The Equalizer 2 (R) ★★★

Review Date: July 19th, 2018

Anton Fuqua's sequel to The Equalizer fits right in with the version of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) he introduced four years ago when he updated the '80s TV series for big screen consumption. This new Equalizer was more brutal than its Edward Woodward predecessor and that characteristic remains paramount in The Equalizer 2. When McCall fires a gun, it's with the intent to kill. When he fights, the goal is rarely just to disable. If this level of violence seems shocking, it may be because the PG-13 rating has gotten us to accustomed to less graphic behavior from our heroes. The R-rating gives Fuqua latitude he might not have with something softer and teen-friendly.

The Equalizer was a "sneaky success" in that it made more than $100M despite a relatively modest start. The film was profitable and Sony started looking at it in franchise terms. For Denzel Washington, this represents the first time he has ever appeared in a sequel so there's obviously interest on the part of the 63-year old actor. Fuqua, conscious of his star's age, doesn't require McCall to do much that's extreme, although he is involved in several instances of hand-to-hand combat. Washington doesn't look his age, however, and to the extent that movies like this are all about suspending disbelief, it's not hard to swallow.

The film's slow-burn approach matches that of the original. Fuqua is in no hurry and understands that building a story gradually pays dividends later in the proceedings. Washington's low-key approach to the role helps in this regard, allowing us to become comfortable with his character before all hell breaks loose. To some degree, The Equalizer 2 feels more like a Death Wish film than a direct continuation of the first movie's central conceit. Although McCall is still out to even the scales, this time he's advocating for a dead friend and his central goal is revenge. His mission is simple: kill the people who were involved in the deed. No second chances. No dithering. It doesn't matter who they are. In his mind, they're Dead Men Walking. When one of them comments that McCall made a mistake going to war with them, his response is that they made the mistake by going to war with him.

Since The Equalizer is by nature episodic, most of the characters from the first film don't return for this installment. The exceptions are Melissa Leo's Susan Plummer and Bill Pullman as her husband, Brian. As things develop, they have an important role to play. The Equalizer 2 introduces two newcomers: McCall's old CIA partner, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), and an underprivileged kid living in McCall's neighborhood, Miles (Ashton Sanders). The film opens with a mini-episode showing McCall in "full Equalizer" mode (saving a kidnapped girl from the abusive father who took her overseas) then moves into the meat of the story. The action transpires across three cities - Brussels, Washington D.C., and Boston - and involves a group of mercenaries who are intent on "eliminating loose ends" at all costs. McCall and several of his friend become such "loose ends."

Fuqua gives us several nail-biting sequences, including a car ride in which McCall's backseat passenger becomes disenchanted with the driver, and a scene in which Miles has to hide from killers who break into McCall's apartment while Miles is doing some painting. The closing set piece, which occurs at the height of a hurricane, provides an appropriately taut climax to the adventure. Some of the film's dramatic elements, however, are undercooked. For example, the surrogate father relationship between McCall and Miles never really clicks. And the inclusion of a minor subplot featuring an octogenarian Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) is disconnected from everything else and the payoff isn't worth the screen time.

As was the case with the first film, composer Harry Gregson-Williams manages to hint at Stuart Copeland's iconic Equalizer music without fully incorporating it. An argument could be made, I suppose, that the Copeland score is intimately tied with the Edward Woodward interpretation of the character and would be out-of-place here. Oliver Wood's camerawork is evocative without being showy. The fury of the hurricane is effectively represented toward the end without turning this into a disaster movie.

The Equalizer 2 represents a solid follow-up to The Equalizer and an effectively understated entry into the 2018 summer movie sweepstakes. Its self-contained narrative is a reminder that not every movie needs to end with a cliffhanger promising something bigger the next time around. Fuqua and Washington deliver this time and will let any future installments, if there are any, take care of themselves.

© 2018 James Berardinelli