Movie Review: ‘The Equalizer 2’ is the same music in a different key
Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington team up for a fourth time to bring us The Equalizer 2, a sequel that I am not sure many were really asking for. Nonetheless the follow-up hit theaters this weekend to sell out crowds, I myself had to bounce around between two different theaters and multiple showtimes to find one with available seating. If I am being honest I wasn’t expecting much out of this film, the original was entertaining but had its flaws and historically sequels rarely tend to match up to their predecessors. But I read a few reviews beforehand and most seemed to give it positive praise so when the lights dimmed and the reel started to roll I told myself to keep my mind open.
What The Equalizer 2 does well is simply be a sequel. Fuqua kept the same recipe and tone that made the original an entertaining ride and through most of the film he doesn’t deviate far from the path. Washington’s career has racked up some mileage and it shows but he carries it well and is convincing even when pulling off some slick John Wick style fight choreography. Robert McCall, via Washington’s brilliant performance comes off as very adept, calculated and deliberate which allows much of his actions that require technical knowledge and meticulous planning to be believable. Fuqua can tend to overdo it with slow motion sequences and unnecessary flair but I was capable of looking past this and somewhat expected it considering we experienced plenty of the same in the original. But again this consistency is what makes 2 a good movie going experience, if you are familiar with the first film Fuqua delivers much of the same in the second. There are some new characters and twists but the overall tone of the original is intact. If anything Fuqua utilizes the two hours run time more methodically and gives the characters some room to breath and develop, something I thought was lacking in the first film (the original could have been cut by 20+ minutes). However much like the original the second has overt flaws that leaves the overall experience wanting.
The first half of the film I was along for the ride. There are periods that may seem to drag a bit, and I could understand why this might frustrate some viewers who came to watch an action flick, but this is done carefully and with intention and I found myself enjoying it quite more than the original. Fuqua does a much better job of establishing character connections, even though some may feel incredibly cliché, and developing plot this time around and it requires some patience on the part of the audience to let him tell the story. But when it comes to character connections most of the films problems lie in the relationship between McCall and Dave York (Pedro Pascal), a name from McCall’s past. Fuqua does his best to establish a back story for these two but onscreen there is a disconnect. Pascal’s York never feels like a flushed out character but more like an add-on to a story that was struggling to have a main arc, and this is by no means due to Pascal’s performance. There are a few heavier scenes filled with dialogue and sentiment that feel well written and polished but scenes with McCall and York feel flat and seem to exist simply to push the story along. In contrast Washington and Melissa Leo, who returns as Susan Plummer, have amazing on-screen chemistry and the bond between their characters is apparent and strong. My criticism may also be due to the predictability of McCall and York’s relationship. There is some foreshadowing early on but even without it wasn’t difficult to piece together. And although the reveal is meant to be a powerful one and we are given some pieces to their history their connection still comes off superficial.
In addition to some rather predictable revelations the final act of the film is where it really loses its steam. The original Equalizer’s strength was in the showdown, the scenes were brutal and the overall setup and execution showcased McCall’s talent not just in melee but in combat tactics. It was brilliant fun and had some great “Whoa!” moments. The Equalizer 2 is the absolute opposite. Most of the strength of 2 lies in the side stories and the action sequences in the first half of the film. The final battle feels very rushed and not well thought out. Even the events leading up to it and the location itself feel a bit farfetched. The film attempts to display McCall’s ingenuity but it never matches the cunning and versatility we get to witness in the first film. The way the sequences play out make it hard to accept how the villains actually lose the fight whereas in the original I had no problems accepting McCall prevailing even considering the uneven odds. He keeps the opposition off-balance and even MacGyver’s his way through a bit of the fight but there is one overall factor, which was apparent to me, that looms above others that makes much of the final 15 minutes strain credulity. There are other issues with the finale that fall under the usual action film tropes: The villains have an ace-in-the-hole but for whatever reason decide not use it early on; Although being highly trained they don’t seem to work as a unit and make errors in judgment that even a group of middle schoolers playing Call of Duty would have the foresight to evaluate and so on. Some may find the ending acceptable but unfortunately it hurt the film considerably for me.
Even with these gripes The Equalizer 2 is by no means a bad film. I enjoyed it probably just as much as the first, maybe just a bit more. It progresses on the original story and keeps the audience engaged as well as entertained throughout. With the exception of the finale most of the set pieces are executed very well and its the parts that don’t directly involve the main story arc that carry the film. If you enjoyed the first than the second is definitely worth a watch, if not just to see McCall play Superman and have random adventures and save lives than to at least get more back story on him as a character and learn some of the events leading to his current life. Just be prepared for a final showdown not nearly on par with the original.