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The Equalizer 2

2018-08-23 18:48
 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Robert McCall is now a Lyft driver at day and a vigilante at night whose daily routine of helping the helpless is undermined when his past comes back to haunt him when his old friend and former CIA handler, Susan Plummer, becomes embroiled in the particularly grizzly death of one of her agents in France.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

The Equalizer is still the closest that Denzel Washington has come to making a superhero film – picture the Punisher with some of Superman’s righteousness thrown in for good measure – so it’s fitting that its sequel would be the first time in his career that he has ever reprised a role. It’s all about franchises these days, after all. 

Teaming once again with director, Antoine Fuqua – the man who in many ways put Washington on the map (and, oddly, vice versa) – The Equalizer 2 almost gets by purely on Washington’s apparently endless reservoir of charisma and screen presence as we see him come to the aid of an old Holocaust survivor trying to reclaim an old painting, his young black neighbour whose artistic talent threatens to be undone by his relationship to a number of unsavoury types and the drugged victim of a gang-rape by a bunch of incredibly rich yuppies. It’s a pity then, that the film has to go ahead and spoil it all by throwing in a plot.

The first forty-five minutes of what proves to be an overly long two-hour action thriller has its weaknesses – the self-righteousness gets a bit much at times, for example – but, aside for a few minutes of boring, bloody plot stuff thrown in for what appears to be no good reason, is really just about following Washington’s Robert McCall doing his thing and having a pretty great time doing so. 

Whether it’s his very sweet interactions with this old Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean doing a very passable old Yiddish accent) with whom he forms a relationship as he drives him around the city; his vicious take-down of a bunch of horrible, young rich brats who are taught a rather memorable lesson that loads and loads of money may in fact not give carte blanche to do whatever the hell you feel like; his sage mentorship of his teenage neighbour, Miles (Ashton Sanders in a breakout role), or even just his paling around with old friends (Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman, both underutilized), it’s just a pleasure to watch Denzel Washington inhabit this avenging angel as he goes through the day-to-day business of living his life.  

And then the plot kicks in and it all goes straight to hell – both for our anti-hero and, more troubling still, for us. Those random bits of setup that are thrown into the early parts of the film feel almost entirely gratuitous and do nothing but distract from what’s going on around them but they actually get far more irritating once they start to pay off.

There’s something genuinely novel and uniquely enjoyable about watching a character like Robert McCall living his daily life, especially as it allows Washington the chance to bring all his very considerable gifts as an actor and bona fide movie star to a character that could easily have been just another big-screen action here. McColl is a reasonably well-written character (by returning screenwriter, Richard Wenk) but Washington no doubt adds plenty of colour and dimension that only elevates what’s on the page.
   
Unfortunately, there’s nothing novel, interesting, surprising or even particularly entertaining about the plot itself, which we’ve all seen hundreds of times already in far superior conspiracy thrillers and spy flicks. Worst of all, it totally bulldozes its way over the fun stuff in the first sections of the film that when these elements return they actually feel out of place and end up nowhere near as enjoyable as they were in the first place. 

Fuqua is a talented enough director (who has made some very ropey films, admittedly, but a fine director nonetheless) but no matter how at home he is in generic action movie shenanigans, there’s a real sense that for its final two acts, he loses his engagement with the film, switches to autopilot and turns out one generic action set piece after another; all built around a faintly incomprehensible and utterly disposable action-movie plot of rogue agents, betrayals and a final showdown between our hero and a whole bunch of generic baddies. The big “climax” of the film even plays out like one of the set-pieces from Hurricane Heist, of all things!

There is clearly a good film to be made with this character, this actor and this director but The Equalizer wasn’t it (I don’t think; I genuinely remember next to nothing about it despite having definitely seeing it and reviewing it for this very website a mere four years ago) and once you get past its opening act, the Equalizer 2 really, really isn’t it either. If there is indeed to be a third instalment, I can only hope that they just forget about a plot all together and greatly expand on this film’s first forty-five minutes.       

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