The Equalizer 2 marks the first ever sequel for director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington; reuniting here for their fourth film together.
As in its 2014 predecessor and the series that inspired it, the film blends together brutal fight scenes with care-in-the-community drama.
Robert McCall (Washington) is the embodiment of civic responsibility and righteous fury; a quiet, fundamentally decent guy with a penchant for denim, flat caps, and time displays of casual, bone-crunching brutality. He’d rather settle down with a good book, but he’s willing, if necessary, to take out roomful of goons in the name of justice – or equalising?..
He also has a social conscience. Tom Cruise may dangle from helicopters and performs ankle-crunching leaps from rooftops – at age 56 no less – but would Ethan Hunt take the time to teach a teenage artist (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders) to believe in himself and introduce him to the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates? Washington’s McCall feels almost like a kindlier version of his character from Fences, handing out tough-love life lessons; only here they come from a place of pure benevolence.
So much is the emphasis placed on McCall as a good man that, after an early sequence set on a train passing through Turkey, Richard Wenk’s script seems to forget this is ostensibly an action-thriller. The film’s first act largely consists of McCall working as a Lyft driver in urban Massachusetts; interacting with or else just quietly observing his passengers.
Whether it’s an elderly Holocaust survivor, a recovering alcoholic at the end of his tether (an electric, career-best Kevin Chapman), or an escort drugged and beaten by a group of fratty businessmen, McCall is inexorably caught up in the lives of those around them.
When the film finally shifts into investigation mode – when McCall’s former handler and, apparently, “only friend” (again, he’s a sociable guy), Susan (a returning Melissa Leo), is brutally murdered somewhere in the second act – it feels like a shame in more ways than one. Washington’s avenging angel act is entertaining, and even has a few character beats of its own – mostly involving Pedro Pascal’s furtive haunted-looking spook – but it’s in this arena that the film is at its most predictable.
The Equalizer 2‘s actual plot, such as it, could be written on the back of a cinema ticket and still leave space for your concessions order. Antoine Fuqua’s direction, though stylish, is basically just track-tilt-repeat, but Washington remains an engaging presence, wry but no-nonsense, whom it’s a pleasure to watch just engage with the community at large.
A climactic fight scene set in a seaside town evacuated during a hurricane is, disappointingly, a consequence-free playground akin to a Call Of Duty map, where McCall single-handedly takes down the baddies – this time mercenaries as opposed to Russian mobsters – but I found myself wishing he was delivering lessons again rather than vengeance (which is, admittedly, an odd position to find yourself in during a movie where the lead is shown striding out with an assault rifle on he poster.)
In the ever-more crowded field of action heroes, where James Bond is striving for relevancy and the Fast & Furious franchise is threatening it’s nice to have one whose superpower is essentially decency and social awareness (tempered, of course with the occasional elbow strike).