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Denzel Evens the Odds Again

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington
Columbia Pictures
 121 Minutes
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Melissa Leo  
The Equalizer 2

Throughout his long and highly successful career, Denzel Washington had never made a sequel, even though a number of his films could easily have lent themselves to a follow-up. When he finally broke that “rule” and decided to reteam with his favorite director Antoine Fuqua in The Equalizer 2, the project would appear to have been a slam dunk, if not in terms of theatrical quality, then at least at the popcorn-munching enjoyment level. But somehow, Washington, Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk misfired, and for the seemingly least likely of reasons. They took the material, and the lead character, too seriously.


Washington is that lead character in The Equalizer 2, Robert McCall, a former agent for a shadowy government agency and a man that most of the world, including a lengthy list of enemies, believes dead. Instead, he maintains a rather low-key existence in Boston, in this film working as a Lyft driver (he worked at a fictionalized version of Home Depot in the first movie), reading fine literature as a tribute to his late wife, and helping out ordinary people in trouble. These ordinary people include, in the film’s opening sequence, a little girl who has been kidnapped by her father and is en route to Turkey, where the man will undoubtedly continue to mistreat the child simply to spite his ex-wife, or a hooker who gets beaten up severely by a group of overaged frat boys out for a good time (see clip below). In both cases, McCall dispatches justice in rather crude yet enjoyable fashion, beating the stuffings out of a handful of bad guys in less than a minute each time.


McCall’s efforts on behalf of the downtrodden don’t always involve breaking bones of evildoers. He befriends a young teenaged neighbor, Miles (Ashton Sanders), who has considerable artistic talent but seems more inclined to fall in with a local gang. McCall also listens to those he chauffeurs around, including a nonagenarian Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) trying to reconnect with his long lost sister. While these efforts take up almost half the running time of The Equalizer 2, they are only subplots, but ironically, they prove far more interesting and emotionally satisfying than the main storyline does.


That storyline involves McCall’s friend and former mentor at the agency, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), who, along with her husband Bill (Bill Pullman) are among the few people who know McCall is still alive. She is also a convenient source of information for McCall, whenever he needs to find out more about whatever sort of sleazeball he’s dealing with. And, as she points out to McCall at the end of a dinner together, she’s the only friend he’s got, normally a line that’s the kiss of death for a supporting character in a film like this. Sure enough, she does get killed a few scenes later, while investigative a brutal murder of an agent and his wife in Brussels that was staged to appear as a murder-suicide. Susan’s own death appears to be a random mugging, but McCall soon sees through it and spends the rest of the movie tracking down her killers, because, as the taglines of many similar action films have stated, this time it’s personal.


McCall’s quest to find Susan’s killers in may be personal, but that doesn’t mean it’s very interesting. Neither Equalizer movie is very big on character development (this isn’t a John Le Carre work), but that’s not necessarily a drawback in a film in which the audiences want to see Denzel Washington wreak havoc on some deserving people. And, in the first movie, in which McCall rescued a teenage hooker from assorted Russian pimps and mobsters, those mobsters were most deserving of the beatdowns they received to the delight of the audience. This time around, although the identity of the main villain is ridiculously easy to figure out, he and his cohorts prove rather bland, merely doing a job during which Susan merely got in the way.


Admittedly, director Antoine Fuqua does stage an impressive final showdown between McCall and the villains in a deserted coastal town in the middle of a major hurricane. Even though there’s not much doubt who’s going to emerge on top, the stunt work and setups of each individual encounter are quite impressive. The Equalizer 2 has its fair share of action earlier as well, with a couple of those patented encounters from the first movie in which McCall sets the timer on his watch to measure how long it takes him to disable or kill a roomful of enemies. Even in his 60’s, Washington is still in good enough shape to pull off the martial arts scenes credibly.


When McCall isn’t breaking bones, however, he’s philosophizing, a lot, or trying to solve the case that resulted in Susan’s death, to which end he spends an inordinate amount of time looking at crime scene photos. Here’s some advice: no one who goes to see an Equalizer movie wants to see Denzel Washington channel his inner Sherlock Holmes. The entire storyline involving Susan’s murder and the nearly incomprehensible case she was investigating are exceedingly boring, save for the aforementioned final showdown. Since The Equalizer 2 clocks in at over two hours long, it does not need a boring main storyline.


Ironically, it’s the throwaway secondary stories involving the elderly Holocaust victim and the troubled teenager that prove the most interesting, and a scene in which young Miles tries to hide from the killers in McCall’s safe room inside his apartment is by far the most suspenseful in the movie. Washington works well, and is at his most personable, opposite Ashton Sanders and Orson Bean, so much so that I was really hoping that the script would turn one of their stories into the film’s primary plot.


As it is, however, The Equalizer 2 is about half of a good escapist movie and half of a failed attempt at turning an escapist movie into something more meaningful. The good stuff is actually more than Denzel Washington smashing heads; it’s also him letting his innate charisma shine through when he interacts with the “little people” he helps out. Unfortunately, that’s balanced out far too often by dreary philosophizing and bland villainy. As a result, The Equalizer 2 is a film in which the good and bad elements equalize each other out a bit too much to recommend.

In this clip, Denzel Washington dispenses some justice to some rich slimeballs.

Read other reviews of The Equalizer 2: 

The Equalizer 2 (2018) on IMDb