Movie Review: Thoughtful ‘Equalizer 2’ Tops Original
In The Equalizer, a fairly straightforward vigilante film-cum-origin story, we learned how retired intelligence agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) got a taste for helping innocent civilians who have been wronged, forming the basis for the popular 1980s TV series.
A re-teaming of frequent collaborators Washington and director Fuqua (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven), the film was a sizable hit, grossing four times its modest $50 million budget.
And after the success of the original film, I think star director Fuqua and star Washington were given a little more creative room with this sequel, which is a lot more thoughtful and nuanced than its predecessor, if a little less exciting.
The opening half-hour of The Equalizer 2 plays out like a montage of scenes from the TV series, with Washington’s McCall - now a Lyft driver in Boston - helping out an assortment of innocent victims who come across his path, which include a mother whose daughter was kidnapped and taken to Turkey by her father, and a young woman who was assaulted by a group of corporate scumbags.
Seeing Washington enforce a brutal kind of vigilante justice against those who most certainly deserve it does have its appeal. But that’s not exactly where The Equalizer 2 has its mind.
Two story threads eventually emerge and intertwine during the course of the film, the first of which involves a pair of familiar faces from the original film: Melissa Leo as Susan Plummer, McCall’s old friend from the DIA, and Bill Pullman as her husband.
When Susan and partner Dave (Pedro Pascal) get into trouble while looking into the mysterious murder of an intelligence agent in Brussels, McCall takes it upon himself to sort out the case, bringing a familiar revenge-movie angle to the proceedings.
But far more thoughtful here are scenes between Washington and Ashton Sanders, unforgettable as the teenage version of the main character in the Oscar-winning Moonlight. Here, Sanders plays plays Miles Whittaker, McCall’s apartment block neighbor and a disenfranchised young man who finds himself drawn to gang life after the shooting death of his older brother.
During the scenes between Sanders and Washington, a surprisingly lengthy subplot that pushes an otherwise familiar vigilante movie past a two-hour runtime, you almost forget what kind of movie you’re watching. Washington’s forceful work here recalls Fences more than the first film, and elevates The Equalizer 2 past the usual revenge movie trappings.
The first Equalizer film featured a dynamite climactic action scene set in a Home Depot, in which McCall goes MacGyver and creates deadly hardware-based traps to kill his attackers in spectacular Home Alone style.
But the climactic killings in The Equalizer 2, memorably set on the shores of Massachusetts during a raging storm, are far less enjoyable. As McCall is pit against professional men that he must kill, but we don’t necessarily despise, the resolution here is a lot more cathartic than the usual action film.
A little slower, a little more drawn-out than the first movie, The Equalizer 2 may not be as fun but it is surprisingly thoughtful and more self-aware than its predecessor. It’s ultimately a much more rewarding experience.