The first Equalizer was one of my favorite films at the wondrous age of eleven years old. Sneaking into that cinema and witnessing Antoine Fuqua’s gritty and mesmerizing background piece went on to shape my taste in film as a stylistic art form for the years to come.
Synopsis: Denzel Washington returns to one of his signature roles in the first sequel of his career. Robert McCall serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed – but how far will he go when that is someone he loves? (Sony Pictures)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, and Ashton Sanders
Writer: Richard Wenk
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 121mins
There’s a certain unspeakable beauty to how, in the original Equalizer, that Fuqua and Washington were able to adapt a long-forgotten but silently cherished tv series into an epic manifestation of violence and drama. It found the comfortable spot between not caring at all and caring too much; creating a neatly woven narrative but sticking to its true guns. Four years later, we have the follow-up film that nobody asked for.
The Equalizer 2 follows Robert McCall (Washington) as he delivers justice for the exploited and damaged civilians that come across his path. Although, he may need to come back from the dead and become a little more official once he discovers that his former colleague and best friend has been murdered. There’s still a few little notes to admire. Some moments still even possess the tone and energy of the first one when Fuqua and Denzel shine through with some incredibly realistic stunt choreography.
These few moments, however, only bleed through in the first act when the film has yet to establish its plot. For the first forty-five minutes, we are essentially just following around McCall as he goes through his average day as a lyft driver. This could have been an incredibly fun and cognizant narrative element used to help establish this abnormal person’s everyday routine, except it goes on for far too long. It almost feels like runtime-padding, once we get to the point that these intervals hold no real effect on the overall plot.
Scriptwriter Richard Wenk fumbles to find a reasonable explanation to continue Robert McCall’s story. He constantly takes jabs at fan-service, which do feel meaningful and good-hearted, but these attempts crumble into being blatantly indolent. Most of the film’s characters carry the same amount of emotional relatability and shallowness as a piece of cardboard. It seems that everyone except Washington himself (of course) exist strictly so that the story can have some misguided attempts at sentimentality.
These attempts at emotional stakes almost descend into feeling like emotional manipulation, as Wenk attempts to commentate socially on the world around McCall without developing it beforehand. Exploiting the scenarios that many teenagers fall victim to for the sake of a character arc without even providing a solution for the problem at hand left me with an unshakable, slightly disturbed feeling. There are some upsides to how Wenk’s writing efforts playout, such as his sense of timing and dramatic irony used for comedic circumstances. However, this doesn’t make up for the two protracted and forceful hours we have left to sit through.
Washington, thankfully, is able to save this from being entirely unwatchable with his undeniably likable charisma. Whenever he is on screen, he adds a certain flair that reminds the audience of what Fuqua is attempting to craft with the source material, as it is obvious that they work together intimately. This, unfortunately, doesn’t stop the movie from being an incomplete mess.
So many ideas were thrown at the screen with such little passion that it ends up affecting the overall narrative in a way that no one would ever want. Maybe, after all of Fuqua’s failed attempts at needlessly reviving dead narratives and adapting black-and-white western flicks for the next generation, he can go back to his visceral filmmaking. 2014’s revival of a story involving a classy gentleman subtly seeking vengeance hit every right note. In the 2018 continuation, however, it misses every single shot at being anything remotely inspired or engaging.