THE EQUALIZER 2
R, 129 mins.
2018, R, 129 mins.
Denzel Washington as Robert McCall / Bill Pullman as Brian Plummer / Melissa Leo as Susan Plummer / Jonathan Scarfe as Resnick / Tamara Hickey as Grace / Pedro Pascal as Dave York
Directed by Antoine Fuqua / Written by Richard Wenk
THE EQUALIZER 2 has a sensationally effective opening sequence. During it we are re-introduced to ex-CIA agent turned big box store employee turned revenge dispensing machine Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) disguised as a devout Muslim traveling through Turkey via high speed train.
Don't ask...just hear me out.
pleasantries and drinks with a few rough looking passengers it's revealed
that Robert knows one these men's secret: He has ruthlessly abducted his
child without any apparent motive to return her back home to America.
At this point things turn ugly, especially for the abducting goons,
seeing as Robert engages in full-on Equalizer-Vision (during which time
the scene slows down and meticulously shows us the thought processes of
Robert as he sizes up the dire situation and predicts his prey's every
move...think Spidey sense vision and you get the idea).
Within seconds (which Robert characteristically times with his
stopwatch, due to his thinly veiled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), the
vile evil doers are mercilessly punched, kicked, and stabbed into
submission by the steely eyed and barely breaking a sweat assassin.
moments like the one just mentioned are peppered throughout THE EQUALIZER 2,
which is, yes, a rather improbable sequel to 2014's THE
EQUALIZER, which in turn was a loose adaptation of the 1980's TV
series of the same name about a retired intelligence officer that uses his
very own "particular set of skills" to seek vengeance on crooks
that have wronged the innocent. I
found the first entry in this franchise to be mostly disposable, but
nevertheless fiendishly entertaining as a piece of slickly made grindhouse
fare, not to mention that it harnessed Washington in all of his sadistic
ass kicking glory. Competently
helmed by Antoine Fuqua, THE EQUALIZER was a lean, mean, yet dramatically
compelling action thriller quarterbacked by its lead star's low key
menace. THE EQUALIZER 2 - the
fourth collaboration between star and director after TRAINING DAY, THE
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and THE EQUALIZER 1 - mostly preserves the hard
R-rated visceral edge of its predecessor and re-creates that film's unique
slow burn approach to the material rather well.
It stumbles a bit more, though, in the jumbled scripting department
and a somewhat bloated running time that sticks out more because of
narrative inadequacies, but this sequel remains brutally efficient and
engaging for the most part, which is far more than I was expecting out of
a follow-up entry in this franchise.
You may or may
not recall the first film, featuring Robert working a rather unassuming
job as a dock worker at a Home Depot-styled big box store, which was
obviously an undercover gig to help hide the fact that he was ex-CIA and a
highly lethal assassin without equal (the hardware store setting allowed
for that film to equip this anti-hero with many makeshift weapons to slice
and dice through the criminal vermin he was forced to square off against
in its blood drenched climax). Robert
lives a life of solitude, with his only real friend being Susan Plummer
(Melissa Leo), the only other CIA agent that knows that he is still alive
and well, albeit in exiled hiding. The
sequel opens by showing the next logical step in Robert's clandestine
occupational life, this time serving as a Lyft driver by night.
Of course, because he picks up all manner of clients - some being
guilty of one thing or another - he finds himself being lured back into
defending the weak as an avenging angel.
Just when Robert
thinks he can slip into a life of relative seclusion, he finds himself
brought back into the CIA's sphere of influence when his covert BFF in
Susan shows up and relays to him how she'll be conducting an investigation
into the strange murder of an operative in Belgium, aided by her partner
Dave (Pedro Pascal). Tragically,
Susan gets brutally murdered (Fuqua has some sort of weird fetish with
this movie and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
in terms of featuring scenes of Leo being savagely beaten up and left a
bloody mess), leaving Robert devastated by the news, but predictably
taking it upon himself to locate the perpetrators and take them out in the
most cold and calculated manner possible.
While searching for clues with Dave, Robert finds himself becoming
a target of the very men that killed Susan, with many shocking twists and
turns alone the way that impede his progress.
I think it would
be easy to say that THE EQUALIZER films would not be as engaging without
the commanding screen presence of the Oscar winning Washington at the
helm, and the approaching senior citizenship aged 62-year-old actor has
comfortably and confidently - like Liam Neeson before him - morphed from
dramatic actor to action star with relative ease.
As was the case in the first entry, Washington is once again a
ferociously internalized and outwardly calm dispositioned killer that
makes him such an unpredictably thrilling character that could boil over
at any minute. He may
maintain a poker faced stare and serene attitude, but deep inside is an
unwaveringly obsessive and determined agent of chaos that can flip the
tables on anyone with the drop of a hat.
In the wrong actor's hands the character - and film around him -
would have been awfully hard to swallow (especially with its frequent
logic straining plotting), but Washington is too precise and dexterous as
an actor to allow for Robert to wallow in action genre clichés.
Every time Washington occupies the screen here you're transfixed.
There's an argument to be made that he's wallowing a bit below his
high pedigree performance grade, but there's no denying how stoically
charismatic he is here.
welcoming aspect about THE EQUALIZER 2 is, as mentioned, Fuqua's return
behind the camera, and he once again utilizes some evocatively stylish
direction that's wonderfully married to the commitment of his star.
For the most part, Fuqua does a solid job of re-offering up the
first film's graphic carnage with a grim and focused vigor (in an age when
too many studios are drumming up weak willed PG-13-ified action films like
the recent SKYSCRAPER, it's perversely
refreshing to see THE EQUALIZER 2 embrace all of the excessive luridness
of a R-rating). And Fuqua
stages multiple action sequences throughout the film with a joyous level
of visual creativity and gut punching impact.
On top of the aforementioned train sequence that opened the story,
I also admired a bone crunching and artery spewing montage showing Robert
decimating his way through some rich date-rapping Wall Street types, and a
nail biting sequence in Robert's Lyft that turned particularly nasty for
him and his attacking passenger. On
a pure level of delivering on status quo levels of gory mayhem, THE
EQUALIZER 2 is on strong footing.
If only the overall writing of this sequel
would have been as well oiled and
assured as its star and director. Mind
numbing predictability rears up throughout THE EQUALIZER 2, as it becomes
very easy very early on to see where the plot will move from one beat to
the next, not to mention that true motivations from certain characters -
that are designed to hopefully surprise audience members - are tipped off
with obvious unavoidability. A
potentially rich subplot involving Robert befriending one of his neighbors,
a young gangbanger tempted into a gang world of drugs and wealth, has some
compelling layers, but pays off in achingly formulaic ways.
Then there's a long gestating subplot involving Robert trying to
aid a Holocaust survivor that feels like it should have been best left on
the cutting room floor, despite its honorable intentions.
astoundingly, THE EQUALIZER 2 makes up for such creative troubles with a
truly ape shit crazy, yet truly absurdly exhilarating third act, which
culminates in Robert finally taking on all of Susan's conspiring murderers
during a hurricane, making this the second film I've seen this year after THE
HURRICANE HEIST involving a climax showcasing heroes and villains
battling it out with a ranging storm screaming in the background.
I found myself smiling a lot during the final minutes of THE
EQUALIZER 2, and in the end it's a sequel that's surprisingly worthy of big
screen investment. It
improves upon the geographical scope of the first (it traverses through
Brussels to Boston to Washington), expands upon the storyline of Robert's
tortured character, and, most agreeably, it's a self-contained sequel with
a beginning, middle, and end that doesn't aggressively go out of its way to set up more sequels.
Yet, I hope that Washington's presumed dead government operative
will show up in THE EQUALIZER 3 with a new off-the-grid and
under-the-radar job lined up, like a movie theater usher that will seek
justice on cinema patrons that talk or text during a feature presentation.
That a sequel I'd line up