqua and Washington have this formula down. It doesn’t really require a lot of nuance, but the two are using their considerable talents to full effect. Fuqua is a solid director, who occasionally hits it out of the park (“Training Day,” anyone?) and Denzel is certainly one of the best actors of his generation, no matter what kind of movie he’s in. The action in the film is well-staged and varied. Lest anyone lump this film in with others in the genre like “Taken,” the difference is all in the craftsmanship. Liam Neeson is certainly a great actor, but the team behind him has nothing on the “Equalizer” crew. Those other films believe kinetic energy can be created simply through frequent, rapid cuts in the editing bay, but the result is a confused and muddled mess. “The Equalizer” is about methodical precision, to the point where McCall even sets his stopwatch to time his fights. (This, by the way, is a little callback to the original that we could go ahead and drop. It feels a little forced.) The cinematography is great and the writing is more than passable. For a sequel to a basic, solid action film, “Equalizer 2” hits the mark.

Grade: A-

“Hotel Transylvania 3,” on the other hand, marks yet another film in Adam Sandler’s resume that feels like a joke from a better movie.

In another time, it would have been called “Dracula Takes a Holiday.” I have to confess, this movie was a hard sell for me as, I don’t particularly care for Sandler’s later body of work, and I’m not a huge fan of the “Transylvania” movies in general. I can acknowledge that there are interesting things about them, that director Genndy Tartakovsky, who also brought us “The Clone Wars” and “Samurai Jack,” has a very particular style, and that the situational comedy is ripe for the picking.

Dracula as a Transylvanian innkeeper, catering only to monsters, is a pretty clever idea. Unfortunately, most of the jokes in these films are pretty ripe, too. As in, way past their prime. In this film, Drac and his family, which, due to the plots of parts 1 & 2, now includes a human son-in-law and a half-human grandson, decide to take a break from the rigors of the job and go on vacation. Turns out there are other monster-exclusive entertainments, this one taking the form of a cruise out of the Bermuda Triangle that offers stops at “the Underwater Volcano!” and “the Deserted Island!” before arriving at fabled Atlantis, which rises from the sea to set the stage for an epic dance party. Along for the ride are buds Frankenstein and the Mrs., the Wolfman family, Murray the mummy, Invisible Man and his invisible gal, and the Blob.

Also back for the ride are Sandler’s actual buds Kevin James and David Spade, among other, better actors like Steve Buscemi and Keegan-Michael Key. I sometimes wonder if Sandler is simply making movies to keep his pals employed. If that’s the case, I guess it’s admirable, even if the movies are typically dreck. This movie isn’t dreck, it’s just not made for me. My kids enjoyed it for the most part, although at eight and ten may be getting a little old for it. Or maybe they’re a little young for it, considering the big dance number is set to a song that was already way past its considerable prime by the time they came along, and even in its heyday, the Macarena was a pretty tired joke.

Grade: C+

“The Equalizer 2” is rated R for language and pervasive, sometimes gruesome violence.

“Hotel Transylvania 3” is rated PG for a couple of fart jokes.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

Topics

More