Two time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington is simply too gifted of an actor to ever allow The Equalizer 2 to completely collapse, so no matter how derivative and pointless the film becomes it somehow manages to stay watchable mostly owing to Washington's being bound and determined to make it watchable.
It works. Barely.
One can never completely say that a Denzel Washington film is a surprise hit, but the original The Equalizer, also directed by Antoine Fuqua, was definitely a bit of a surprise hit with $192 million in global receipts on a $55 million production budget.
In Hollywood, that's good enough to get you a sequel.
In this case, however, this sequel also happens to be the very first sequel of Washington's career, an odd fact that may just indicate that Washington doesn't really give a rat's ass anymore or that he simply can't say no to Fuqua, his director for the Academy Award-winning Training Day.
The Equalizer 2 isn't going to be picking up any Academy Awards, though neither is it dastardly enough to be dancing in Razzie territory. It's simply a mostly average film from a much better than average actor who is capable of so much more.
In this film, Washington's Robert McCall, a retired CIA operative, has left behind his post-retirement hardware store gig in favor of a more freestyle opportunity as a wheelin' and vengeance dealin' Lyft driver. I can't help but think that The Equalizer 2 isn't the kind of film that's going to have people knockin' on Lyft's doors.
The Equalizer was basically a rather hardcore action popcorn flick, a ludicrously dumb head-basher made all the more amusing by the fact that it was Denzel Washington doing the head-bashing. The odds are pretty strong that you didn't love The Equalizer. You didn't hate The Equalizer. It simply entertained you and sometimes that's enough. For the most part, however, The Equalizer seemed to be in on the joke of a script, though it's occasional faux seriousness threatened to derail it.
In The Equalizer 2, the script by Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2) is even more self-serious and, amidst all the lunacy and absurdity and head-bashing that unfolds, I'd dare say it's stretching for dramatic moments that never arrive no matter how often Denzel gives that Denzel stare that women, and more than a few men, swoon over.
The film gives us a good 30 minutes of head-bashin' Denzel before the actual storylines really get going, scenes in which McCall's Lyft becomes a bit of a vehicle of destruction for anyone who dares not behave themselves.
In case you're wondering, It's McCall who decides whether or not someone's behaving.
After about the first half hour, which includes a scene involving a bunch of hedge fund punks acting like hedge fund punks and paying a McCall inflicted heavy price for that behavior, The Equalizer 2 picks up when Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) shows up back on the scene and pays the price for investigating a little too thoroughly a case involving French assets she shouldn't be exploring. This brings Washington's McCall back into action, his bent toward revenge a lot more personal this time even if it never actually feels that particularly personal.
Alongside McCall's vengeance, we glimpse McCall's more paternal, softer side when he takes a liking to a neighborhood teen named Miles (Moonlight's Ashton Sanders), whom McCall hires in an effort to keep him on the straight and narrow and away from the gangs that are knocking on his door.
Or something like that.
The Equalizer 2 attempts to find a gravitas it never achieves, tables laden with Proust and Ta-Nehisi Coates hinting at a substantial message the film never delivers. Maybe that's why, after all, that Washington actually signed on for The Equalizer 2. Maybe he truly believed there was something deeper going on here, because more than once you can see something simmering in his eyes but it just never arrives on the big screen.
The Equalizer 2 isn't a bad film. Denzel would never let that happen. He's one of Hollywood's most dependable actors and also one of the few actors who seems to make almost every project he does a better project. There's no doubt that The Equalizer 2 is a better film because Denzel's in it ... that still doesn't mean it's a very good film.
If you liked The Equalizer, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy The Equalizer 2. If you prefer your action violence of the more hardcore, graphic variety then The Equalizer 2 is likely the film for you. However, if you're looking for the next great Denzel Washington performance? You'd best pop in Training Day and remember Fuqua and Washington's glory days.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic