A sequel on the exact same level as its predecessor.
2014’s The Equalizer is not the kind of film that attracted demands for a sequel following its release. It was fun sure, full of the kind of exhilaratingly brutal violence and super cool slow-mo fisticuffs that are made all the better when it’s a veteran like Denzel Washington throwing the punches and launching the knives. It was also directed by Antoine Fuqua, most famous for giving Washington the role which won him the Oscar for Training Day. But, it was nothing more than that – no big, topical commentary, no groundbreaking drama, a forgettable supporting cast, an open-and-closed plot which had a happy resolution. But hey, it performed well, has a reasonable following, so here we are with part two the Robert McCall (Washington’s character) saga. And as expected, it’s not worse, nor better than the first – it’s more of the same.
Switching from hardware store working to taxi driving, Robert McCall lives a fairly quiet life, taking people where they need to go; whether it be airports, birthday parties or job interviews. He’s a quiet mediator on their issues, a resolute rock which is always on hand for a reassuring hand. He has a regular elderly passenger who’s obsessed with an old painting, and at home, he likes to try and help troubled youth Miles (Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders) by giving him some paid work, pulling him away from the gangster lifestyle he seems to be stuck drifting towards.
Of course this is Robert McCall, his life is only so quiet. On the side he is a corrector of wrongs, a protector of justice that will inflict his personal brand of punishment on those who deserve it. Unlike The Punisher, McCall always gives reason and patience, continually offering those who are soon to be on the receiving end of a punch a chance to redeem themselves. The film opens with a train sequence which establishes his continuous role as a badass. Washington plays the role with a deadpan wisdom that gives him more character than a senseless killing machine. Walking with a cool, swish swagger, never rushing or seeming out of control – every movement is calculated, similarly to how he lives his life at home, meticulously organising things are having items in a very specific position in a very specific place. Although he’s a taxi driver, wouldn’t worry about too many comparison’s to Scorsese. There’s no deep-rooted psychological terror to be found here. Rather, his passengers breathe life into his otherwise quite lonely existence. These scenes are a touching highlight of the film, serving to humanise McCall in a warm, everyday way that realistically places him among society. Inevitably, he takes a passenger who has suffered; a young woman who is shoved into a cab by an anxious suit, her shirt ripped open and tears streaming down her face. Naturally, a bloody whooping is in order.
There are many a whooping, with the return of that trademark reoccurring slo-mo, superhuman level of anticipation in which McCall starts his stopwatch and predicts every movement of his foes. No one can get in his way, he is always one step ahead. However that soon becomes a problem. Even later in the film, when he has to face soldiers who should be able to go up against him within a reasonable chance, he is a level above. This removes the palpable tension from any bout, leaving only the butt-clenchingly creative kills to produce some sort of satisfaction. They aren’t filmed quite as well this time around either, shakier and more heavily cut, opting for splashes of blood rather than better choreographed fights.
The direction isn’t quite as smooth this time around either, with some strange filming choices, like sort of first-person cameras attached to guns, that don’t work at all. Fuqua has passable action chops, and knows how to work a camera around Washington as we’ve seen in the past – but overall it’s just nothing overly spectacular, with the exception of a couple of sequences. A rapid-fire fight inside a car is a fantastic fun. Also, the final set-piece sits on the edge of something amazing. Taking place in a beachside town hit by a hurricane, Fuqua didn’t opt for green-screen thrills. No no, the use of practical effects actually does create a realistic portrayal of a hurricane, misty and chaotic, water soaking everything in sight and debris flying around. Although this perhaps works a little too well (you can’t really see anything), it elevates the stakes of the sequence beyond just a fistfight among houses. There’s also a smart little touch; Fuqua constantly keeps the silhouette of a distant sniper in sight, creating subtle but very effective suspense.
The supporting cast are a mixed bag, with Melissa Leo returning performing her short supply of lines to the most passable of ability, and Pedro Pascal not embodying an awful lot of charisma. Quite strange for an actor famed for his flamboyancy in Game of Thrones. Sanders initially overshoots the stereotypes of his role, but very quickly becomes more natural next to Washington, stepping into the life of a teen who needs a mentor without much of a hiccup. Where the film does excel over the first is its plot – a far meatier conspiracy is in play, with many of his former friends in danger from nefarious groups. It’s hard to delve into too much without spoiling, but the fact there’s a central mystery always in play here helps keep your attention in times where it may have otherwise slipped. The storytelling may not always be top-notch, with the script by Richard Wenk not always weaving the moving threads in the most compelling way, but it’s a leap to something more which is admirable in a sequel which doesn’t always aim a lot higher.
Washington is good at this one-man rampage kind of thing, but his best example of this still remains in 2004’s Man On Fire, which managed to integrate the guilt of his merciless actions seamlessly into the narrative. The artistic flair of that film isn’t present here, filmed very much like a by-the-numbers thriller, and while that’s fine at the time, this film will leave relatively no impact on 2018’s filmography when looking back.
Fun in the moment, but forgettable after, Fuqua and Washington’s sequel is a passable revenge thriller.