The Equalizer 2 (or as we should call it over here The Equaliser 2) features Academy Award winner Denzel Washington shooting someone in the face with a harpoon gun. Now to some this may sound like your cup of tea, and I admit there is a guilty pleasure seeing Washington’s hard-nosed former black-ops man punish those who do wrong to others. But there is a troubling split personality within the film that if you delve deeper leaves a bitter taste. Whilst taking explicitly violent vengeance against those who do wrong makes sense director Antoine Fuqua seems to enjoy seeing them get their comeuppance in gruesome fashion. It is at odds to Washington’s Robert McCall who strives to be a peaceful respectful man. This becomes especially egregious when a large amount of the very generous running time is given to McCall becoming a father figure to his gifted neighbour, Miles.
Miles is a typical kid, trapped within the confines of a tough economic situation and in dire need of some focused male influence. Ashton Sanders gives Miles an endearing vulnerability and allows Washington’s rather repetitive drollness a chance to actually smile. He teaches him to stay away from gangs that will absorb him into violence yet of course he is too far gone himself to stray from the path of violence. It is a well worn trope, but Fuqua could’ve made it hit harder by at least making it seem like the violence is troubling for McCall. Alas at no point do we sense that. Continuing a trick utilised in the first rather forgettable installment, McCall times his watch to measure just how speedy he can dispatch a room full of bad guys. A fun visual motif but one that makes light of sequences of intense brutality. It really hit home to me this films closeness to such B-movie violent fantasies like Death Wish, when in the screening I attended numerous moments of harsh violence were met with laughs and cheers. Of course these are bad men and bad men must be punished but there is never a cost to the bloodshed, simply more bloodshed.
A shame really as The Equalizer 2 is solidly made. The story is painfully generic. McCall’s old CIA friend Susan (Melissa Leo-watchable as always) is murdered, with him desperate to kill those responsible. It becomes even more personal than that as events escalate, roping in Pedro Pascal’s slimy and staggeringly obvious former comrade turned villain, before they all collide in McCall’s old home town in the middle of a hurricane, for some reason. The bare bones of the plot is decent, who doesn’t love a good revenge tale, but Fuqua mires it in excess nonsense that only seeks to drag the pace down. A subplot surrounding an old man whom McCall picks up regularly (I should add McCall is an Uber driver not some old miser sex fiend) and his quest for a missing painting is just bizarre. Through it all though the shining light is Washington. Possibly one of the most consistently great American actors, here he gives a subtle performance of real heartache amidst all the glorified hacking and slashing.
As events become so personal it releases in him past pain surrounding his deceased wife, forcing him to come to terms with his loss and guilt. Always a performer so adept at showing rivers of emotion with just an expression, scenes of McCall alone at home, silently reading are given pained mourning via Washington’s dignified calm. It is clear this character means a lot to him, after all this is the only sequel in the entirety of his career, and it is him and him alone that makes the film work in any real way. Other cast members give decent if unmemorable performances, with some being outright wasted (Bill Pullman deserves better).
Fuqua mounts a decent array of set-pieces, with a limited budget they are refreshingly bereft of CGI embellishments, if a little undercooked. Owing to McCall’s incessant need to stopwatch his takedowns the fights are brief and brutal. One car ambush is startlingly shot, all within camera, and I admire that the final act set piece featuring a shootout across an entire town in the midst of a hurricane utilises in camera effects rather than silly computer generated mayhem. Mind you we all could’ve done without the clunkingly ill advised repeated hints of the impending wind storm, seriously it appears in radio broadcasts almost a dozen times. The Equalizer 2 suffers from this throughout, regular bouts of good filmmaking decisions awkwardly smashing into woefully misjudged choices. You’ll find little of it remaining in your head days afterwards, well except for maybe Denzel Washington shooting a man in the face with a harpoon gun!!
Verdict: Denzel Washington anchors a somewhat troubling violent slugfest. The action beats hit hard and there is ample tension, but it is ultimately far too familiar to truly work.