Synopsis – Robert McCall serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?
My Take – In a time when superhero blockbusters and franchises are dominating the box office, audiences thankfully still tend to lodge towards films starring certain actors who innate a certain decency and a certain form of integrity which radiates their personality on and off the screen, one such actor is Denzel Washington, a commanding performer who even after almost 40 years into his career shows no signs of slowing down.
Here, re teaming with director Antoine Fuqua, in his first ever sequel to the stylish vigilante flick which was a surprise 2014 hit, this Washington led film manages to accomplish what few sequels never come close to achieving – almost being better than the original. Like most I too wasn’t personally clamoring to see a second installment to the adaption of the popular 80s TV show, but thankfully despite some predictability in its story line, the film manages to be an entertaining ride for adult action junkies and continues to maintain a certain quality set in the first film.
The story takes place a few months after the events of the first film, and follows Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), an ex-CIA operative, who has made his life’s mission to help random citizens being wronged around him. After successfully accomplishing a rescue mission with help of his retired CIA colleague, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), who supports him in any way that she can, McCall comes back to his apartment complex in Massachusetts and continues his work as a Lyft driver in order to settle down a little bit, all the while also mentoring Miles Whittaker (Ashton Sanders), a young neighbor with an artistic but troubled background.
However, when Susan is murdered by thugs under mysterious circumstances in Brussels, McCall quickly begins his own investigation with the aid of Plummer’s partner and McCall’s former teammate, David York (Pedro Pascal), with only one motive in mind: find the murderers and exact his revenge on them by any means necessary.
Returning to the director’s seat, Antoine Fuqua helms this sequel and teams with Washington on their fourth collaboration (which includes Training Day and The Magnificent Seven Remake), here, director Fuqua all the while carrying a dark background beneath layers of character development, shows a world that is constantly moving, with people living their lives and sharing their personal stories when McCall encounters them. While also showing a society that is corrupted by crime and people that are being hurt in the process, a result of which McCall becomes the silent protector of these people, using a variety of neck breaks, throws, and the environment to take down assailants by rupturing spleens and splitting skulls in the most brutal way possible.
While the first film was solid in its own right, I personally felt that it took far too much time to get to each action sequence and ran on extended run time. Thankfully this sequel takes the best elements of the original film and tread towards a new direction, which I think made for a much better viewing experience. As Richard Wenk, the writer of both films, whose filmography consists of films like The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back takes a page from John Wick, which inherently had a vapidity to them that needs to be softened by likable lead characters and gives a greater context into Robert McCall’s past and how it has shaped the man he currently is. We understand him more as a character when we can see the close personal relationships from his past, allowing him to display some emotional vulnerability even when he proves to be physically invulnerable.
It created a compelling reason for him to need to dive into his past, it brings in new supporting characters that added a much-needed depth to the overall emotional core, and the action sequences didn’t feel as much like set pieces as they did in the original film. Director Fuqua also spins his tension with much greater care and precision than most action directors, keeps things stylish, and never forgoes the rewards of a slightly slower burn (and therefore investable) storyline for quick highs.
Here the film give us time to sit with characters and their innocent lives before the action, in this case a rogue organization that has reasons to want to silence the likes of McCall and those close to him. Director Fuqua also raises the stakes in the film by making the violence more brutal and visceral, all while keeping a brisk pace throughout. Sure, sometimes the intersection of Fuqua‘s cinematography choices and sound edits can feel and appear a bit choppy at times, but the film certainly brings the white-knuckle goods. Gratuitous violence for the sake of violence can make the average viewer want to look away and director Fuqua knows this, and that is why he makes sure that it is only used in situations that require justice or retribution.
The action scenes, particularly a car chase in which the protagonist takes on a knife-wielding assassin through the medium of fast driving, are thrillingly choreographed. Also the film’s action-packed finale scene, a climatic showdown in the midst of an incredibly rough hurricane, is thoroughly effective and satisfying. That said, the film does have one large flaw–that of which the story is highly predictable. If you’ve seen any other vigilante styled action films before, you’ll be able to guess the key plot elements well before they unfold, and the film’s sole attempt at a plot twist can be guessed within the first 20 minutes of the film.
However, the sole reason for me to watch this was to witness Denzel Washington in action. At the age of 63, Washington continues to prove why he is known as one of the greatest actors of our generation. Here, he is clearly having fun as he’s in turns funny, terrifying and sympathetic. His ability to bring such heavyweight, puppy-eyed pathos, even when he’s in a room with a man who he’s about to kill quite swiftly, allows him to carry scenes that could be labelled cliché. His person on-screen is enough to hook you alone. In supporting roles, Ashton Sanders, who received critical praise for his role in Moonlight, once again managed to be a standout, while Melissa Leo and Pedro Pascal also do great in their roles to bring the overall story together and their interactions with Washington are some of the best in the film. However, Bill Pullman, like the first film, is once again wasted. On the whole, ‘The Equalizer 2’ is an old-fashioned numbered sequel, which despite being largely predictable also manages to be a stylish, gripping thriller with Washington once again truly outstanding in the lead role.
Directed – Antoine Fuqua
Rated – R
Run Time – 121 minutes