As much as it tried, The Equalizer, while one of the rare successful adaptations of films based on old TV shows, was one phone call away from being Denzel Washington’s Taken. Ripping pages out of Liam Neeson’s playbook before embedding it in someone’s larynx, the reunion between the Training Day star and its director led to an entertaining but an ultimately average action film. It lacked the depth of their first collaboration and even the far superior punch of Washington’s other notable remake, Man On Fire. Still, it managed to prove that once again, Washington was a fella not to be trifled with. The Equalizer 2 continues to confirm that notion, as well as certify that the math still needs some work.
One-man-army himself, Robert McCall (Washington) hasn’t changed since his last bout. He’s still the same mild-mannered neighbour down the hall, doing his part for the community and making friendly conversation with every Lyft fare he gets as he drives around the somewhat faceless streets of Massachusetts before going home alone to a single glass of whisky. On the side, he’s helping out the little guy by pummeling several that look at him the wrong way, resulting in many flinch-worthy altercations that make you feel bad for any man wearing a scowl and a leather jacket. These scuffles soon come in large amount though, when McCall takes on a case of his own after a tragedy leaves our hero investigating a whodunit alongside FBI man and former partner (Narcos and Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal), but the process lacks any attempt to hide who did.
If you sat through Denzel destroying poorly trained individuals the last time around, you’d already be attuned to the paint by numbers plot twists and revelations that befall McCall which fail to hit as hard as he does. The Equalizer 2 manages to do the unthinkable though, not just by staying inside the lines set by its predecessor but also adding unwanted side plots to the film that make it a trial for all the wrong reasons.
In between McCall tracking down black-ops mercenaries who messed with the wrong guy, he’s turning up at bro-parties after they’ve drugged a girl, or invading drug dens of local gang bangers, or clearing up local bits of vandalism because it’s the right thing to do. They all have absolutely no cohesion and feel like potential avenues screenwriter Robert Wenk could’ve gone down and not so loosely stitching them together.
Even so, what binds them together is Washington who demonstrates once again why he can grip the audience with even the most relaxed performance. McCall still feels like a low-level John W. Creasy from Man on Fire which isn’t a bad thing. The charm and charisma are there just not brought to the boiling point that we know he can reach. Washington isn’t giving it his all, but quite frankly, he doesn’t have to.
Playing it cool is just as effective, only really raising the pressure when he confronts a young neighbour (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders grossly underused here) after taking him under his wing, and it’s one of the films most compelling moments, and that’s even with a fight in the middle of a hurricane to compete against. Ultimately, both he and Fuqua struggle to deliver a film that surpasses its predecessor (which shouldn’t be this hard), subtracting any interest in a third instalment.