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The Equaliser came from nowhere back in 2014, being one of the most thrilling action films of the year. Inevitably with this genre, a sequel follows (amazingly, this is prolific actor Denzel Washington’s first-ever role in a follow-up) and they usually fail to recapture the magic.
The Equaliser 2 doesn’t buck this trend, but that isn’t to say it’s bad.
Washington plays Robert McCall, a righteous vigilante with an implacable sense of righteousness, and no small amount of talent when it comes to violent killing. McCall quietly works blue collar jobs, eats in modest local diners, and is slowly working his way through the 100 best books in the Western Canon at the behest of a fallen wife.
He even has a gimmick. When McCall charges into a room to do damage to a large number of Russian pimps and scumbags, he times himself via stopwatch as if he’s trying to beat his own record. McCall is essentially a comic book superhero. It’s easy to see, then, why Washington and director Antoine Fuqua would want to make The Equaliser 2 and convince Washington to reprise a character.
McCall is undoubtedly a fun character to play and offers both the director and the actor a chance to present a heroic vigilante with both thrilling violence as well as actual moral indignation.
He’s certainly a delight to watch, at least in fits, as The Equaliser 2 contains some wonderful self-contained moments from McCall in both an action fight capacity and in a civic-minded activist capacity.
Indeed, so eager was Fuqua to see McCall in action that The Equaliser 2 introduces him twice: first, aboard a Turkish train, where he is seen taking out high-level gangsters with spinning kicks and well-placed fists, and again in a Boston high-rise where he beats a cadre of wealthy yuppies after they mistreat a woman.
While the secondary establishment of McCall’s badass cred is not needed for the film as a whole, it’s still fun to see a rich, arrogant delinquent get sliced in the neck by his own sharpened platinum credit card.
When he’s not breaking bones and taking names, McCall is making ends meet as a Lyft driver (the screenplay namechecks Lyft at least a dozen times) and conversing with the colourful locals.
McCall can also be found cleaning the graffiti off of his Boston apartment building and reading the 100th book in his quest, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Time Regained.
We also witness McCall actively reaching out to an at-risk teen named Miles (Ashton Sanders) who teeters between a life at art school and a life as a criminal. McCall even has a chance – late in the film – to give Miles a speech about the power of character and the importance of making the right choices.
As one would expect from Denzel Washington, it’s an excellently acted scene, providing a touching and intense moment of surprising depth and salient, modern morality.
As a film, however, The Equaliser 2 runs roughshod through its motions, an unfortunately consistent aesthetic that has run through a lot of Fuqua’s film work. The film, for all its great fights, excellent acting from Washington, and tone of general righteousness, feels largely flimsy.
The plot is unfocused, and characters are forgotten about for great spans of the film’s overstuffed two-hour running time; Bill Pullman is introduced early in the film, and then doesn’t appear again for 40-odd minutes.
It features notable deaths and aggressively brutal violence (there are several messy headshots, multiple stabbings, and one harpoon through the face), but the film’s action is haphazardly delivered at random points throughout its narrative; that is to say when it should be ramping up, it typically stops for an extended breath.
What’s more, the villain, once his identity is revealed, is one of the more generic you may encounter. His speeches aren’t moving or novel and the motivation is boring, and the actor playing the villain doesn’t possess any note of threat or sinister power. The villain is just a dull, dull person.
Luckily, McCall’s own resolute strength of character – wonderfully shouldered by Washington, easily one of the greatest of all working actors – makes up for a lot of the film’s writing weaknesses, elevating The Equaliser 2, ever so slightly, from a nondescript summer thriller into something watchable.
Here is a violent, cool superhero who cares about the community at large more than he cares about punching bad guys. In a way, that’s a nice change of pace. Should Washington and Fuqua decide to revisit McCall again, it wouldn’t be unwelcome.
Now showing in: Cineco, Seef II