Review: The Equalizer 2
The Equalizer 2 has the distinction of being Denzel Washington’s first ever sequel. It also stands as a warning as to why Denzel Washington should not make sequels.
Washington’s filmography is filled with self-sacrificing heroes and anti-heroes; filmmakers and Washington have had the foresight to either kill off his characters or leave each movie with a sense of closure (sure, I’d still love to see Inside Man 2 but we can’t have it all). The 2014 remake of the 1980s TV show The Equalizer was a decent Taken-influenced action thriller, and there was enough set-up to have an entire franchise of Washington’s Robert McCall vigilante adventures. But, with director Antoine Fuqua and most of the cast and crew returning, this action sequel ends up not being worthy of Denzel’s good name.
After the events of the first The Equalizer, retired CIA black ops operative McCall continues to ‘equalize’ things, by using his skills to help those who’ve been wronged. The opening sequence has him rescuing a little girl from her abusive crime boss father. Later, we see him as a Lyft driver, picking up passengers and Travis Bickle’ing his way through Boston. Yes, the premise right there should have been enough to hold up the sequel. Turns out the Lyft angle is a smart product placement move; McCall’s request for a five-star rating is the best line in the movie. But, of course, his past comes back to haunt him, as his friend and current CIA operative Susan (Melissa Leo) is murdered. The good thing is Leo doesn’t go down without a fight, the bad thing is why even waste Leo’s talent in an ultimately thankless role…
Pedro Pascal plays Dave, a former partner of McCall’s who helps uncover the conspiracy behind Susan’s murder, while Bill Pullman plays Susan’s husband; both actors turn out to be set dressing around Washington’s performance. If you’re looking for some solid Denzel moments, you’re in luck. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) plays Miles, a teen with a promising future who gets himself caught up in gang. It’s up to McCall to set Miles straight, imparting some electric Denzel lines. We’re dropped into Fences-level work in the midst of this substandard action movie. It’s frankly not enough. There’s also a subplot where McCall tries to reunite one of his passengers with a long-lost family member which ends up being a slog.
The action in the movie ranges from impressive to downright mundane. There’s a stand-out fight in a car driving full speed through traffic, and when McCall enters ‘Equalizer Mode’ while taking down a room filled with bad guys, the 63-year-old Washington does just enough onscreen to still be a believable action star. But the wear and tear is present; when the hard-hitting final set pieces start, the stand-in stunt double for Washington gets a great workout in while all plausibility gets sidelined. Unfortunately, nothing in The Equalizer 2 comes close to the first movie’s memorable final action set piece in the Home Depot-esque department store. The violence remains brutal, but that doesn’t help with what the movie tries to contend with morally.
Susan’s murder, Miles, McCall’s good deeds—if all that wasn’t enough, McCall deals with the death of his wife. A ‘hole in his heart’ he constantly battles with, and apparently ‘dealing’ with it means killing bad guys. It goes back to the mythos of Denzel Washington—from Training Day to The Book of Eli, whether he’s the villain or the hero, he gets his due in the end. Man on Fire is the most comparable here, a skilled Denzel on a quest for revenge, ending with our hero’s sacrificial death. The Equalizer 2 plays with this, it does acknowledge McCall’s dark history, and one of Fuqua’s most exciting moments has McCall looking into the eyes of one of his victims and seeing his own reflection. The ultimate failing of the movie is how it tosses these moral questions aside for redemption that doesn’t feel entirely earned.
Ultimately, there are very few things in The Equalizer 2 that rise to what the talents on board are capable of producing. This is no Training Day, The Magnificent Seven, or even the first The Equalizer; it’s a ho-hum affair with poor characterization and plotlines that are painfully ordinary. We should be celebrating Inside Man 2 as Denzel Washington’s first sequel, instead we’re only wishing he reconsidered playing ‘The Equalizer’ again.