It’s nothing special, just a string of clichés tied together by the most basic of plots. It can be good for some mindless entertainment, but even then, it has some serious flaws.
For starters: Robert, the main character (played by Denzel Washington) isn’t so much a “character” as an “archetype”. He gets no backstory at all in order to play up his mystique, and he gets the bare minimum of characterization just so the audience can understand how bad ass he is.
His feats also strain credibility to the breaking point – I’m talking Batman-level stealth (you know, where you think you see something out of the corner of your eye, and then you turn, but there’s nothing there anymore and OH GOD HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU), and fighting skills that put Jason Bourne to shame. Mind you, I don’t mind this kind of thing if the movie is explicitly going for it (noone should begrudge an 80’s action movie for revelling in its goofiness, after all), but the movie presents itself as a grim ‘n’ gritty tale of vigilante justice, so there’s quite the clash of genre expectations – and not in a good way.
Oh, and speaking of vigilante justice? Apparently, all America needs to destroy the Russian mob in the East Coast is a single former special agent. Go figure.
Also, in spite of his already fenomenal skills, when the climactic confrontation with the bad guys takes place, they still act like complete dumbasses, in spite of being a supposedly elite team. This, combined with the protagonist’s (I hesitate to call him a “character”) aforementioned skills, just killed all the dramatic tension for me; I KNOW he’s going to kill them all, there’s no point in even pretending he won’t. Honestly, there was a moment where I was actually more curious how the main antagonist would be even capable of standing up to him. The answer? Not very well.
As for the female characters… Well, remember when I said the movie was a string of clichés? Yep: there’s the traditional hooker with a heart of gold, yearning to leave that life and pursue her dreams of being a singer, who’s badly beaten up by her pimp in the first twenty minutes and then completely disappears, her narrative purpose of instigating the plot fulfilled. And she’s the most important female character, mind you.
I don’t know anything about the TV show this was based on, but it’s really nothing special. I had a good time because I watched it with my friends, but if I had seen it by myself, I’d have been angry at wasting money on the ticket.
And yes, technically I gave away the entire plot (such as it is) of the movie, but really, only someone who hasn’t watched any movies since the sixties could not predict every single moment in the film.