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Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Equalizer 2

Denzel Washington has been making movies for well over 30 years, and The Equalizer 2 is the first sequel he's been involved in.  Too bad it has to be such a plodding and middling one.  Don't get me wrong, I wasn't exactly wishing for Fences Part II, or Another Training Day.  But then, a followup to 2014's cinematic take on The Equalizer (based on a TV show from the mid-80s) wasn't exactly high on my list, either.  Much like before, Washington is giving a fine performance here, and the action is brutal.  But it's hard to get excited about the undercooked plot and characters that surround them.

Washington is back as Robert McCall, a man who passes himself off as a regular blue collar guy, but secretly possesses a certain set of skills that he can use to avenge people who have been wronged.  Last time, he worked at a big box store, and used his skills to help his co-workers when they were wronged.  I remember the scene where he took a hammer off the rack of the store, used it on a goon, washed the blood off, and then put it back on the shelf the next day.  McCall lives by a simple code - Be nice, or prepare to have your bones broken or worse.  In one scene, he takes out a room of wealthy, self-important young jerks because they abused a woman that they paid for the night.  He dispatches them brutally, breaking numerous bones and skulls in the process, and then walks away and the movie forgets it ever happened.  That's the kind of movie this is.  But hey, at least that scene ends on a touch of dark humor when McCall asks one of the men he just ravaged for a five-star review for his service as a Lyft driver.

When he's not beating the living snot out of young punks or putting bullets in other people's heads, he's usually giving rides as a driver, cleaning graffiti, reading as many books as he can, and helping a troubled youth from his apartment building (Ashton Sanders from Moonlight) find a different path in life that doesn't involve gangs and drugs.  As long as you don't get on his bad side, he's an alright guy.  Maybe a bit quiet and isolated, but he cares, such as his personal mission to help a Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) track down the family he was separated from during the war.  All of this is supposed to help us identify with McCall, but it's not as developed as well as it should be.  There are some good moments between Washington and Sanders, and Sanders does get one very tense and suspenseful moment late in the film.  But these get bogged down by long action scenes, like the lengthy and not at all effective shootout that closes the film.

The plot doesn't truly kick in until he is paid a visit by an old friend from the first movie, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo).  She shows up in his apartment uninvited one day with some soup and the words of wisdom of how helping random people isn't going to fix the hole in McCall's heart that was left by the death of his wife.  Maybe McCall thinks she is right.  Maybe he should settle down, let more people into his life, and try to be normal again.  But then, he suffers a personal tragedy, and he's back to gunning after the bad guys who are responsible.  The Equalizer 2 clearly wants us to sympathize with McCall, and make him a vigilante who does have a heart and genuinely cares about the few people in his life.  But he is written so bland and so thinly that we often can't get a handle on what makes him a gentle and caring man, and what makes him the sort who snaps necks in mere seconds and without a single thought.

The bad guys behind all the trouble aren't much more interesting.  They're mostly just hired assassins that kill whoever just happens to be their next target, and that's about it.  There's just not a lot of motivation driving this plot.  It tries to thrill us with its hyper-violent action, but I think it also wants us to care about these people too, and it doesn't go far enough in that regard.  For most audiences, the thrills and action will likely be enough.  But I found McCall to be a potentially interesting character who just doesn't have enough behind him.  I felt the same way about him last time, and I was kind of hoping the sequel would build upon the character and maybe open him up more.  Maybe I'll have to wait for the inevitable third movie, but I doubt that director Antoine Fuqua wants to mess with a formula that has been winning at the box office so far.

The Equalizer 2 is slickly made and well acted, but it never engaged me on a lever where I cared about what was happening to these characters.  Just like before, I wanted to like this one more than I did, but again, I was held at a distance.  I will keep on holding out hope for this franchise, however.  It does appeal to me, even if it does come up short consistently. 

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