17th Aug2018

‘The Equalizer 2′ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Melissa Leo, Orson Bean, Bill Pullman, Jonathan Scarfe, Kazy Tauginas, Garrett Golden, Sakina Jaffrey, Tamara Hickey, Karen Strong | Written by Richard Wenk | Directed by Antoine Fuqua

equalizer-2-new-poster

Denzel Washington returns as ultra-violent vigilante Robert McCall in this slick sequel that marks the actor’s fourth collaboration with director Antoine Fuqua. Handsomely made and superbly acted, the film is a stronger outing than its predecessor, smoothing over several of its rough edges.

After a fun prologue on a train to Turkey that has an in-disguise McCall violently rescuing a young girl, the plot switches to Brussels, where a suspicious double murder draws the attention of his former CIA boss Susan (Melissa Leo) and his old colleague Dave (Pedro Pascal). When Susan winds up dead, McCall finds himself targeted by a squad of gun-toting goons and sets out on a trail of bloody revenge.

At the same time, McCall also has his hands full with various Good Samaritan activities in his neighbourhood, such as helping at-risk teen Miles (Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders) avoid a gang of drug dealers and trying to solve a mystery involving his elderly Lyft passenger Sam (Orson Bean).

Although the film suffers from too many subplots (Sam’s story could be removed with no impact to the main plot), Fuqua largely avoids the pacing problems that bogged down the previous film. He’s also improved the fight scenes, which were so choppily edited in the original movie as to be almost incoherent, whereas you can at least tell who’s hitting who and with what this time round.

On a similar note, Washington seems to have a better feel for the character on his second outing, partly because McCall’s newfound role as Lyft driver-slash-neighbourhood vigilante gives him a stronger sense of purpose and partly because the script fills in a little more of his backstory.

As before, the most interesting aspect of the character (simultaneously complex and disturbing) are the chilling flashes of darkness whenever he kills someone. Fuqua heightens the impact by shooting those scenes as if McCall himself were the bad guy, like the villain in a slasher movie, his cold, expressionless face standing in stark contrast to Washington’s standard twinkly eyed, toothy grinned and laid back screen persona.

The supporting cast are excellent, particularly Leo (who’s always good value) and Pascal, while Sanders brings a much-needed vulnerability to the film, particularly during a tense set-piece when he has to hide in a Panic Room in McCall’s apartment.

The defining pleasure of the Equalizer films remains the same, with Washington’s unflappable McCall constantly in control of any situation, calmly assessing his surroundings before beating up multiple bad guys. This is accessorised with his signature quirk of setting a stopwatch before each beatdown, though it’s never entirely clear what’s going on there, whether he’s trying to beat a personal best of some kind or just curious as to how exactly long it will take to smash a few faces in.

The first film climaxed with an extensive, murkily-shot sequence in which McCall weaponised an entire DIY store’s worth of equipment to take down some Russian mafiosi. The sequel tops that with an enjoyable set-piece that takes place in a deserted coastal town during an appropriately violent storm. Not so much The Equalizer 2, then, more Denzel Washington and the Very Windy Day.

*** 3/5

The Equalizer 2 is in cinemas now.

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