Denzel Washington makes his first sequel in this vigilante effort, but The Equalizer 2 only slightly improves on its predecessor.
Denzel Washington in the The Equalizer 2.
The climax of The Equalizer 2 plays out in one of the most unlikely of places: an evacuated seaside town about to bear the brunt of a hurricane. It’s a ridiculous spot for a meeting between enemies, even if it’s one of personal significance for the movie’s protagonist; however it results in the most inventive aspect of this action sequel by far. The wind swirls and the ocean sprays, but gunshots become the third aspect of this forceful ballet, resulting in a dance of air, water and fire. A visually distinctive showdown eventuates, with director Antoine Fuqua (The Magnificent Seven) and cinematographer Oliver Wood (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) finding creative ways to take advantage of the location – and the otherwise stock-standard shootout and face-off that fills the film’s third act vastly benefits.
Still, in addition to giving The Equalizer 2 its most memorable visual sequences, the crashing together of competing elements in this stormy last stand – breeze, waves and bullets, that is – also somewhat mirrors the movie’s fortunes. A return outing for Denzel Washington’s grieving and aggrieved retired CIA agent turned secret vigilante, this follow-up is many things, and often chaotically tries to combine them all at once. The film deepens the brooding quest of its central character while setting him on a rote revenge mission. It gives Washington the space to breathe gravitas into his emotionally haunted protagonist, and yet remains all-too-happy to have him turn cartoonish when a fight scene calls for it. And, it tries to highlight lives often overlooked on the margins of society, but populates its subplots with been-there, seen-that stereotypes.
After first trying to balance the scales between right and wrong in 2014’s The Equalizer, Robert McCall (Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.) is still doing what he does best in-between working as a Lyft driver in Boston. He travels to Turkey to help save a kidnapped young girl, and gives obnoxious, entitled rich kids their due when they take advantage of a young woman, but it’s a death close to his heart that unleashes his calculating fury. As well as hunting down the men responsible for killing his oldest friend, McCall also endeavours to steer his teenage neighbour Miles (Ashton Sanders, Moonlight) towards art instead of local street gangs.
Making his only sequel thus far in this four-decade career, Washington walks in footsteps that not only he but many others have previously tread. In addition to the long line of no-nonsense vengeance-seeking heroes that have graced cinema screens over the years, played by the likes of Charles Bronson, Liam Neeson and more, The Equalizer franchise remakes an Edward Woodward-starring ‘80s TV series. Regardless, before The Equalizer 2’s culmination captures attention, it’s Washington that hoists the two-hour effort up to a watchable level. Witnessing McCall befriend a foe’s family and threaten to murder his nemesis in the same scene is a hardly surprising but impressively performed moment – and as familiar and formulaic as everything in Richard Wenk’s (Renegades) script consistently proves around him, the eight-time Oscar-nominated star’s calm brand of charismatic melancholy always connects. Indeed, the under-utilised Sanders, barely seen Melissa Leo (TV’s I’m Dying Up Here) and one-note Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) never even threaten to make an impact.
Earlier this year, Washington earned his latest Academy Award nomination for a completely dissimilar part – an overlooked, eccentric and meticulous crusading lawyer who seems out of step with his surroundings, as well as with Washington’s choices of late. Despite the awards nod, Roman J. Israel, Esq. will remain one of the under-sung roles of the star’s career, indicative of an actor continually wanting to do more than just the same. More patient, less nasty, more thoughtful than its predecessor (though still as violent), The Equalizer 2 also embodies its lead’s efforts to traverse new territory in its own way, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. It’s a noticeably different film to The Equalizer’s gloomy, unpleasant misfire, and for the better, but it’s much too generic, messy and bloated to capitalise upon any potential to give the series in its own flavour. That Fuqua’s most effective touches still come from the expected aspects – his now four-time main man and his action sequences – says much, and sadly can’t equalise this underwhelming franchise.
Rating: 2 ½ stars ★★☆
The Equalizer 2
Director: Antoine Fuqua
US, 2018, 121 mins
Release date: July 19