The Equalizer 2 Review
For the first time in almost 40 years Denzel Washington is starring in a sequel. It seems curious that out of all the characters he has played Robert McCAll would be the one to draw him back. The cynic might suggest everyone needs a franchise in cinema today in order to stay relevant, while the optimist would point towards the actor’s integrity being one of the main reasons why he is so universally loved.
Perhaps there is something in McCall that Washington can see in himself. When you hear him trying to stop a young artist called Miles (Ashton Sanders) from wasting his talent and falling into gang life by saying, “You gotta choice son. You gotta choice and I don’t wanna hear about your environment and what the white man won’t give you. You gotta chance. Use it while you’re still alive,” you can hear the moral code that defines McCall also resonating in the actor. Then again, it could just be projection on this reviewer's part in a desperate attempt to fill space. Either way Denzel knows how to sell every line he delivers. Even in tame thrillers like The Equalizer 2 he has enough about him to make it an almost passable two hours at the cinema.
Director Anthony Fuqua also returns in the director’s chair to oversee a strange change of pace that is far slower and more sombre in tone compared to the first film. After McCall slaughtered a Russian gang on his employer’s premises last time round, he wasn't going to be clocking in for another shift anytime soon. Now we find him as a Lyft driver (a competitor to Uber in the US), helping random strangers solve their problems in between dropping off customers to their destination. Kind of like Batman driving a minicab.
McCall is called back into action when his only friend in the world, Susan (Melissia Leo), gets in over her head, bringing him back into contact with his old Black Ops buddy Dave York (Pedro Pascal). Dave and Susan are working together on the same case trying to figure out the motive behind a mysterious home invasion and once McCall starts to dig deeper he uncovers a conspiracy that ends up uncomfortably close to home.
Much like last time the stakes are small with only a handful of bad guys to content with. The slower pace makes the film feel more like a drama with occasional bursts of action, rather than a tightly wound thriller. This is because Fuqua is side-tracked with subplots involving Miles and something to do with an old man and a painting, both of which tell us nothing new about McCall and elongate a story that would benefit from being shorter and more energetic.
In between taking out 4 or 5 guys on his way home, or bizarrely donning a Muslim disguise to rescue a young girl, McCall either has his nose in a book or is drifting off deep in thought thinking about his dead wife. There may not be much for Washington to work with here but even a simple look at a photograph or a brief moment of intensity serves the character far more than the lumpy contrivances given to him in the script.
Going by some of the comments made by McCall it seems as if he enjoys many of the beatings he hands out. It’s an attitude that sits at odds with his humble persona and with better writing and less plot-driven distractions there could be an interesting character profile exploring this conflict. But if a third film is given the green light (The 3qualizer?) we should only expect more of the same. The only lesson to take away from this mediocre sequel is to vet your Uber driver with a lot more care before you close the door and start your journey.