‘The Equalizer 2’ review: Denzel Washington balances the action and the drama

Antoine Fuqua’s ‘The Equalizer 2’ slow-burn approach muddles with too many subplots but it eventually pays off with a cathartic finale.

The Equalizer 2 brings back Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall – a low-key vigilante who now works as an unassuming Lyft driver. Apart from having a neat excuse for brand placement, it’s also the film’s perfect vehicle for his R-rated style of justice. Such job gives him access to different kinds of people, including the worst ones. It may not be his business, but if any of them are caught red-handed, they’ll surely find themselves in deep trouble. It’s a calling that he continues to embrace as a way to atone for his unexplored, dark past.

And so this sequel gives McCall plenty of side missions to work on. In the opening sequence, he disguises himself as an Imam to infiltrate and extinguish a train filled with human traffickers. Then, he gives a painful lesson to a group of corporate boys who are taking advantage of a female intern, all while scoring a five-star rating for his driving services. He still has the time to do some unsolicited and uncommissioned work for his acquaintances, such as recovering a stolen painting and cleaning up a vandalized wall.

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall. Photo via Sony Pictures.

“Anybody could do, but nobody does.” He says at one point to defend his brute philosophy. McCall is the type of a ‘judge, jury, executioner’ who’s not interested in taking down an entire corrupt system. He’s more concerned in making a difference in the lives of individuals around him using his insane talent for killing. As long as the film sets his moral compass right, this should work out just fine.

If in the first Equalizer, McCall looks out for a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) who gets crossed by a mafia, in here, he makes it his personal mission to prevent an impressionable young Miles (Ashton Sanders) from living a gangster life. In those moments, the film slows down and reminds the viewers how complex McCall’s character is. He can be a heartless killer to his enemies, yet he can also be a father figure to a misguided teenage boy. He’s good with guns and various murder instruments but at the same time, he devotes time in reading philosophical books. He’s essentially a monk – he seeks out no trouble but he’s always there to deliver a swift and violent retribution when needed.

Denzel Washington and Ashton Sanders in ‘The Equalizer 2.’ Photo via Sony Pictures.

Once the film gets into its centerpiece conflict, it’s relatively less compelling than expected. It involves the murder of two CIA agents, including McCall’s friend Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) from the first film. To unravel the mystery of her death, McCall reconnects with his old partner Dave York (Pedro Pascal) and from then, the film spins the plot into a revenge story: McCall hunts down the guys who did it. The film thankfully does not linger much on withholding its predictable twist. Nevertheless, it’s still nice to see everything play out.

Where the recent Mission: Impossible – Fallout hits the ground running with minimal amounts of breathing time, The Equalizer 2 takes time in building its moments, scattering various action set pieces over its run time. The finale culminates in a deserted town during the middle of a hurricane where director Antoine Fuqua’s stylized and cathartic direction is most evident. McCall, on the other hand, gets to shine with his resourceful ways of killing – why shoot someone with a gun when you can shoot them with a harpoon? He’s more fastidious and calculated than some action heroes like John McClane or Ethan Hunt, so the fight scenes are choreographed with such suave and precision. It’s closer to John Wick’s style, albeit with less martial arts in play.

Denzel Washington and Pedro Pascal in ‘The Equalizer 2.’ Photo via Sony Pictures.

In its essence, The Equalizer 2 is a character study of a lonely, retired man who aspires to be the universe’s karmic balancer in his little ways. McCall is still pretty much an enigma as the film ends. Hence, a third film with his backstory in it is not a bad idea. The whole experience feels like watching a mini-series condensed into a 2-hour film. With a plot structure that wanders off to so many goals, it takes a while to let it feel cohesive, to feel like it’s actually going somewhere. Plot-wise it feels uneven but with Washington’s brooding presence and magnetic performance, the film eventually finds its groove.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by Richard Wenk
Cast: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, Orson Bean, Jonathan Scarfe, Sakina Jaffrey, Adam Karst, Kazy Tauginas, Garrett Golden, Orson Bean
Run time: 121 minutes

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