The combination of Director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington has proven to be both a fun and lucrative (if you don’t count The Magnificent Seven). While I’ll personally stand by Training Day being their best joint venture, it was the first Equalizer film that was the most financially successful to date.
After watching The Equalizer 2, I would be surprised if this follow-up to the original does not surpass its box office returns and spawn future installments. It is very rare for a sequel to surpass an original in terms of quality, especially in an action film, but I can say without a doubt that this one ramped it up. Washington is not much for sequels. He has never agreed to do one in the past. However, if any of his film characters lend themselves to returning for a second go, I think it is certainly Robert McCall.
I was a fan of the first movie, mostly due to its exceptional cast and the MacGyver-like way McCall takes down the bad guys throughout the film. It took a different path, staying away from the guns and knives standard of most action films, and it made it unique and interesting to instead see him employ garden equipment and power tools to get the job done.
For the follow-up, while there are certainly some of those same elements, McCall isn’t against getting up close and very personal with both guns and knives. While it is a bit of a departure from how the first film separated itself, I’d honestly say that this one did nothing but enhance the beautifully choreographed brutality throughout. When I say brutal, I mean it. There are some moments while McCall is delivering some well-deserved violence that made me a bit squeamish, even if I let out a little “hell yeah” under my breath at the same time.
The biggest difference between this and the original is that this time, it’s personal. Last go around, McCall wasn’t really looking for a fight. He just happened to unleash some justice on a crew of guys that ended up being well-connected and had to finish the job. The trailer already gives away that this time, his former boss and close friend Susan (Melissa Leo) is murdered, which prompts him to deliver the line, “So I’m going to kill each and every one of them, and the only disappointment is that I only get to do it once.” Chills anyone?
While I could watch a whole movie about Denzel as a Lyft driver who is exceptionally nice to people that deserve it and beats those who don’t to a bloody pulp, the revenge storyline that goes beyond that is simple yet effective. There is recycled material as McCall trades his hardware store apron for a Lyft sticker (I wonder how much that marketing effort cost), and he is again trying to help another young person (Ashton Sanders) better his life, but it also brings back some common themes and expands upon them. The story behind his love of books, his OCD, and his relationship with his deceased wife are woven in, and it gives it an effective emotional push.
Fuqua again delivers an exceptional cast. Returning along with Denzel are Leo and Bill Pullman. Pullman isn’t given much to do but grieve, but he has a scene where he tries to pick out a dress for his deceased wife to wear for the funeral that shows some of what he brought to his role in The Sinner.
New to this one is Sanders from Moonlight and one of my favorite rising stars, Pedro Pascal, who you know from Game of Thrones, Narcos, and a terrible movie set on a Great Wall that shall not be named. Pascal plays an old member of McCall’s team who still believed he was dead. In an extreme edition of “how do I know that guy”, the role of an elderly man trying to recover a painting he lost in the war is played by Orson Bean, who I will always fondly remember from his time on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Don’t judge me.
Compared to a typical 90-minute action film, the pacing of this one may seem slow at times. It starts off with a bang before decelerating, but Fuqua wanted to give McCall more depth in this film and create more emotion. You could cut several scenes of Lyft rides, side plots involving Sanders’s character even though he is exceptional, and some of the establishing shots of the city, but this movie isn’t trying to be just another action flick. That has never been Fuqua’s style. He wants to show his characters’ layers. He respects an audience’s ability to think and put plot points together based on visuals without spelling it out. He wants you to get a feel for the settings where the action takes place.
When it comes to settings, Fuqua layers in a brewing storm in Boston as the story continues to unfold, heightening your sense of suspense and hinting that the final showdown draws nearer and nearer. The climax of the film takes place in a small coastal city that has been evacuated for the hurricane, and the visuals during this segment put Twister to shame, flying cows be damned. I was almost distracted from the action going on just looking at the realism of the storm, so I hope the making of that scene ends up on the Blu-ray. There were more examples of Oliver Wood’s great cinematography as the movie captured the gritty feel of the city, believable car sequences, and even a little first-person shooter, but the storm is a true work of art.
The Equalizer 2 isn’t perfect. It has a predictable plot twist, a few loose ends that could absolutely come back to haunt McCall, bad guys that should be smarter than they act, and an unintentionally funny moment featuring the super smart McCall just casually sitting in a chair in front of a glass window while a crazy storm is raging on the other side. It does, however, deliver a fun ride featuring all the effortless beatdowns, graphic violence, and good old-fashioned revenge you could ask for and, if Fuqua and Washington team up again, I’ll be buying a ticket to board that train.