The Equalizer 2 (2018)
There Is No Equal
It’s hard to understand what motivated director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington to return to The Equalizer, this second bone-crunching chapter standing as Washington’s first-ever follow-up, and the first time that Fuqua has directed a continuation to one of his own movies, both men having worked in the industry for decades. Sure, The Equalizer 2 is an above-average revenge-thriller, just as visceral and violent as its lean and mean predecessor, but there’s nothing in the film (for me anyway) that’s worthy of splintering a ‘no sequel’ career over, the narrative not as gripping, distinct or exciting as it could or should have been. But, seeing as the original picture was the pair’s highest grosser, this revisit does make sense, Fuqua and Washington having collaborated on three other projects in the past — Training Day (2001), The Magnificent Seven (2016), and, obviously, The Equalizer (2014).
While the initial flick played out like a blood-soaked origin tale, which introduced audiences to Robert McCall, who found his purpose/ calling after reluctantly aiding a teenage prostitute, liberating her from a gang of vicious Russian mobsters, this subsequent entry feels a lot more intimate, Fuqua raising the personal stakes for Washington’s skilled killer, the vigilante’s veiled past coming back to haunt him (with a vengeance). Although this might sound interesting and organic enough as a story, it was the sheer mystery of Robert McCall — a retired CIA black-ops operative no longer able to turn a blind eye to all the wrongs and injustices in the world — that made the character so darn appealing; well that, and his OCD habits and eccentricities, which have been sidelined for most of this subsequent outing.
Anyhow, we return to the unflinching world of The Equalizer via an opener that takes place in rural Turkey, some 400 miles from Istanbul, McCall travelling on a train disguised as an Islamic imam complete with a bushy beard and turban, enjoying some alone time inside the locomotive’s dining cart. It’s not too long before his intentions are made clear, the self-appointed law enforcer chasing down a Turkish man (Adam Karst) who’d kidnapped his own daughter just to spite his American ex-wife, who happens to be the girl’s mother. It’s in this sequence that viewers become reacquainted with McCall’s unmatched combat skills, our anti-hero snapping necks and skewering thugs without so much as breaking a sweat. We’re also reintroduced to his ‘sixth sense,’ McCall having the ability to anticipate/ foresee people’s actions, the guy able to quickly assess every situation and weaponize any item in the room. And, when the armed thugs have all been cut down (in under a minute, of course), Denzel’s avenger proceeds to give his target a choice: either the ‘pain that hurts [or] pain that alters.’
Once back in Boston, Massachusetts, we’re given glimpses into our protagonist’s mundane day-to-day exploits, McCall now residing in an inner-city apartment complex, working as a Lyft on-demand driver. When he’s not chauffeuring folks around town, the former government agent inflicts punishment on those who exploit and harm the innocent — at one point, we see the lone wolf ‘settle accounts’ with a couple of trust fund punks who’ve seemingly drugged and raped a woman named Amy (Caroline Day), one of McCall’s taxied passengers.
Additionally, we get snippets of his friendship with Sam Rubinstein (Orson Bean), an elderly Holocaust survivor/ loyal customer of McCall’s who’s trying desperately hard to locate a painting of his long-lost sister, the pair having been separated during the war when moved to different camps — honestly, this is a plot thread the film could’ve done without. More noteworthy, however, is Mccall’s unlikely bond with gifted young artist Miles Whittaker (Ashton Sanders), who threatens to throw his entire life away because of some past troubles, the lethal liquidator becoming a kind of surrogate father for the kid after convincing him to help a neighbor patch up her vandalized garden and remove some graffiti that’d been sprayed over the walls.
All of this is intercut with extracts of a grizzly killing that takes place across the sea, in Brussels, Belgium, McCall’s onetime handler and closest friend, DIA big-wheel Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), called in to investigate the apparent murder-suicide of a man and his wife, aided by her colleague Dave York (Pedro Pascal), McCall’s ex-teammate. It’s this brutal execution that paves way for the film’s central conflict, which does take a while to get going, the story ultimately taking McCall on a painful path back to his seaside hometown, which is being evacuated due to a pending superstorm, the dude having to wade through a whirlwind (quite literally) in order to find peace and resolve.
With much of the first act being moderately low-key, The Equalizer 2 is a bit of a slow build, the introductory portion a bit too digressive and episodic. Widening narrative possibilities, returning screenwriter Richard Wenk chooses to explore the retired marine’s private life, this story more of a internal journey for McCall, who’s still grappling with his past actions while struggling to cope with the death of his wife Vivian, whom we learn more about. With that said, Wenk’s script does lack focus, The Equalizer 2 possessing a strange pensive-type vibe, not really finding its feet till late in the game — for an actioner, it has a fairly leisurely pace. Thankfully, the flick does pick up steam in its third stretch.
Decked with all the trimmings of an Antoine Fuqua joint — think gritty, hard-hitting pulverizing action and stark, shadowy visuals — The Equalizer 2 looks and sounds terrific, but I wouldn’t expect anything less, given that Fuqua (now 52) has proven himself to be one of the more accomplished artists working in Hollywood today. Special kudos goes out to the movie’s visual effects team, led by supervisor Sean Devereaux, The Magnificent Seven (2016), whose efforts in creating a crazily convincing hurricane, layered with wild water spray and airborne debris (both large and small), earns the film an extra half star, this climactic confrontation wholly engrossing and vastly satisfying — I just wish this much creativity had gone into other of the film’s fight scenes.
Returning to the signature role, Oscar-winner Denzel Washington gives another fiery turn as the titular Equalizer, the gifted performer elevating the material tenfold. It’s a darn shame, though, that we don’t get to see much of his idiosyncratic rituals, McCall still trying to make good on a pledge to get through a list of 100 Great Books Everybody Should Read, which he’s carrying out to honor his late wife, giving them something to talk about when they eventually reunite in the afterlife. Also reprising their roles, Melissa Leo, Oblivion (2013), is given more to do this time round as Susan Plummer, her character acting as the catalyst for the film’s chief complication, whereas Bill Pullman, Independence Day (1996), is, again, only allocated a number of short scenes as her husband Brian.
Of the newcomers, Moonlight (2016) star Ashton Sanders leaves the biggest impression as Miles, a good boy having fallen in with the wrong crowd, this soft father-son subplot (between Sanders and Washington) standing as one of the movie’s more endearing elements — a scene that sees Miles tucked away in a secret hiding spot, behind one of McCall’s bookshelves, while some gun-wielding goons raid the apartment, really showcases the emerging young actor’s natural talent, Sanders totally selling the kid’s fear and anxiety. Lastly, Pedro Pascal gives a passable performance as York, a guy who’d mourned the death of his friend McCall for seven long years, their connection one of trust and affinity, the Chilean-born actor kinda lacking the physical intimidation required for the bad-ass role. Along with last year’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), The Equalizer 2 marks the second time that Pascal has been involved in a lesser sequel in the past 12 months. Yikes!
Speaking of lesser, while The Equalizer 2 is by no means boring, this high-intensity action-thriller does struggle to match the crushing wallop of its forefather, which itself was loosely based on a 1980s television series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. But, ey, if you just wanna see Denzel do his righteous ‘furious hero’ thing, I guess there really is no equal, The Equaliser 2 an okay way to spend a couple of hours in a darkened theatre!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner