Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Movie Review: The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2 *** / *****
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Richard Wenk based on characters created by Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloan.
Starring: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Pedro Pascal (Dave York), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), Jonathan Scarfe (Resnick), Orson Bean (Sam Rubinstein),
Sakina Jaffrey (Fatima), Caroline Day (Amy), Ashton Sanders (Miles), Abigail Marlowe (Jana Calbert), Rhys Olivia Cote (Anna).
It probably should be possible that Denzel Washington has been a movie star since the 1980s, and yet had never made a sequel until The Equalizer 2. There is certainly enough generic action movies on his resume that you think at some point, someone would have dangled enough money in front of him to get him to come back. Sadly, there were two talked about sequels that never happened, that I would have loved to see – a follow-up to Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress (there is certainly more than enough Walter Mosley novels about Easy Rawlins to choose from) and a sequel to Spike Lee’s Inside Man – with Lee returning to direct – that also didn’t happen for some reason. So instead, the first sequel of Denzel’s career is a follow-up to the largely forgettable 2014 film The Equalizer. I was lukewarm on the first film when I saw it back in 2014, and was lukewarm on it again when I revisited it last week leading up to the release of the sequel. And to be honest, I’m lukewarm on the sequel as well – which never rises past of the level of entertaining time waster. Its biggest asset is Washington himself – who the more I think about it, the more I may well argue is the best actor in the world right now. Sure, not every film is a monster performance like Daniel Day-Lewis – but Day-Lewis works once every five years, and only for great directors. Washington can take practically any movie and make it something watchable and entertaining. You may well forget much of The Equalizer 2 by the time you reach your car, but while it plays, it works – and Washington is either incapable of phoning in a performance, or at least able to disguise it when he does.
If you forgot the first film, it starred Washington as Robert McCall, an ex-CIA operative with a special set of skills, hiding in plain sight working at Home Depot. When he decides to break his promise to his late wife – and use his skills again – it’s for a good cause – rescuing a young, Russian prostitute (Chloe Grace Mortez) from the violent thugs who smuggled her into the country, and are now pimping her out. When he takes down a room for Russian mobsters though – he ends up in bigger trouble, as more come out of the woodwork, accompanied by corrupt cops. McCall, of course, must kill them all.
In the new film, he’s got a new apartment and a new job – as a Lyft driver – but he’s more than willing to use his special set of skills to help people who need it – like a little girl kidnapped by her abusive father, or a young woman who fell victim to some Wall Street bro types. It actually takes a surprising amount of time for the actual main plot of The Equalizer 2 to kick in – as Robert’s only friend, Susan (Melissa Leo), another CIA operative, is sent to Belgium to investigate an apparent bloody murder/suicide of a CIA asset – and winds up dead herself. You don’t kill Robert McCall’s friends – as those responsible soon find out.
The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who has directed Washington several times now – most memorably in Training Day (2001), which won Washington his second Oscar. Most of their collaborations are more like this though – Fuqua directed the first film as well – B-action movies, the best of which is probably the very entertaining remake of The Magnificent Seven from a couple of years ago. Fuqua knows how to direct action, and he does it very well in this film – in particular, the climax set in a deserted small town, during a torrential downpour, which has some elements of an old school Western showdown anyway.
Washington knows what’s expected of him as well – and he does it. Whether he’s lecturing a young black kid from his neighborhood – trying to get to concentrate on his art, and not dealing drugs, or his very specific way of dealing with people who don’t know what they’re getting when they try and attack him, this isn’t a role that’s going to really tax Washington’s considerable abilities – but he’s still going to give it his all anyway.
So no, The Equalizer and now The Equalizer 2 are not going to be the films Washington is remembered for – they’re not pushing the likes of Malcolm X, Training Day or Fences off the mantel of the best Denzel performances ever. But there’s something to be said for an actor who take a mean, nasty little movie like The Equalizer and its sequel and make it work as well as it does. Washington is way better in this film than he needs to be – and that’s what’s makes the film worth seeing.

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