Review: The Equalizer 2

Score: B-

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Melissa Leo, Ashton Sanders

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rated: R

It's not surprising there's a podcast called Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. He's great in prestige dramas like Malcolm X, great in crowd-pleasers like Remember the Titans, and he's even great in terrible action movies like Safe House and the first Equalizer. His ability to elevate any material is a gift that only a handful of actors have. So if he keeps getting fat paychecks for movies like this, while still finding time for Oscar-worthy work in movies like Fences and Flight, well that's just fine.

One of the many reasons I miss Tony Scott is that he had a way of turning the most boilerplate action films into something resembling work. His collaborations with Washington (Man on Fire in particular) are some of both guys' best work. Since Scott's death, Washington has reunited three times with Antoine Fuqua, who directed him to a long overdue Oscar in Training Day. But Fuqua's no Tony Scott. In fact, he's one of our weakest directors, making movies that are at best passable versions of things we've seen before. Occasional use of slo-mo does not an auteur make.

The first Equalizer was a grim compilation of gratuitous violence without style. It paled in comparison to John Wick, released just a month later. But Denzel kept your eyes glued to the screen, as Robert McCall, a lone badass righting wrongs throughout the city (and later, implausibly, around the world).

The sequel improves upon the original in every way, mainly by making McCall's vengeance personal. His old co-worker Susan (Melissa Leo) is marked for death the moment she tells him "I'm the only friend you've got," getting killed while investigating a murder in Brussels. McCall turns to their mutual friend Dave (Pedro Pascal) to find the killers.

You can see the twist coming a mile away, and the extended metaphor of an "approaching storm" that becomes literal is a plodding screenwriter mistake. But Dave Wenk's script makes up for this by including a strong subplot in which McCall mentors a surly but talented teen (Ashton Sanders, Moonlight) in his apartment building, keeping him away from gang violence and indulging his creative side.

Both of these stories collide in the third act, culminating in a finale that's basically incoherent. McCall has a big showdown with the bad guys in his hometown, which is directly in the path of a hurricane. It's a big, expensive set piece that mainly functions to show off its sound effects editing. (Go for that Oscar, guys.) But you can barely see the action, and its final mano e mano is 90 percent Denzel's stunt double.

Still, The Equalizer 2 is a step up from the original, raising the stakes and making an effort that's not just watchable, it's occasionally even enjoyable.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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