Monday, September 11, 2023

Howling into the Void: Wolf Pack (2023) Review

Director: Michael Chiang

Notable Cast: Max Zhang, Aarif Rahman, Jiang Luxia, Mark Luu, Zhang Yi, Xue Jianing, Ye Liu


Honestly, I’ll watch any film with Max Zhang in it. His rise to leading A-list stardom in China has been a blast to follow and he quickly becomes a highlight of any film he’s in. When it was announced he would be in a new military action flick, Wolf Pack, along with Aarif Rahman and Jiang Luxia - two very underrated stars in their own right - I was doubly in. A military group led by Zhang kicking ass, taking names, and setting their sites on out-America-ing Hollywood in military actioners with weirdly patriotic themes? Hell yeah, I’m in. 


For all of its bullet blasting, secret character heroics, and a handful of exciting action set pieces, Wolf Pack is a movie that throws many punches and only lands a few of them. A charm is inherent in many of its ideas and a few of its executions. Still, its narrative could be more straightforward, and its characters - despite some fantastic casting - are bland blends of various tropes and unfinished arcs. Wolf Pack does a lot of loud howling, but it's howling its loudest into a void that swallows any sound and kills any lingering echo after the credits roll. 


Sunday, September 3, 2023

Find Your Peace-eria: The Equalizer 3 (2023)

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Notable Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Gaia Scodellaro, David Denman, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Remo Girone, Daniele Perrone, Andrea Scarduzio, Andrea Dodero, Giovanni Scotti, Melissa Leo, Sonia Ammar


Over the last 30 years, the relative variety of films that Antoine Fuqua has made that exist within the realm of action/thriller/crime has been fairly impressive. Does anyone remember that he made a historical flick with Will Smith called Emancipation last year? Probably not, since it went to Apple and subsequently died a forgotten death, but he did. Yes, he made one of those too. Yet, the only real “franchise” he has repeatedly returned to is The Equalizer, the modern update of the 1980s television show featuring his frequent collaborator Denzel Washington. 


Finding relative success with the first two entries, it’s no shock that The Equalizer 3 was on the docket for some time in the future even if Denzel is starting to show his age at 68. Trilogies are not easy to pull off, but the first two entries have only grown on me since their releases as they are kind of Charles Bronson meets John Woo melodramatic slices of action cinema. Thus, my expectations - even mediated - were elevated for this threequel. 


The Equalizer 3 is a perplexing puzzle, though. Despite being the shortest film in the series (by at least 15 minutes) and featuring the least complicated story and plot, it’s trying to do a lot and rarely managing to find its identity in doing so. It’s making many bold choices compared to its predecessors, changing up the film's tone a smidge, fully taking Denzel’s Robert McCall character out of Boston, and it doesn’t necessarily land where it needs to thematically or what it's setting up for the character. Despite some highly entertaining moments elevated by the Oscar-winning actor, The Equalizer 3 rarely feels equalized in its balance, and it leaves the trilogy feeling a tad underwhelming.