- The Equalizer 2
- Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
- Written by: Richard Wenk
- Starring: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal and Bill Pullman
- Classification: 14A; 129 minutes
The film begins with a familiar character on a train in Turkey. Forget the beard, taqiyah and exotic locale: It’s Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall, the deadly but righteous blue-collar avenger from 2014’s The Equalizer. A goon is disabled with quick, icy efficiency. A girl is rescued. Mamma mia, here we go again.
Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer 2 is not the most talked about follow-up film to open this weekend, but it is the first sequel in Washington’s long, distinguished career. It’s an ultraviolent actioner with a question at its core: Who should die, and who should live?
“I don’t deserve this, to die like this,” pleaded Gene Hackman’s villainous Little Bill Daggett in the 1992 Western Unforgiven. To which Clint Eastwood’s hired-gun killer replied, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
But audiences will tell us who deserves what. Early in The Equalizer 2, when a young French mother and father are mercilessly assassinated, the crowd attending an advance screening of the film this week didn’t make a sound. Yet when Washington’s ex-military, former black-op maestro McCall coolly disables a pack of rich, sex-offending jerks, the audience erupted into a condoning chorus of hoots and hollers. Because the punks on screen “deserved” what they got.
I’m not sure audiences are getting what they deserve with this plodding, so-so action-thriller, but they’ll get what they’ll pay for: Washington as a relentless old-man on a moral-code mission of setting things right (and sometimes setting things on fire).
A likable vigilante, McCall is a Boston-based Lyft driver who spends his spare time cleaning graffiti off apartment buildings, reading a bucket list of books, befriending a Holocaust survivor (played by Orson Bean) and assigning himself “equalizing” duties. He drives a Malibu and lives alone in a drab apartment.
In The Equalizer 2, McCall is paid a visit from an old friend from The Equalizer. She’s Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), who knows McCall well enough to let herself into his apartment to offer him some free soup and advice: “Helping random people is not going to fill that hole in your heart.” Justice doer McCall lost his wife years ago. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, and it is when one of them is brutally killed that the central revenge plot finally springs into calculated, vicious action.
At the end of the first Equalizer, a confused villain had asked of McCall, “Who are you?” It’s a good question – one that the director Fuqua and the uninspired scriptwriter Richard Wenk don’t spend a lot of time answering.
Occasionally, he has a sense of humour: “Make sure I get a five-star rating,” he quips to a Lyft customer jerk he leaves equalized with freshly broken bones. Later, he smiles while finger-gunning bad guys. Mostly, though, McCall is fairly bland.
A subplot involves an aspiring, at-risk student artist mentored by McCall. The character, who is played with flair by a game Ashton Sanders (of Moonlight fame), serves its purpose in one great suspense scene and one disappointing, contrived fire-fight showdown.
I won’t divulge much about the villain, except to say that he’s a black-ops guy who believes there are no good people and no bad people – just “unfortunates” who must die if their names happen to be on the assassination order.
As for who dies and who lives to get a sequel, that’s up to the major film studios. With its 2018 unfortunate Bruce Willis-starring reboot, for example, the revenge-fantasy Death Wish was brought back to life (if you can call it that). When it comes to The Equalizer series, it probably deserves to die a natural death. But, then, maybe Eastwood was right after all: Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.