The Equalizer 2 features Denzel Washington’s first sequel film and is his fourth collaboration with director Antoine Fuqua. The first act is absolutely stellar, but the story doesn’t fully commit to its character or his cause.
There’s something to be said when a director and a star find each other. Their styles infused; a new style is equalized out of their joint efforts. To date, director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington have collaborated three times, their first was 2001’s Training Day. Their second was 2014’s The Equalizer while their third was the remake of The Magnificent Seven in 2016.
Fuqua and Denzel are back with the first sequel in each of their respective careers and their fourth collaboration, The Equalizer 2. Based on the hit 1980’s television series of the same name, Denzel returns as Robert McCall, an extremely observant individual. He is an avid reader and he has a nobility about him that pairs exceptionally well with his other skill set.
The first act explores the characters’ nobility, or rather his patience and when the time is right, literally, he strikes. Fuqua stages a really nifty close-quarter fight on a train. The staging is such that you could be forgiven for having a dark sense of humor about the violence that unfolds on the screen. McCall is graceful, and we don’t mind that he is: it sets the stage for his continued character study. Though it is Denzel, The Equalizer 2 compels a sense of needing, even wanting to explore the character further.
What better way to undertake that exploration by making McCall a Lyft driver. Their stock will probably get a significant boost from The Equalizer 2, but it’s brilliant product placement because it takes little effort for the audience to put themselves in to the Chevy Malibu that McCall drives. And at the beginning of these rides, we meet such interesting people. We also meet the defenseless and the helpless whom McCall helps to “equalize”.
All of these events conspire to give The Equalizer 2 a well-rounded look at the character. It’s the perfect set up for Denzel, an actor whose eyes say much more than his body language. It’s why when we catch up with Melissa Leo’s Susan Plummer, McCall’s eyes do most of the talking over their shared soup than words ever could. It is ironic that Susan and McCall catch up on the anniversary of his wife’s death. They were all friends, and she and her author – husband Brian played by Bill Pullman ground McCall with a family. There is an attempt at equalizing the family aspect through an ongoing conversation between McCall and Miles (Ashton Sanders, Moonlight). This aspect of the story doesn’t play out as well as it probably did on paper because it feels shoehorned in.
In between McCall’s quests for books and getting his passengers to their destinations, screenwriter Richard Wenk and Fuqua offer a parallel storyline with a murder in Brussels. Plummer is dispatched with Dave York (Pedro Pascal) to determine the circumstances of the murder when tragedy strikes a second time.
The first act of the film is absolutely dynamite. It reminds us of who McCall is. When the parallel stories intersect, the film goes limp; we no longer care about the characters or even the particulars, we are left only with the action. Though I confess that the set-up is classic Denzel and Pascal turns in a solid, underutilized performance.
Despite this, the action and the pacing work because of the action-oriented cinematography by Oliver Wood (U571, The Bourne series, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey). We are treated to multiple camera angles on the car, as well as a number of dolly shots of Boston. The aforementioned close-quarter action sequences are a success through Wood’s skillful eye. Academy Award winning Conrad Buff’s (Jagged Edge, Terminator 2, The Abyss, and Titanic) editing is on point. The violence perpetrated throughout the film is horrific at best. The close-quarters combat throughout the film is so rapid that it holds your interest, thanks to the editing.
Then it’s over.
I couldn’t help but feel a parallel to Ernest Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.” There is a sense of a void within the coming storm; “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Every interaction McCall has is imbued with this thought. Yet it has nowhere to go.
Fuqua has all the right instincts. The Equalizer 2 should have worked and Denzel has the gravitas to carry it. The first act is absolutely stellar, but it builds up a tension that has nowhere to go and when McCall uses his skills as a last resort, we watch with detached interest.
Perhaps it’s because when we know too much about a character, the mystery surrounding them is gone.
The Equalizer 2 is rated R by the MPAA.