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The Equalizer 2 Movie Review

The Equalizer 2 (2018) movie poster The Equalizer 2

Theatrical Release: July 20, 2018 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Antoine Fuqua / Writers: Richard Wenk (screenplay); Michael Sloan, Richard Lindheim (television series)

Cast: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Pedro Pascal (Dave York), Ashton Sanders (Miles Whittaker), Orson Bean (Sam Rubinstein), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), Jonathan Scarfe (Resnik), Sakina Jaffrey (Fatima), Kazy Tauginas (Ari), Garrett A. Golden (Kovac)


Denzel Washington has had many box office hits over the past three decades, but he's never made a sequel, until now in The Equalizer 2.

This feels a lot like Washington's Jack Reacher. In each case, we have one of the few self-branded actors out there taking a character that already existed (Reacher on the pages of Lee Child novels, the Equalizer in a forgotten 1980s CBS television series) -- a military-seasoned force to reckon with -- and making him their own.
Each original movie was slightly better than average and generated like, but not quite love, from the general public. As Tom Cruise found out on 2016's underperforming Reacher sequel, a downgrade in every way from its predecessor, the people didn't share his appetite for more. Though similarly devoid of surprises, Equalizer 2 isn't a huge disappointment, but rather firmly planted in mediocrity, and though he's coming off his biggest box office flop in a quarter-century, Washington should still manage to draw in moviegoers for this second serving.

If you've forgotten or never seen 2014's The Equalizer, it starred Washington as Robert McCall, a Boston resident who dispenses street justice on behalf of those who have been wronged. The sequel opens with McCall, once celebrated as deceased, on a train in Turkey, where he sports a fashionable beard and confronts a man who has unfairly taken custody of his American ex's daughter.

Back in Massachusetts, McCall has left behind a home improvement store and began driving for Lyft. The job allows the classic book-reading vigilante to cross paths with those who have hit hard times: an old Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) whose ownership claim of a valuable painting has been disputed and an intern who has been drugged and abused by coke-snorting businessmen. The latter is enough to unleash more of McCall's signature R-rated hijinks, as he cracks necks, breaks fingers, slices a forehead with credit card, and punches everyone in sight, occasionally checking his watch or monologuing.

"The Equalizer 2" finds Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) having left his Home Mart job to drive for Lyft.

Washington may be in his sixties, but we believe him as this type of good-hearted unstoppable enforcer. Without the actor, who also picks up his seventh theatrical producing credit here, there is no movie. Maybe a TV series on a streaming service, which the episodic nature might actually suit. But it is Washington's presence -- his swagger, his authority -- that renders this cinema. Directing him for the fourth time, Antoine Fuqua also has the chops of a big screen filmmaker, which he puts to adequate use here.

I've mentioned some subplots, but the main narrative involves two characters you probably don't remember from the first film -- Susan (Melissa Leo) and Brian Plummer (Bill Pullman). Susan, one of McCall's few personal friends, gets mixed up in trouble after investigating what has been staged as a murder-suicide of an important corporate executive. There are layers to the conspiracy which of course McCall will uncover in time. Meanwhile, when he's not dodging bullets
and standing up to duplicitous scumbags, he's mentoring a neighbor (Ashton Sanders, the protagonist of Moonlight's middle third) who harbors artistic ambitions but is being courted by gangsters.

Washington rarely displays great range as an actor (last year's little-seen Roman J. Israel, Esq., which a James Franco scandal turned into an Oscar nominee, being an outlier), but there has been little need to, because his charismatic command of the screen tends to suit his projects, whether he's playing hero or villain. McCall is clearly a hero, albeit one who doesn't shy from shoving knives or firing bullets at bad people. The characterization does enough to elevate Equalizer 2 over lesser action movies, like the ones that might star Jason Statham or Dwayne Johnson. But though competently composed and acted, the movie never exceeds middle of the road designation.

Any goodwill "The Equalizer 2" develops dissolves in an improbable, prolonged climax that pits Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) against multiple adversaries in a hurricane.

Though it barely runs two hours, it shares its predecessor's feeling of excess and even disappoints in almost the exact same fashion, with a prolonged climax amidst falling water. Fuqua and returning scribe Richard Wenk attempt to one-up the first movie with a climax that takes place in a coastal hurricane, an atmospheric setting that really doesn't make any sense the second you give it any thought.

Washington has proved he can inspire and move when he wants to. His Oscar-nominated performances in Flight, Fences, and even Roman all invite multiple viewings and admiration. But more often he's just collecting a paycheck and being the biggest draw in R-rated or PG-13 action fare. That's certainly what he's doing here and even so that still makes this a preferable use of two hours than a lot of other offerings at the multiplex this summer.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Skyscraper Incredibles 2 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Whitney Uncle Drew
Directed by Antoine Fuqua: The Equalizer The Magnificent Seven Southpaw Olympus Has Fallen Brooklyn's Finest King Arthur
Denzel Washington: Roman J. Israel, Esq. Flight Fences Virtuosity The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Ashton Sanders: Moonlight | Melissa Leo: Prisoners The Fighter Snowden | Pedro Pascal: The Great Wall Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Written by Richard Wenk: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back The Mechanic (2011)

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Reviewed July 18, 2018.

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