Denzel Washington is a master of his craft. Even in his worst films he’s always the best thing about them. When he seems to shine the most in modern cinema however is when he is teamed with director Antoine Fuqua who led the actor to three great performances in “Training Day”, “The Equalizer” and “Magnificent Seven”. Now the pair is back with their first sequel in “The Equalizer 2”, a film that sees Washington step into the shoes of vigilante Robert McCall once again. The first movie was a hit thriller in 2014, but how well does this sequel recapture the charm and fun of the first and does it add anything new? Let’s dive in. This is my review of “The Equalizer 2”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“The Equalizer 2” finds Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) living a relatively simple life as a Lyft driver in the urban Boston area. He continues his mission from the first movie by also serving as a helping hand to those less fortunate in an attempt to be “the equalizer” who levels the playing field of the world around him using his physical capabilities while also utilizing the knowledge and connection of friend Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). McCall has made friends with a young artist named Miles (Ashton Sanders) who he tries to turn towards a better life. After an apparent murder-suicide takes place in Brussels Susan is called in and teams with McCall’s former partner and CIA operative Dave York (Pedro Pascal) to solve the case. However, Susan is attacked in her hotel room and found dead leaving McCall distraught and seeking answers. What he finds is a string of killings that all lead back to an unexpected enemy that forces McCall to face his past head on and put his capabilities to the ultimate test.
The first “Equalizer” movie was a nice, simple vigilante thriller to say the least. Denzel Washington put in a lot of great work to bring his character to life and while this movie doesn’t really up the ante I can say that if you liked the first one this second one will do the trick. I enjoyed that we saw Robert McCall have to face his past. We learned very little about the man he used to be in the first movie, but this film delves a little deeper into his back story which in turn plays into the conflict McCall has to face. Washington also presents McCall as a little more unhinged since his last film which shows progression of character as he has been willing to embrace his more violent nature since deciding to come out of his self-imposed retirement. Washington turns in yet another noteworthy performance with subtlety and conviction that continues to show he is one of the greatest stars of his generation who truly owns his craft. Despite four years separating the two films McCall comes off as the same capable and confident man he was in the first movie although this time a little more jagged and rough. Washington’s performance makes the film because, to be honest, without his charisma and charm both “Equalizer” movies could have easily been generic thrillers with no substance at all. It’s an interesting revelation that this is Washington’s first sequel and the fact that he is able to bring consistent character development and personality to the big screen despite his lack of franchise experience is a compliment to his dedication as a performer.
As I said “The Equalizer 2” gives us everything we loved from the first movie and pretty much stays on par. While it’s not a huge step forward it doesn’t go backwards in any way offering us the fun, intrigue and fantastic fight choreography and visuals the original film focused on in 2014. A subtle change I noticed is that Washington and Fuqua presented the fighting as a bit more chaotic this time around. There’s a clear shift in how McCall goes about his business. He’s more aggressive and his willingness to embrace his skills as well as his frustration over the state of the world around him seem to have unleashed a beast that we only finally got glimpses of at the very end of the first movie in the hardware store showdown. McCall comes off as less like a calculated soldier and more like an unstoppable animal mixing a compassionate personality with an hunger for justice. I also appreciated the central theme of the movie which is people getting the just desserts they have been dodging at the hands of someone willing to take a stand. That is essentially what the “Equalizer” is all about. Overall it might not be a truly evolutionary movie to move this franchise ahead but “The Equalizer 2” does what it needs to do successfully, showing us how McCall has transformed into a dedicated vigilante since deciding to break his promise to his wife to leave his past behind.
That’s really all of the positives I have for this movie and that’s not to say “The Equalizer 2” has no merit. But as you’ll soon read below I think the biggest problem this movie has is that it’s not much different from the first film. But, that’s also it’s greatest strength. “The Equalizer” series has found an audience and Denzel Washington is one of the most respected actors in the business. These combined meant that Antoine Fuqua and crew didn’t really have to try too hard, but they did try hard enough and Washington does everything he can to add legitimacy to this movie. It never feels unwarranted and despite its flaws adds some nice nuances to the story including the addition off a talented young lead in Ashton Sanders as Miles Whittaker which further helps explore the more human aspects of McCall’s take on the world. Overall “The Equalizer 2” gives fans what they needed and that might be more than enough to earn a possible third entry if Washington and Fuqua are on board.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
To piggy back off my conclusion of my “WHAT WORKED” segment, I’ll get the lack of originality out of the way. “The Equalizer 2” might makes fans happy but it’s not going to earn any NEW fans of the franchise because it’s essentially the same thing as the first movie. The formula is the same, the approach is the same, and even the finale is repetitive by revisiting McCall’s use of creative traps and problem solving in a water-soaked setting. This movie’s substance is purely put on the shoulders of Washington’s great performance and Fuqua’s ability to recapture the charm of the original without taking any real chances and while it succeeds it doesn’t do enough. It justifies its own existence and delves deeper into McCall’s personality and past, but that’s about it. There’s not a lot here that wasn’t there before. “The Equalizer 2” settles for being just good enough and that, frankly, is not REALLY good enough.
Among it’s bigger sins is its new villains. Now I won’t spoil the surprise baddies here, but I will say that I found it to be a predictable and formulaic twist that pretty much everyone sees coming by the time the revelation sets in. Is it neat? Yeah. Is it a good way to bring McCall’s story full circle? Yeah, I guess. But it feels anticlimactic especially when the fight scenes leave no real risk for McCall time and time again. We know how it’s going to end and there’s very little effort to try and convince us otherwise. Again though, it also calls back to the first movie with only the shallowest attempts to try and avoid repetition. Add to all this that the villains aren’t even really that cool or impressive. They’re underdeveloped, and they come off as generic thriller bad guys with only a smidgen more personality and charisma than the Russian antagonists from the first movie simply because we also get to see who will suffer for McCall taking his own revenge as we get a peek into these villain’s personal lives. Even then the movie simply glosses over that making it a cheap attempt to pull at the heart stings to make us feel some kind of compassion for the villains.
Finally, I’ll also say the pacing of this movie really sucks. It’s SO drawn out I found myself wanting it to get to the point by the second hour especially once I realized we’d gotten an hour in to a two-hour movie and have made MINIMAL progress on the main conflict. The first movie had the benefit of establishing the characterand setting things up, but this film couldn’t lean on that as Fuqua tries to keep us entertained with meaningless fight scenes to remind us how badass McCall is because he couldn’t think of any other way to keep us glued to this character’s story. In addition, these action scenes are placed in between scenes of McCall looking through his windshield doing his Lyft driving, giving lectures to Miles or simply looking at a computer screen. It’s like Fuqua knew the setup would take so long and be so drawn out that he needed to keep our attention somehow and it seems painfully obvious he wasn’t sure how to do that without leaning on the same random acts of kindness that added a cool factor to the first movie but here feel repetitive. When this movie hits the mark it does it well and the action is fun and exciting, but overall “The Equalizer 2” takes far too long to do too little and while this issue is shared with its predecessor there are fewer excuses for this movie to make that same mistake.
If you are a fan of the first “The Equalizer” movie then this film will do fine. You get what you pay for and, as with many movies I have used that cliché to describe, that’s alright if that’s all you want. But if you’re looking for a bit more you’ll be disappointed. “The Equalizer 2” settles for a proven formula and doesn’t take very many chances in bringing its main character back to the big screen for another go. There are some things to enjoy that help this sequel remain fresh and feel warranted, including yet another great performance by Denzel Washington and further exploring his character’s past and motivations, but in the end this film doesn’t truly up the ante. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor in style, substance and scale which isn’t enough for me to call it an improvement even if it’s not a step backwards. “The Equalizer 2” just kind of is and while that might be enough for some people I for one was hoping for a bit more. It’s not unwatchable, and yes it’s fun and exciting when it decides to finally get to the point, but overall it falls into “generic thriller” territory despite the talent behind, and in front of, the camera.