Denzel Washington returns in director Antoine Fuqua's brutal action sequel.
Wrested away from the hazy hallowed (now hollow) halls of 1980’s television memory, and reimagined for the big screen by filmmaker Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven) and superstar Denzel Washington, The Equalizer saga continues to unfold in this first sequel.
The Equalizer 2, or “EQ2”, per it’s own poster, is nothing if not stylish, sometimes overblown and bombastic. There’s no shortage of cool parts, some of which might rank among the most memorable of the movie year. But, the sum of those parts is nonexistent. The Equalizer was about something; The Equalizer 2 seems to be about everything else. Surprisingly, both films hail from screenwriter Richard Wenk.
Whereas the 2014 original is a narratively straight-ahead brutal action yarn with an interesting conscious and a fairly compelling lead character (or at least a fairly compelling performance of said character, Robert “Mac” McCall, by Washington), the sequel is content to be a hodge-podge of weakly connected vignettes and violent major set pieces. When a longtime friend is killed, Mac springs into action. Later, once he’s figured out who carried out the murder, he tells them that he will kill all of them. He gives them a little talk about how the importance of second chances, and moving on. He then quickly follows that with, “But this ain’t one of those times.” And that badassery right there is not only what The Equalizer 2 is truly about, it’s the only reason it exists.
In and around that late-tethering story thread, Mac is still employing his Batman-like fighting skills to help random people (mostly if not all abused/captured/kidnapped/roughed-up women and/or girls), while taking a teenage neighbor boy (Ashton Sanders) under his wing at home, lest he get sucked into the illicit gangsta lifestyle that he’s clearly flirting with. It’s all very nice and sweet and selfless and a lot of baddies get clocked hard in the teeth. Previous Equalizer cast mates Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo return, which is nice but would carry more weight had their presence been at all memorable in the first film.
Watching The Equalizer 2 feels more like watching the gross expenditures of a studio newbie director going to town with a newfound stash of too much cash and an expert crew. Before you can opt to not think too much about the plot, you have to deduce what the plot is- Not a good thing in an intended straight-down-the-line action movie such as this.
2014’s The Equalizer remains notable as a treat for audiences, in part due to its quick willingness to embrace its own genre’s flair for well-orchestrated brutality while presenting fully as a meticulously crafted world; one with a tightly controlled palate of textures and color.
In keeping with such meticulousness, our invincible former covert-ops human weapon protagonist, Mac, would sit down and invasively rearrange the items on a villain’s desk during his steely pre-assault verbal confrontation phase. It plays like both Mac’s compulsion for an orderly world, and one heck of an intimidation technique, all at once.
The Equalizer 2 mostly forgets about all of those tension-winding audience-pleasing indicators of intelligent design within itself. It’s a sequel that’s content to coast on the inertia of its predecessor; still dressed to the nines, but far more loose and scattershot about itself. Whereas the first film is, as much as it could be, Fuqua channeling David Fincher, EQ2 is more of an attempt at channeling Michael Mann. Gleaming surfaces and cool night shots are the style that attempts to become substance, but can’t.
EQ2 seems to be too caught up in a permanent state of self-admiration of the fruits of its inflated budget to bother with little things like narrative flow or connectivity. Whereas the first film left audiences amusedly flabbergasted at the way such a vehicle for Oscar winner Denzel Washington would go as far as turning into a Friday the 13th movie once the villains were lured into Mac’s big-box hardware place of employment after hours (where Mac, on his own turf, would then stealth around in the dark of the rafters to the impale them one by one with tree pruners and power tools), EQ2 has Mac working as a Lyft driver, thus making all the world his turf. Hence, with his invincibility factor ratcheted up that much further, the film’s essential tensions are that much lower. Never once do we fear that Mac could fail, that he could lose a fight, that any given moment will belong to anyone but him.
That’s not to say it isn’t awesome at times (the spectacle of the final showdown would be something truly special, if not for its lack of tension), it’s just that its own awesomeness will have its longest future punching up various cast and crew members sizzle reels, as opposed to lingering in viewers minds as a cohesive filmic experience.
Though Washington cuts a mean presence (and an alternately zen one) as The Equalizer, one that no matter how predictable, will always be compelling, the sequel is no equal.