THE EQUALIZER 2 fails to match the intelligence or brutality of its more vicious kin.
By Matt Cummings
When Sony Pictures’ THE EQUALIZER was rather quietly announced and given an August 2014 release date, few paid attention. But upon its release however, audiences were treated to one of the best, most underrated, and certainly the most violent films of the year. But it was also wonderfully intelligent, espousing on the realities of people’s nature by using the book THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Sadly, THE EQUALIZER 2 is neither very intelligent, nor is its action as memorable, but it is a good time if you like seeing Denzel go all Mark Furman again.
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is putting his Special Forces experience to good use, helping people in need all over over Boston. From rescuing a kidnapped child to defending a victim of sexual assault, McCall is the knight in shining armor that no one realized they needed. But when Robert loses his dear friend and mentor (Melissa Leo) to a vicious attack in Brussels, he’s determined to discover the cause. Soon, he learns that her murder was part of a bigger cover-up, and that those responsible are closer to him than he realizes. Armed with unquenchable rage, McCall will return to familiar grounds to avenge the loss of his friend, but not before coming to terms with the one reason why he became The Equalizer in the first place.
If you missed the first film in this series, I suggest you watch it immediately. While slow to start, it gains serious momentum with a great mix of dialogue and some of the best action set pieces of 2014.
But little of that spirit is repeated with THE EQUALIZER 2, and the results suffer. Sure, there are several good (but not great) action sequences where McCall goes slicing and dicing his enemies; but the film directed by Antoine Fuqua isn’t concerned with non-stop action. Fuqua’s far more interested in an important element that made the television show so good but doesn’t work here as well: people who seek to harm others, and those few who stand up to defend them. For the first 45 minutes, there’s a very strong (too strong perhaps) emphasis on this, as McCall bullies his way through one case after another. Unfortunately it’s such a slow burn that I actually began to feel the drag, as if what I was watching would have been better as an Extended Edition on a 4K home release. Again, Fuqua is all about set up, so be prepared.
There are zero iconic scenes here either, and I’m not only referring to the incredible action of the first film. In it, Fuqua – who also wrote EQUALIZER 2 – constantly returns to the idea that people are who they are, and will always return to their base behaviors. In this case, McCall is returning to his days as a vicious defender of the people, and that Teddy has reawakened this horror within the now-genteel McCall. EQUALIZER 2 is a much more paint-by-the-numbers affair, with a bad guy you can see from a mile away who fails to offer McCall any sort of challenge (both mentally and physically). So when the action comes, we know who will win, but we’re never fully satisfied in how he does it. That grates on the film by the second act, robbing it of any emotional weight.
THE EQUALIZER 2 also misses some great chances to move this story back to its television roots. I won’t bore you with all the details, but check out my IMDB review on an episode titled BEYOND CONTROL. In it, we witness one of the best episodes of any television program, displaying deeply-flawed characters and leaders who are only one step from the criminals which they put behind bars. McCall’s continuing debates with Control set the stage for some of the best television at a time when dark dramas were just getting their feet wet. In E2, McCall is who he is and the bad guys never stray from their predictable paths. E2 has very little time to make its money, as the much-better-received MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT is about to overwhelm everyone at the box office. The promise of yet another remarkable M:I movie casts a shadow over what could have been a fantastic E2, but for whatever reason never materializes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
THE EQUALIZER 2 misses out on golden opportunities to advance McCall’s story, settling instead on a final product that feels more episodic television and a lot more like JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK. Denzel is (as always) superb, but it’s clear that someone still misses the point of McCall’s world: wading in the muck as a secret agent for so long should have left him with friends who view defending the world very differently. That should have encouraged some of the best action/drama in recent film, but instead it’s just a lot of talking with some decent but unremarkable action set pieces. It’s unclear whether we’ll see a third from Fuqua, as audiences will probably have the final say. Given the upcoming release schedule, that will be hard to do.
THE EQUALIZER 2 is rated R for brutal violence throughout, language, and some drug content and has runtime of 121 minutes.