2014’s The Equalizer is, at face value, a rather bland and overlong action flick that is carried solely on the back of its star, the infallible Denzel Washington. This year’s The Equalizer 2 manages to improve on the first in almost every way, delivering a tension-filled and violent journey that seeks to delve a little bit better into the psyche of Denzel’s Robert McCall, the ex-special forces operative who possesses a particular set of skills.
The sequel makes the wise choice of making the plot a little more concise. Whereas the first film had McCall go against a large and powerful section of the Russian mob, Equalizer 2 trims the villains down to a simple mercenary group of four. Likewise, the first film deals with McCall reluctantly answering the call to use the skills he thought he’d left behind in order to help make the world a better place, and this film manages to make it even more personal. McCall is forced to confront the tragic loss of his wife, something that was only hinted at in the first movie, and it’s an issue he’s tried to move on from without ever actually moving on from it.
The Equalizer 2 is about loss, and how we deal with it. For McCall, it’s his wife, taken from him in an unexpected and violent way. For Sam Rubinstein (Orson Bean), a Holocaust survivor who McCall frequently spends time with, it’s his family, in particular his sister and his legacy, which was taken from him under the worst of circumstances. For Miles (Ashton Sanders), a young student who McCall plays tough-love father figure / mentor to, it’s his older brother, senselessly killed by gang violence. Loss and the different ways we handle the grief that comes with it is constantly present throughout the first half of the movie. However, this theme falls to the wayside somewhat in the second half, where it decides to simply focus on the action and throw most of the thoughtful chit-chat away.
Backtracking a bit, Robert McCall no longer works at the home improvement store that got riddled with bullets and bodies at the end of the first film, instead, he’s become a driver for Lyft. Obvious advertising aside, when McCall isn’t giving people rides or scrubbing gang graffiti off of his neighborhood’s buildings (in this case the vandals literally spray paint the word “Gang” on the wall, which is hilarious), he is doing the work of The Equalizer. McCall goes full vigilante when he deems fit, punishing abusers, crooks, and rapists alike with extreme prejudice. It’s genuinely thrilling to see 63 year-old Denzel Washington take down scumbags and bullies (he severely punishes a group of trust fund douche-bros near the start of the film, a scene that is very satisfying), and in dark times like these it’s especially nice to see bad guys truly get their comeuppance.
Denzel plays McCall with his usual charm and wisdom; instantly disarming people with his smile but, behind those kind eyes, always thinking ten steps ahead of everyone else. Denzel is a master of his craft; McCall is the friendliest guy in town but can instantly switch to being the most intimidating, a balancing act that most actors wouldn’t ever be able to pull off in a believable way. Badassery aside though, McCall doesn’t ever appear to have any actual flaws or weaknesses. The only thing that makes him an interesting protagonist in any sense is purely Denzel’s performance, which supplies enough thoughtful looks and genuity to keep you hooked.
The Equalizer 2 is a simpler and more personal story than the first, and even manages to have enjoyable moments of levity and humor that the first one lacked. The action will have you gripping the edge of your seat, and director Antoine Fuqua makes the most of it all. There’s a thrilling struggle inside McCall’s speeding Lyft vehicle, and the finale takes place in an abandoned town in the middle of a hurricane, turning it into a big, deadly playground for our hero to hunt down and defeat his adversaries in. The film has an obvious twist and it may not delve deeply enough into the themes it introduces, but for Denzel Washington’s very first sequel in his illustrious career, this is an enjoyable, action-packed film with terrific pacing; the two-hour runtime flies right on by.
3.5 / 5 Stars
The Equalizer 2 is now playing in theaters everywhere.