At this stage of his career — let’s call it the victory-lap stage — I would love nothing more than to see Denzel Washington carve out a great action-movie franchise like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films and Liam Neeson’s Taken/Nonstop/Commuter vengeance-fests. Washington is smack dab in the middle of those two, age-wise. And let’s face it, the man has more than earned the right to crack some skulls and cash an obscene paycheck without worrying about what he’ll wear to the Oscars. Unfortunately, I don’t think The Equalizer is that franchise. He’s too good for it.
Frankly, I’m sort of surprised that The Equalizer 2 exists at all. Back in 2014, the first one at least arrived with a minor built-in curiosity factor: Hey, they made a movie out of that totally forgettable ’80s TV show starring that British guy! Cool, I guess? What made it more than just another bit of pop-culture grave-robbing, though, was the reteaming of Washington and his Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua. After sitting through it, I can’t imagine there were a ton of people itching for a sequel. But here we are four years later, and that sequel is upon us.
Washington is back as Robert McCall, a retired CIA assassin and mild-mannered widower who spends his days as a Boston Lyft driver and his nights as a bareknuckle righter of wrongs. He’s an avenging angel for the sort of overlooked people who tend to run out of options in a rigged system — women, children, and Holocaust survivors tend to move to the top of his advocacy list. It’s hard to argue with McCall’s mission, or his brutally crunchy methods. So why does it all feel so unoriginal and grim and dull?
Washington is one of those actors who can’t not be interesting (ditto for his costar Melissa Leo). But Fuqua seems determined to put him to the test with uncharacteristically grim and low-key direction, assisted by Richard Wenk’s ludicrously contrived script. Apart from the film’s occasional spasms of rousing, lightning-choreographed ultraviolence (a confrontation with an apartment full of date-raping finance bros is particularly great), the film is too enamored with its own morose righteousness to be very engaging. The only redeeming stretch of the movie is the absurdly over-the-top High Plains Drifter-esque finale, which is set during a hurricane and involves a copy of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and one very sharp harpoon. C