The Equalizer 2 movie review: Denzel Washington proves he’s one of the last remaining movie stars
The Equalizer 2
Director - Antoine Fuqua
Cast - Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Melissa Leo, Ashton Sanders
Rating - 2.5/5
For example, a few years ago, each season of director Michael Winterbottom’s British comedy series, The Trip, was edited into a 90-minute film for American audiences. To meet a feature run-time, they decided to remove the show’s signature jibber-jabber, which made the films a more streamlined experience, but was alienating to fans of the show. This is sort of what has happened to The Equalizer 2, which feels like an entire season of TV condensed into a 2-hour movie. It gives the impression that director Antoine Fuqua was left unchecked during production, returned with a 10-hour assembly cut, and then spent the next several months killing his darlings.
It certainly has enough subplots to fill 10 episodes. In between investigating the murder of a close friend, Denzel Washington’s vigilante - Robert McCall - spends time with a holocaust survivor, comments on the backyard garden of a neighbour, and takes a troubled black youth under his wing.
Watch the Equalizer 2 trailer here
And so the question arises: Do fans of this franchise - a series of films in which Denzel essentially breaks bones while at the same time taking part in some twisted competition with himself - want scene after scene of timid drama? This is the Equalizer 2 that we’re talking about, and not the extended cut of the Lord of the Rings.
The problem isn’t that the Equalizer 2 juggles too many elements at the same time; it’s a fairly common approach that several films take - and I’m sure Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro Gozalez Inarritu would have a thing or two to say about interconnected plots. But as fans of video games would know, when the side quests distract from the main story, it becomes slightly tedious to keep up.
And the Equalizer 2, like the first film (which I honestly do not remember much about), is quite like a video game in its structure. It’s very objective-based, the action is very glossy and the characters are more like archetypes than anything else.
But if you’re going to have a thin character as your protagonist, who better than Denzel Washington to help add some sorely-needed personality? With just a wry, toothy smile, a gaunt stare and that trademark matter-of-fact delivery, Denzel makes Robert McCall someone worth rooting for - if not passionately then at least with moderate interest.
It’s true that he is one of the last few remaining movie stars in the world - someone who could open a film just on the power of their stardom. Even Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson have shown chinks in their armours recently - for Cruise, anything outside the Mission: Impossible series is a gamble, and The Rock’s ever-escalating streak leapt off a Skyscraper recently. However, you can always count on Denzel to attract his significant fanbase to the theatre. And for good reason. The common belief is that not all good actors are movie stars, and not all movie stars are decent actors. Denzel is an Oscar-winning star, he’s a rare specimen, a formidable screen presence who commands viewers’ attention even if he’s just standing in the corner of the frame.
And it is Denzel’s power as a performer that fuels our interest in the increasingly brutal adventures of Robert McCall. Were it not for his sheer likability, and the moments of real emotion he’s able to inject into the largely pulpy story, The Equalizer 2 would have been just another one of those countless Taken knockoffs, the sort of movies that Pierce Brosnan and Kevin Costner occasionally do.
It’s Denzel’s earnestness, and his inherent decency that defines his characters - which is a slightly coincidental point to make this close to Mission: Impossible - Fallout and its exploration of Ethan Hunt’s morality. It’s obvious by now that Denzel is at relative ease working with Fuqua - in their four films together, they’ve worked across a variety of genres, and Fuqua has extracted from Denzel some of his most uninhibited work.
The Equalizer films - particularly this one - don’t exactly push him beyond his comfort zone. In fact, Robert McCall is very much in his wheelhouse, but they celebrate the icon that Denzel is. They play on his persona, they savour his looming presence, and they give him more to chew on than similar films would. For its audience, The Equalizer 2 should be a tremendously satisfying experience.