A film review by Craig J. Koban August 8, 2018


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.  

After exchanging 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. 



Savagely violent 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. 

Another most 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. 

Rather 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 for.  

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