Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
Runtime: 121 Minutes
Nobody might have been asking for The Equalizer 2, a sequel to the 2014 Denzel Washington staring hit that was itself a loose adaptation of the 1980s Edward Woodward series of the same name, but clearly the audience of working-class men pining for the return of their all-purpose wish fulfilment hero-god of the moment was hungry enough to allow this to happen.
Thankfully, the returning direction by Antoine Fuqua and star Washington amongst other new and old faces from the first film give this follow-up a better sense of focus as to what it’s aiming to achieve, while also fleshing out more of the details and aesthetic flourishes enough to make it stand as a unique enough piece of cinematic viewing.
What’s apparent by the halfway point, beyond its near mirroring in the structure of the original film, is how much more assured and comfortable it feels while getting itself closer to the lineage of the series upon which it’s based. As far as formulaic and structural storytelling is concerned, it acquits itself very well with a simple enough revenge story, that Washington’s retired United States Marine and ex-DIA agent Robert McCall sets out on after one of his friends is killed.
If anything, there’s almost too much going on at points, with too many subplots involving side jobs and a whole plot point involving a painting that could be excised without losing anything. Not only does it bloat the runtime and uneven the pace, but distracts from the more central and involving narrative following McCall’s rearing of troubled youth Miles Whittaker (Ashton Sanders).
Most of what worked well about the original still stand up here. Washington is the stoic and likably earnest lead once again sticking up for those in need in his local community, and the action scenes are sufficiently bloody and realistically staged enough while still giving McCall a near superhuman sense of organisation to his violent outbursts. There’s also the lack of having to establish anything else regarding McCall or the world, since the first film got the origin story out of the way and it can just straight into the meat and potatoes of the filmmaking.
The technical ambition this time around is much more confident from Fuqua, who staggers the bloody action with a sense of gravity and tension as McCall investigates circumstances deeper that bring him back in touch with former ally turned corrupt DIA operative Dave York (Pedro Pascal). It really comes into its own by the fantastically set climax, where a return to McCall’s evacuated hometown for a final confrontation in the midst of a hurricane grants a frightful sense of apocalyptic menace to the messiness of the culminated conflict.
The Equalizer 2 is another solid genre effort from Fuqua that delivers on its premise efficiently and oddly gracefully. A stronger effort than the original that feels more in touch with its emotions, with a sterling central performance from Washington that relies on subtitles as much as macho showmanship, and capping it off with an effectively eye-catching final act.