FILM REVIEW – THE EQUALIZER 2. With Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Orson Bean. Written by Richard Wenk. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rated R for brutal violence throughout, language and some drug content. 121 minutes.
When you see a film directed by Antoine Fuqua, you know that it’s going to have some hard-hitting and expertly-directed action sequences, but it may also be a bit fast and loose in terms of narrative. THE EQUALIZER 2 – his third pairing with Denzel Washington since the actor’s Oscar-winning turn in “Training Day” – shows Fuqua at his best and worst.
A sequel to the 2014 movie which was inspired by a 1980s TV series, it continues the story of Robert McCall (Washington), a retired special ops agent for the government who now is leading a quiet life as a Lyft driver, and occasionally wreaking vengeance on those who prey on the weak. He’s still connected to Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), who can access information he needs, as well as her academic husband (Bill Pullman). A brutal murder in Brussels leads to other killings, and when someone close to McCall dies, he becomes involved.
Unfortunately, there are several other stories going on, and while they’re not hard to follow, you may wonder what they’re doing here. One story, involving a kidnapping, is essentially a prologue, but another one – involving abusive stockbrokers who seem to have drugged and raped an intern of theirs – seems dropped in simply to provide an action scene at that point. One can see why they might have thought one was needed.
There are three other plots threading their way through this. In one, an elderly Holocaust survivor McCall drives is trying to regain a painting of a sister whom he has not seen since the war. (The man is played by veteran actor Orson Bean, who turns 90 this Sunday.) In another, a young African-American man (Ashton Sanders) is torn between pursuing his studies as an artist and making quick money dealing drugs. Hanging over all of this is an impending hurricane which seems to take forever to get to Boston, where much of the film is set.
Holding it all together is Washington, who combines righteous anger and humor as McCall. When he reads the riot act to the would-be artist, it is a powerful and dramatic moment. If the movie had been about the relationship between the two men, it would be a standout. Instead, it’s a subplot that not-too-convincingly is shoehorned into the main story when the artist gets caught in the crossfire between the bad guys and McCall. The climactic set piece, in which four of McCall’s former colleagues are gunning for him in a deserted seacoast town while a hurricane is raging is Fuqua at his best, controlling both the action and our understanding of the space so that the suspense mounts even if we know (or suspect) how it will turn out.
Much is being made that this is the first time Washington has been in a sequel to one of his films, but it’s more likely what was appealing was a chance to team up with Fuqua again. “The Equalizer 2” won’t be considered a standout in the career of the director or the actor, but it’s not an embarrassment either. It’s a mid-level entry that may be what one or both men needed before tackling more ambitious projects.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.