Thespian demigod Denzel Washington makes his sequel debut in the ‘The Equalizer 2’. He’s the apparent last man standing in old man action sub-genre. His return as the ruthless avenging vigilante, Robert McCall, whilst a novelty, isn’t immune to some albatrosses that held back similar sequels. The battle of recycling and refreshing a tried and tested formula is a losing one for this film.
The relative simplicity and containment of ‘The Equalizer 2’s’ 2014 predecessor are thrown out of the window. The film opens in Europe, on a train to Turkey, where McCall is fixing to do some equalizing. It also spends a significant amount of time in Belgium, where the narrative’s inciting incident occurs. In between, we see the array of individuals McCall comes into contact with in his day job as Lyft driver in Boston. For those, like myself, who look to see Denzel bring the pain, not study passengers kindly through his rear-view mirror, this was a bit of drag; one that lasts over 40 minutes and honestly felt like the pilot for a TV series.
McCall has come a long way from the man who collected the souls of Russian mobsters. Though still a Ronin-like figure, he’s more affable and more open. He lives in a more vibrant part of town and takes more of an interest in his community. Then there’s Ashton Sanders, off his heart-wrenching performance in ‘Moonlight‘, who plays Miles, a lanky art student gushing with talent, but trying to navigate the traps of a rough upbringing. He will be the subject of some tough love in the way only Denzel can deliver.
Miles is basically playing the Chloe Grace Moretz role from the first film. In line with McCall’s development, we expect he will take some interest in Miles’ wellbeing (“Why me? Why not you?”). The problem is, this dynamic is taken a step further, so much so it seemed to be crying out for its own film, well aware that it is being tethered to the core plot by the thinnest of threads. A lot is invested in the relationship between McCall and Miles so I hesitate to call it chaff.
There is an interesting physicality to Sanders that quietly arrests. Denzel is Denzel, sleepwalking his way to bucketloads of quiet charisma and warm charm. This makes for a fascinating screen duo; one that could rival Denzel’s symbiosis with Ethan Hawke in ‘Training Day’ under the right conditions.
‘The Equalizer 2’ clumsily juggles the Miles storyline and one that concerns McCalls old CIA colleague and good friend, Susan (Melissa Leo). The latter is what most audience would have walked into the theatres expecting; the one that toes the line of a conventional action thriller. It births its share of twists, turns and genre tropes that are executed with less flair than expected from director Antoine Fuqua.
The action sequences are at times a step off beat or feel repetitive and that makes all the difference. On show again are Fuqua’s unconventional angles, manipulation of speed and the close-up of McCall’s eyes as he crunches the numbers in his brain before crunching actual bones. I recall the action from the first film being very precise in its choreography amid a lot of breathing room. Fuqua took his time to stress to us that McCall was as vicious as they come, a man with a bloodlust almost.
There is this sequence in the first Equalizer where Marton Csokas’ character slowly chokes a girl to death. Fuqua is making deliberate decisions in the way he wants us to process the violence. His camera looks away focusing on the most soothing object in view, a purple ornate egg. He later puts more distance between us and the murder by observing the remainder of it from outside the building. It’s this level of dynamism and tact that ‘The Equaliser 2’ wants for, especially in one critical moment.
Back to Marton Csokas, his was a more formidable villain, clearly defined as the black hat and laying the ground for the inevitable showdown. No pussyfooting whatsoever. The same can’t be said here, as we wade through tons of unrewarding filler en route to a final showdown that is a step down from the booby-trapped warehouse that gifted us barbed wired nooses and nail gun galore.
When I think of ‘The Equalizer 2’s’ positives, I stray back to Ashton and his relationship with McCall and it doesn’t feel right. This was supposed to be just a hard-boiled action flick; Denzel in impossible-white-man mode. Instead, it tries to have more of a heart. How dare it.