The Equalizer 2 review: Denzel Washington is back and as superlative a movie star as ever in this summer’s hallmark thriller.
The Equalizer 2 review by Abi Silverthorne.
In our not actually very long-awaited sequel to the original 2014 reboot (ah, you studios of fickle heart) Robert McCall is back, this time taking brief holidays from his day job as a driver to commit random acts of robin hood heroism against kidnappers and rapists and thieves, oh my. All is well, until the sudden murder of an old friend sends Robert headfirst into the coalescing plots of his revenge for her loss and the corruption investigation she was undertaking that led to her death in the first place. Along the well-worn way he will face large men, even larger men, and large guns held by large men, and audiences will undoubtedly be swept along on the momentum of one otherwise charming older man’s rage once again. Someone would be hard pressed to say there isn’t a jolt of sheer movie-going pleasure from watching Denzel Washington absolutely destroy repugnant men in less time than it takes us to order a diet coke in the foyer.
This film’s part in the reboot fever being duly noted, it could still be said that Hollywood’s predilection to re-spin and re-spew material from the cultural archives can be worth it when it allows stars – or future stars – of actual interest to make something of their own. The familiar made fascinating. Fortunately, even though it is perhaps not as great as the first film (as with the majority of sequels), The Equalizer 2 manages to pull this off. Washington and Fuqua, for a start, are one of the most trustworthy director-actor duos in the industry, keeping up a steady output of well-crafted and extremely well-acted films until this, their fourth, but hopefully not final, collaboration. Fuqua spins his tension with much greater care and precision than most action directors, keeps things stylish, and never forgoes the rewards of a slightly slower burn (and therefore investable) storyline for quick highs. He and Richard Wenk’s script give us time to sit with characters and their innocent lives before the action – in this case a rogue organisation that has reasons to want to silence the likes of McCall and those close to him – hurtles them out of order.
Yes, the familiar is there in healthy, if heavy, doses. All the mob behaviour, Slavic heavies, and Ritchie-esque slow motion punching is on the roll call, but it is the films careful casting of the heroes that keeps you interested even if you know what forms their troubles will take. The performances are where the fascinating can be found.
It can’t overstated how much of a star Denzel Washington is, and though his admirers might prefer to see him in more high brow stuff like his own recent directorial triumph and awards darling Fences, there is something to be said for an actor in such a settled area of his career who still never, ever reigns it in. I don’t believe he could even if he tried. Charisma breathes in everything the actor does. Washington is clearly having fun with this, both as the rage machine that incapacitates to a thirty second average record on his wristwatch, and McCalls charming civilian alter ego who benignly watches the lives of his Lyft passengers in his rear view mirror like a neighbourly version of Deniro’s Travis Bickle. He’s in turns funny, terrifying and sympathetic. His ability to bring such heavyweight, puppy-eyed pathos, even when he’s in a room with a man who he’s about to kill quite swiftly, allows him to carry scenes that could be labelled cliche. The Equalizer films may not be overtly groundbreaking, but they do not need to be, they only need to be a vessel that can weather Washington’s one man hurricanes, as he proves once again he is worthy of having a franchise to his name.
Related: The Equalizer review
Alongside him and taking up the mantle left by Chloe Moretz’s daughter figure last time around is Ashton Sanders as Miles, a son figure – a young artist who lives in McCall’s building and who strikes up an affectionate relationship with him when the older man encourages him to pursue his interest in painting.
Sanders made his iconic mark as one of the three Chirons in Moonlight and proves he can pull off something with a lighter heart here, and also most likely anything. He is a wonderful addition to any scene, and brings a palpable sense of soul to a standard ‘young impressionable protege of the anti-hero’ character that may not necessarily have had it there on paper.
Denzel and Ashton together are the high-points of the film, and one sudden argument they share in the worn-down hall of a house where McCall finds his young friend skipping school to hang out with a gang comes almost completely out of nowhere with shocking ferocity and sends the film soaring, for a brief moment, into glorious territory. It’s raw enough to warrant a few tears, if not simply blow your socks off with its intensity; it could be plucked straight from a family drama of Best Picture aspirations. Denzel is astonishing when his character’s anger at the world is given a specific, personal touch such as this, and all power to Sanders – who holds his own one-to-one with the leading man and should end up, if there is any justice in the world, with a career as long and successful as Washington’s.
The cast also boasts Pedro Pascal as an antagonist that most will see coming but is great regardless, and it’s many cult-favourite set pieces of brutality. It is just a shame that it isn’t stronger and more original in the moments in-between the focal points of baddie crunching action. Sometimes the narrative stringing things along until McCall gets to wack someone again is a little weak, and occasional heavy-handed imagery about oncoming storms and an eye for an eye, while bemusing, are just about gotten away with. It’s not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve, but a bit of well done genre over the summer season is sure to please the masses, and if Washington perhaps deserved even better (more like Sicario, than saccharine) at least his presence here brings a simply satisfying plot to viscerally enjoyable heights.
A largely predictable but also largely fun ride, the second ‘Equalizer’ reiterates all the reasons why we love movie stars like Denzel Washington, who has fully earned, along with Fuqua, their inevitable threequel next summer.
The Equalizer 2 review by Abi Silverthorne, August 2018.
The Equalizer 2 is released in UK cinemas on 17th August 2018.