Movie Review : The Equalizer 2 (2018)
* This review contains mild spoilers *
The Equalizer was a television vigilante almost everybody had forgotten about until film director Antoine Fuqua brought it back to life in 2014. It was a simple, but efficient idea: an ex-covert ops soldier atoning for his terrible deeds by helping people in need via a classified ad. The show was of its time and didn’t need a reboot at all, but Fuqua somehow pulled it off by handing the role to an aging Denzel Washington who kicked a whole lot of ass in a Home Depot. The film didn’t need a sequel, but it had one, prosaically named The Equalizer 2. And it’s heartbreakingly mediocre.
In The Equalizer 2, Robert McCall (Denzel) doesn’t work in a Home Depot anymore. He’s a Lyft driver who helps whoever needs ass kicked and places to go. But it’s unfortunately incidental. Because there’s very little vigilantism in The Equalizer 2. One of McCall’s friend named Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) is called to investigate what seems to be a murder-suicide of an agent and his wife in Brussels, but she eventually gets killed on the job. Of course, McCall is prompted to take action against the corrupt agents responsible for his friend’s death and all hell breaks loose. A paint-by-numbers american spy thriller if you will.
So yeah, The Equalizer 2 blatantly disregards what made its predecessor fun: vigilantism. Robert McCall is supposed to help normal, helpless people fight their way out of situations of oppression. The premise here is that he’s supposed to help a friend instead, but it defeats the purpose if the friend is currently employed by secret services and killed in the line of duty. That makes it a standard spy thriller. The personal stakes are siphoned out of the movie and Robert McCall could’ve been replaced by a fresh-faced agency rookie or another agent being the fall guy for the cover up and The Equalizer 2 would’ve remained more or less the same.
The Equalizer 2 is a good example of how no amount of action and violence can save a movie from poor, uninspired writing. Antoine Fuqua and his screenwriter Richard Wenk probably wanted to do something different for the sequel, but “service justice for someone he loves” * is a considerably less original idea than assisting the oppressed through a newspaper ad. Romantic justice is a trope you could find in early century Westerns, for fuck’s sake. If I don’t care about who you are and what you’re after, the gunfights and explosions are just noise.
Subplots are another one of The Equalizer 2’s problems, but it’s also its only redeeming quality. Because while Robert McCall is helping his friend Susan, he’s also running some vigilante errands. They’re usually shallow and prevent from exploring McCall’s relationship to Susan in a meaningful way, but I thought the Miles (Ashton Sanders) subplot could’ve made a nice Equalizer movie in itself, if it didn’t literally jump from “Miles is a tortured artist” to “Miles is about to do a drive-by” in two scenes. Robert McCall obviously saw himself in him, the potential life without violence he could’ve lived. It had unexplored depth.
The main problem with The Equalizer 2 is that it’s completely tone deaf. Tone deafness is unfortunately familiar territory for Antoine Fuqua who, aside from Training Day, always underdelivered. Southpaw was a glorified Rocky movie taking itself seriously, The Magnificent Seven showed an absurd level of emotional and thematic disconnect with the original material, I could go on. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Fuqua missed the mark here, too. The Equalizer 2 is not painful or stupid, though. It’s just a bland and mediocre thriller that’ll make you regretting investing the time about halfway into it.
In two months, I’ll either forget I’ve seen it or mix it up with another movie. It’s too bad, because I still think the premise has potential and that Denzel Washington has the charisma needed to bring the character to a new level.
* Lifted from the movie’s tagline, almost word for word.