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It’s great you’re helping all these random people and everything, but it’s not going to fill that hole in your heart.

Movie

The Equalizer 2
(2018)

 

I was going to suggest The Equalizer 2 is to The Equalizer (2014) as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is to Jack Reacher. But then I remembered Jack Reacher is pretty good, and The Equalizer is just okay. Denzel broke his no-sequels rule for this?

Richard Wenk returns on screenplay duties – he also contributed to Never Go Back, which is telling, and the previous Fuqua/Washington team-up The Magnificent Seven– and dutifully returns to the beats of the frequently sluggish not-so-original. The difference here is that, for much of the proceedings, there’s little sense of flow or pace. The first hour seems like a borderline random succession of incidents, some of which you know will have importance, others designed to build our sense of McCall’s calling and all-round-great-guy persona.

The opening scene briefly suggests a sense of humour these movies – and Fuqua’s generally – rarely show much propensity for, arriving armed with Denzel in Muslim disguise as he seeks to rescue a kidnapped daughter. I’d have loved to see McCall in a succession of oddball outfits à la Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther, as he equalizes those bringing harm to his “clients” (I’m not sure he ever gets paid, judging by this; rather, he “touts” for business through his day job as a Lyft driver and takes it upon himself to help whether asked to or not).

Later, surrounded by bad guys/ex-colleagues after he visits his old DIA partner-come-private-sector hitman-come-DIA-again Pedro Pascal – there’s never any doubt Pascal is going to be revealed as in on the hit on McCall’s pal Melissa Leo; the twist would have been if he wasn’t – he cheerfully hitches a lift with Pascal’s oblivious wife and kids.

But the paceless sludge of clients – a Holocaust survivor trying to find a painting of his sister, a neighbourhood artist (Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders, good in a cheesy role) prey to dealers and creeps – leaves the picture struggling for motivation, no matter whether individual scenes deliver (McCall dealing retribution to the men who drugged and raped an intern). As damaging is how corny it all is, failing to recognise the irony of a man whose vocation is dealing vigilante justice mentoring a kid on the path of the straight and narrow.

There’s a nearly-decent scene when McCall confronts Pascal’s Dave York, and the latter attempts to justify his choices, suggesting their previously “righteous” career together was only that because the government told them it was. But the movie isn’t really interested in exploring such ideas seriously, hence one of the closing scenes, in which Sanders shows a girl on the bus his designs for a superhero based on McCall; as I suggested in my review of the first movie, McCall is Batman (unlike Chuck Bronson or Bruce in the Death Wish remake, Washington escapes relatively lightly from charges of irresponsibility with this now-franchise).

As usual, Fuqua directs with personality-free slickness that extends to a finale invoking Witness; McCall invites his antagonists to an evacuated, storm-lashed town where he deals with them post-haste. It’s rather lacklustre and all-too easy, particularly since York and his ruthless cohorts would surely have used captive Sanders as their bargaining chip from the first.

Elsewhere, the director evidences his sub-Guy Ritchie eye with McCall planning out his takedowns in advance (close-ups of Denzel’s mince pies being about the extent of it). Oh, and the brutality. Fuqua just loves it, with some particularly nasty depictions of the assassinations of an agent and his wife, and then the attack on Leo.

Do we get an Equalizer 3? Well, The Equalizer 2 came in fairly cheap and isn’t significantly trailing the first movie for its gross, so I expect Denzel can add a solitary, forgettable little trilogy to his career legacy, if he so wishes.

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