The first ever Denzel Washington sequel. When you read those words, you initially think that he must have followed up one of his hits in the past. However, peruse his resume, and you won’t find any. You’ll also notice that almost none of his previous outings fit for franchise status. “The Equalizer” did though, that’s for sure. So, it’s no surprise that “The Equalizer 2” exists. That being said, it also isn’t very shocking that this is one of Washington’s weaker efforts. With diminishing returns all around, this feels like little more than a grab for cash. The A-lister is a rock-solid action hero, but the surroundings he’s been given set him up for failure. Pardon the pun, but it’s not an equal partnership here. “The Equalizer” was an entertaining surprise. This is a chore.
The blandness of “The Equalizer 2” even extends to Washington himself. This is the closest he’s come to sleepwalking through a role. He certainly enjoys being invincible, but you can tell the man is going through the motions. The same goes for filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, who doesn’t bring the same style this time around. There just isn’t a whole lot of personality on display. The last one managed to have some, even though it was a studio adaptation of a television show. This time though? Not so much.
We start by catching up with Robert McCall (Washington) on a mission in Turkey. The prologue is just a reminder that he’s a former CIA black ops operative who now lives a quiet life, occasionally doing good deeds. Of course, his good acts tend to involve his particular set of skills. Back home in Boston, he now drives for Lyft, which still puts him in a position to help those in their time of need. Furthermore, he has a unique project too, a good-hearted yet misdirected teen in his apartment complex named Miles (Ashton Sanders). McCall truly seems to be retired.
A chance visit from former coworker and friend Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) brightens his spirits one night, though when she ends up the victim of a seemingly random crime, he springs into action. McCall is determined to figure out what happened to Susan while serving justice to those responsible. What he discovers is further reaching than he ever could have suspected, not that it’ll stop him. After all, he’s The Equalizer.
Denzel Washington makes his best impression of Liam Neeson in a “Taken” sequel here. That is to say; he’s basically on autopilot. Now, even half speed Washington is still compelling, but this is a far cry from his powerful work in “Fences.” Hell, it doesn’t even have the uniqueness of his dedicated, if misguided, turn in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” The passion isn’t evident. One scene involving justice for a girl that is put in his Lyft is a highlight, but other than that, this is the closest thing to forgettable work that you’ll see out of the man.
Melissa Leo and Ashton Sanders serve mostly to advance the plot and get reactions out of Washington, but they’re solid enough. Bill Pullman is wasted as Leo’s husband, which is a shame. Supporting players/recipients of McCall’s good deeds/villains/fodder for our hero include Orson Bean, Sakina Jaffrey, Pedro Pascal, Jonathan Scarfe, and more. You’re here to see Washington kick ass though, that much is unquestioned. The film does give you that, but little more.
Director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t seem as interested this time around. He returns to helm this sequel, while scribe Richard Wenk and composer Harry Gregson-Williams also come back for seconds. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore has been subbed out for Oliver Wood, and the difference is noticeable. The action beats and set pieces are blander and darker. Even the climax, set during a storm in a seaside town, isn’t as visually interesting as it could have been. Wenk’s script goes all in on boring action movie cliches, but Fuqua does nothing to liven things up. Also, there’s the problem that McCall is invincible. That saps what little tension there might be from any sequence purporting to put him in danger. You just know he’s untouchable and many steps ahead of his foes.
A lazy revenge tale, “The Equalizer 2” is the sort of sequel that only exists due to the success of a prior installment. Nothing creative brought this film to life. The character is interesting enough to warrant a potential third go around, but there needs to be a compelling reason for him to do his thing. Frankly, this movie doesn’t inspire confidence that the talent involved can do that. What should have been a fun popcorn flick instead turned into a bore. If only McCall were around in real life to fix this mess before it was too late.