The Equalizer 2//Denzel Washington Reprises his Title Role

Denzel Washington reprises his title role as the imperturbable troubleshooter-for-hire in director Antoine Fuqua’s crime thriller “The Equalizer 2” (** OUT OF ****), but this second-rate sequel isn’t half as hypnotic as Fuqua’s flawless original.  “The Equalizer 2” suffers from several serious shortcomings.  First, the American villains here are neither as intimidating nor as challenging as the tattooed Russian mobsters in the predecessor.  Indeed, our hero slew more Russian ruffians in “The Equalizer” than he does American adversaries in the sequel.  Not only did he annihilate more Russians, but he also blew up their supertankers.  He rooted out corruption in the Boston Police Department tied to the Russians, and he sent FBI Agent Mosely a detailed breakdown of all those public officials on the Russian mob’s payroll!  Afterward, he flew to Russia, confronted mobster boss Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), and then wiped out Pushkin’s entire army of hoodlums.  Second, the youth-in-jeopardy, superbly played by “Moonlight’s” Ashton Sanders, constitutes more of a stereotype compared with Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), the obese Hispanic security guard in “The Equalizer.”  Few movies have been made about obese Hispanic security guards than troubled inner city African-American youngsters throwing their lives away on narcotics. Third, although he fights for noble causes, Robert McCall is basically determined to thrash the thugs that bumped off a close friend who once worked with him at the C.I.A.  Mind you, McCall cannot walk away from these contract killers any more than he could the vile Russians, so he dispatches them with extreme prejudice, too.  Unfortunately, the older female spy here isn’t as sympathetic as the struggling young prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) in the first film.  Fourth, “The Equalizer 2” talks too much time, and the meandering film never really generates an adrenaline-laced sense of momentum.  Fifth, three usually competent scenarists—one of whom actually scripted the 1984-1989 “Equalizer” television series starring Edward Woodward–make everything absurdly simple for our skilled hero so he can rout the opposition.  The best thing that the script does is foreshadow the foul weather that crops up to complicate the cat and mouse finale.

“The Equalizer 2” takes Robert McCall back to his days at the CIA before the events of the first film.  “Expendables 2” writer Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan of the television “Equalizer,” and TV’s “B.J. and the Bear” scribe Richard Linheim explore not only Robert McCall’s enigmatic origins but also reveal tidbits about his late wife.  For example, we find out that she ran a bakery.  If they make another sequel, Antoine and Denzel should plunge back in time for a prequel, so we can learn what made McCall tick as well as his wife. Yes, McCall still lives in Boston, Massachusetts, but he works now as a Lyft cab driver.  Meantime, if you saw the first “Equalizer,” you know McCall consulted former CIA analyst Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo of “Oblivion”) and her husband Brian (Bill Pullman of “Independence Day”) in his battle with the Russians.  McCall sought out Susan to provide him with information about the identity of his adversaries.  Instead of standing on the sidelines as she did in “The Equalizer,” Susan Plummer plays the character of central importance in “The Equalizer 2.”  Indeed, she dies in Brussels, Belgium, on an assignment to investigate a crime involving an apparent murder and suicide that stinks of duplicity.  Two thuggish tweakers tackled Susan in her high-class motel room when she was alone.  She stabbed one of her assailants in the thigh, and his accomplice suffered some staggering blows.  Nevertheless, despite her best efforts, Susan wound up on an autopsy table.  A shocked and saddened Robert McCall drops everything and rushes off to Washington, D.C., to visit Brian and get all the gritty details.  Furthermore, McCall reunites with one of his former associates, Dave York (“Narcos” star Pedro Pascal), who had accompanied Susan to Brussels.  York is simply shocked to learn that McCall has been alive all this time.  He thought his old associate had died.  McCall scrutinizes everything about the crime.  In a scene reminiscent of “The Boondocks Saints,” our hero imagines himself in the dining room of the Belgium couple during the commission of the crime.  In “The Boondocks Saints,” an FBI agent walked through a crime as the criminals committed it.  McCall discovers things about the murder that arouses his suspicions.  Eventually, after an assassin struggles to kill him in his Lyft cab, Washington’s McCall uncovers the missing link, solves the mystery, and exposes the felons.  Meantime, when he isn’t agonizing over Susan’s demise, McCall is selflessly helping out less fortunate others.

Despite all these flaws, Fuqua stages quite a few exciting action scenes.  As brazen as any indestructible Steven Seagal character, Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall enters confrontations where his opponents outnumber him more than four to one and he eliminates them with split-second timing.  You know what is going to happen when McCall sets the timer on his wristwatch, and then wades into the heavies.  Some of the joy of “The Equalizer 2” is listening to the pulsating orchestral scores that precedes his destruction of the villains. The drawback here is that when a hero is as invincible as McCall, he ceases to be believable.  Nevertheless, Denzel Washington delivers another plausible portrayal of a man that you would rather have as your friend rather than your enemy.  In “The Equalizer 2,” Denzel resembles a self-sufficient Charles Bronson character who never loses his cool and can improvise under the worst conditions.  You’d think with the passage of four years that Antoine Fuqua and his writers could come up with something far better than this sequel.  Sadly, despite a convincing cast and some suspenseful showdowns, “The Equalizer 2” qualifies as a humdrum sequel that barely scratches the surface of a hero whose true depth of character has yet to be shown in all of his glory.


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