By: Will Ashton (Three Beers) –
The only thing that’s distinctive about The Equalizer 2 is that it’s Denzel Washington’s first sequel. In a celebrated career filled with accolades, high praise, and box office hits to spare, The Equalizer 2 is the only time two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington has returned to one of his cinematic portrayals.
It is a noted distinction that’ll make The Equalizer 2 live on as a trick question on trivia night, and nothing else. Because just like the original, this sequel is competent, efficient, but entirely disposable, the kind of movie that’ll soon fill up Walmart bargain bins, where it can be purchased with the original film for $4.50 in a collector’s pack. Is it a bad movie? Not really. Is it a boring film? Not entirely. Is it completely bland? Yes. Even with Washington’s A-list charisma carrying it along, The Equalizer 2 is one big ole’ shrug of a film. That it’s Denzel Washington first (and maybe only) sequel is truly the only thing that makes it unique.
Do I need to break down the plot here? Denzel Washington is back as Robert McCall, a man who knows how to equalize injustices in the world — as his name doth suggest — and he’s driven towards righteous revenge when his friend and former colleague Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) winds up dead in Europe. With the help of a friend, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), Robert McCall will track down these no good, very bad people and give them their equalized desserts. But McCall quickly realizes that he cannot trust everyone. Bill Pullman is also in the movie, and it’s always nice to see him. But he’s given next-to-nothing to do here.
Denzel Washington is a great actor. You’d be hardpressed to suggest otherwise. The man is a natural, filled with charisma and gravitas. He is a magnetizing presence in the truest sense, and the two-time Academy Award-winning actor always warrants your attention, even when some of his movies don’t warrant his million dollar talents. The Equalizer 2 isn’t the worst movie on his resume. Hell, it’s no better or worse than last year’s confused and underwhelming Roman J. Israel. But it’s not worthy of his immense talents. It’s middle-grade shlock driven by A-list talent. There are worse ways to spend your time, and there are certainly much better projects worthy of Washington’s undeniable greatness. Still, you get the sense that Washington isn’t here fishing for his third Oscar. Instead, he’s having fun. And he deserves levity. Returning to a role that doesn’t challenge him completely but doesn’t waste his expertise, it is a comfortable part for Washington, where he gets to kick some ass and take a few names, even despite the fact that he’s nearing closer to senior citizenship. Denzel Washington doesn’t need to prove he’s a badass; he simply is a badass, by virtue of being as great as he is. Still, it can be fun to watch Denzel whoop butt.
Additionally, Denzel Washington is given some compelling dramatic scenes with rising young actor Ashton Sanders, whom you might remember best from the middle segment in Moonlight. Both actors are quick to rise above the flimsy material presented by screenwriter Richard Wenk, producing a pair of compelling performances that guide the movie along well through its often sluggish and unremarkable action scenes. Neither of them provides their best or most iconic work, but Washington provides a firm mentor in very fine acting for Sanders’ perpetually rising talents. It’ll surely be great if these two great actors get to work again in the future. Hopefully, in a movie that provides richer material than the tepid Equalizer 2 does.
2014’s The Equalizer was a fairly average thriller-drama that was enjoyably livened up by some fun action sequences sprinkled throughout. The most noteworthy example being the Home Depot climax sequence. It is not a great movie, by any distinctive measure, but it is a completely serviceable sick-at-home watch for when you don’t want to keep flipping past FX or HBO. Weirdly enough, though, it’s the drama that stands out more in The Equalizer 2 opposed to the action sequences, which are fairly rudimentary and dull in their monotonous approach. That’s not to say these sequences are bad, necessarily. Antoine Fuqua is an experienced and competent director, and he can churn out a solid action beat here and there. But these sequences don’t really pop, especially compared to the first film. They’re mostly just repetitious.
Besides the final sequence, which involves a deserted beach town and an impending hurricane, and one action combat scene involving some douchebags in a high tower, there are few action scenes in Equalizer 2 that make an honest impression. And these sequences feel too few and far between to provide a lot of enjoyable value. Thankfully, the dramatic segments pick up the weight because this movie can be a slog.
There can be an art to being formulaic when it comes to screenwriting, but it’s safe to say that movies that don’t break the mold can sometimes be exhaustingly perfunctory. That’s the case with The Equalizer 2. It is not poorly written; it just falls exceedingly in the lines to produce a completely run-of-the-mill action sequel, with little to make it investing beyond the components I already mentioned. The filmmakers weren’t trying to make a bad movie, because nobody tries to make bad movies (besides Asylum). But this one seems to be striving to be basic. Whether or not that’s true, it kinda just exists. There’s not much to say about it other that it’s just… okay. It won’t ruin your day and it won’t make an impact on your life. It’ll do its job, and you’ll either get what you want out of it or you won’t. Then you get to go on your way.
Much like The Equalizer, The Equalizer 2 is just fine. Nothing in it will nestle deep inside you, and you’ll have little to remember from it when it comes time for your best and worst lists at the end of the year. Were it not for Denzel Washington and Ashton Sanders, it’d honestly be a firm contender for most mediocre movie of 2018. As it stands, though, it’s nice to see Washington work his magic again, even if the resulting film doesn’t live up to his high standards. Whether he’ll return for Equalizer 3 is anyone’s guess.
The Equalizer 2 (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime Denzel Washington equalizes the score.
Take a Drink: every time Denzel Washington and Ashton Sanders bond on-screen.
Take a Drink: every time Denzel Washington roughs some bad people up.
Take a Drink: every time Denzel Washington teaches some valuable life lessons.
Take a Drink: anytime Denzel Washington kills someone.