Robert McCall is back in The Equalizer 2, and with the character, Denzel Washington has found his own personal Paul Kersey and Death Wish franchise. Yet where returning director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and writer Richard Wenk's initial R-rated action movie adaptation of Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloan's pulpy, prime time detective series saw the former intelligence agent enjoying the simple life working at your local Home Depot knock-off – which he'd utilize in the movie's climax as a power tool stalking ground to off Eurotrash gangsters – McCall’s now traded in his orange apron for the white and pink light-up marker of a Lyft driver. Though the adroitly placed promotional material doubles as a rather shrewd narrative device, it also fits perfectly with Washington's iteration of McCall: a nosy, probably OCD-afflicted “man of the people”, who takes on the problems of others to atone for past sins before retiring and reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in his minimalist Boston apartment.
Yes, The Equalizer 2 continues the perplexing duality of its title character, showcasing a storyline that alternates between McCall’s selfless exploits trying to better his New England neighborhood – taking in former gangbanger Miles (Moonlight's Ashton Sanders) to clean up graffiti in his complex's courtyard, or aiding a regular elderly passenger (Orson Bean) in tracking down heirlooms (and the family who goes along with them) – before generally fucking up bad dudes because he feels the world will be better off with him acting as a forceful karmic balancer. This means McCall travels to Turkey to retrieve a grieving mother's kidnapped daughter (naturally killing a whole train car of goons in the process), and decimates a high-rise loft full of douchey bros, because the boys dumped an intern they just took turns raping in the back of his nondescript rideshare Chevy. Friends and foes: all in a day’s work for this judge, jury, executioner, and guidance counselor.
Like all good sequels, The Equalizer 2 broadens the scope of its central character's story, filling in quite a few background details via its primary plotline. McCall's former black bag colleague Susan Plummer (fellow Fuqua favorite Melissa Leo) is assassinated while investigating the murders of two CIA contacts. One of the few bridges to McCall's shadowy past that he didn't burn down, Susan’s served as a source of comfort, with whom Robert could revisit memories of a loving wife, and who’d also urge him to perhaps consider returning home to face whatever repressed feelings may be waiting for him there. Enraged that this woman he adores has been taken out of this world – leaving behind a husband (Bill Pullman) who’s now a grieving wreck – McCall embarks on a single-minded quest for vengeance with Plummer's old partner (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal), leading him to throw down with a tough as nails ex-military murder for hire syndicate.
Just like Cannon Films’ increasingly bizarre Death Wish sequels during the ‘80s – which saw Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) evolving from timid avenger to rocket launcher-wielding cartoon character (who even had a random black kid following him around to give the vigilante constant thumbs up in Death Wish III) – Washington's Robert McCall alternates from wisdom-doling codger to Jason fucking Voorhees, all in the span of The Equalizer 2's too long two-hour runtime. When violence erupts, Fuqua’s camera really comes alive, capturing every snapped bone and blade-flayed body with a porno fetishist's eye. Nevertheless, when the movie slows down and focuses on McCall becoming a father figure for Miles – whose “parenting” involves screamed trinkets of sagacity, with a gun pointed at the kid's temple – it's just as engaging, acting as this whacked out, large caliber afterschool special. The whiplash, zig-zagging tones become oddly balanced, as one makes up for the other, gifting this otherwise routine late summer action programmer a somewhat idiosyncratic vibe.
Denzel Washington obviously loves two things: working with Antoine Fuqua, and the Robert McCall character. This is the fourth movie Washington's made with Fuqua since the director helped the rest of the world realize King Kong ain't got shit on him (via a Best Actor Academy Award in the duo's Training Day). Together, they make McCall into a sort of walking "Greatest Hits" album for the iconic American actor, which allows him to become both a pillar of erudition, as well as a man who could beat your ass with one hand tied behind his back. Whether he's barking highly quotable threats at a gaggle of thugs ("...and now, I'm going to kill you all, and my only regret is that I get to do it once...") or knowingly watching Miles grow into being a “better man”, Washington is engaged with a part most others would probably write off as a paycheck gig. It's yet another example of why the performer’s one of our greatest living movie stars, as he's just beautifully present in each scene.
Perhaps this explains why – despite the movie being rather pedestrianly shot by Oliver Wood (Face/Off) and sporting a forgettable score by Harry Gregson-Williams – The Equalizer 2 is still a rock solid way to kill a few hours. Denzel continues to have the time of his life being this solitary avenging angel, and Fuqua is painting every moment of extreme violence dark crimson, thanks to all the blood McCall spills once he shifts gears into dead-eyed enforcer mode. By the time we get to the movie's ultimate set piece – which occurs during a hurricane in a deserted town and plays the same as a slasher body count movie would – we're practically fist-pumping along with a sequel that would completely collapse if it were crafted by any other team in genre filmmaking. Here’s to hoping Fuqua and Washington make 20 Equalizer movies together, because it'd be easy to embrace the serial becoming the modern, moderately budgeted studio equivalent to the bugnuts street law pictures of the past.
The Equalizer 2 is in theaters now.