Revenge is a dish best served cold. Or, in the case of Robert McCall, aka the Equalizer, fast.
McCall is back in “The Equalizer 2,” as is his stopwatch, which McCall still uses to time himself as he takes out parties of bad men with skilled close-combat efficiency.
Director Antione Fuqua, however, is in no hurry to get to these scenes. Instead, he’s more interested in exploring the day-to-day life of McCall after the events of the first film, during which the former CIA operative and recent widower was drawn out of quiet retirement to begin helping people in need.
Fuqua commits a lot of screen time to re-establishing McCall as a kind soul. When he’s not bloodying his knuckles, McCall spends his days giving free Lyft rides to soldiers, helping a holocaust survivor search for his long-lost sister and steering an African-American youth away from the gang life.
Fuqua also pauses from time to time to remind us that McCall has a killer right hook. In violent vignettes unrelated to the primary storyline, he relieves a train car full of Turkish thugs of the young girl they kidnapped from her American mother and punishes a group of rich millennials who have abused a prostitute.
It’s all in a day’s work for McCall, who’s making ends meet as a Lyft driver – which is something else the movie spends a lot of time emphasizing. At times, the product placement is so intrusive, it shatters the film’s illusion of reality.
But with Denzel Washington filling the shoes of McCall, it’s easy to forgive “The Equalizer 2” for doing what it needs to do to pay the bills. Washington is not just tremendously watchable as an actor, he brings everything the part of McCall requires to the table.
Washington’s ability to radiate soft-spoken wisdom, kindness and warmth make McCall eminently likeable. And the sad gravity Washington projects in the role of a still-grieving widower draw us to McCall.
On the other hand, the fearlessness, precision and almost super-heroic strength Washington displays in a brawl make McCall a formidable force of reckoning.
Although Washington is aided greatly by bone-crunching sound effects and quick editing, he brings a great deal of veracity and world-class acting to the role.
I just wish the film’s writer, Richard Wenk, had brought the same degree of precision to bear on his work. Instead of invoking a story of substance from his word processor, Wenk gives us the beginnings of a good vigilante thriller and then checks out, leaving Fuqua to carry the burden of keeping viewers engaged.
The story begins with an enticing hook: McCall’s friend, Susan, is summoned to Brussels to investigate the murder of a CIA operative and his wife. While she’s there, the killers slay her as well.
From there, the story follows McCall as he investigates Susan’s death. To Wenk’s credit, McCall must use his powers of observation and deduction to pick up the trail of his friend’s murderers. Too many thrillers lazily rely on happenstance, but the chain of evidence here is well thought-out.
There’s just one gaping problem: Wenk never focuses on the bigger picture. Who ordered the killings? Not the hit men, who are simply paid assassins. So, who? As loose ends go, this is a big one.
Fortunately, “The Equalizer 2” has enough humor, action and suspense to carry viewers through to the end. Wenk gives Washington some terrific one-liners – including one about him being a father that cracked up everyone at the screening I attended – and Fuqua does some masterful work as the film reaches its climax.
During one late scene, Fuqua builds such a breath-tightening sense of dread that I realized how little suspense most thrillers today have. He also flexes his action muscles in several gratifying sequences.
At times, Fuqua shoots too close to the action and cuts too quickly from shot to shot, making it hard to see what’s going on, but overall, “The Equalizer 2” offers a good deal of visceral enjoyment.
It also comes to a thoughtful and satisfying ending. In many vigilante films, the emotional release comes through the act of revenge. “The Equalizer” goes deeper than that.
McCall is not just punishing bad guys for their wicked deeds, he’s restoring balance to the world. In the world of “The Equalizer,” if evil gains an advantage, then there will eventually be too much suffering for even McCall to end.
In “The Equalizer 2,” McCall also restores balance to his soul. The last shot of the film is a picturesque testament to the peace he’s found.
If this is the last “Equalizer” film, then the series is ending on a strong enough note. Despite being hung on a razor-thin storyline, “The Equalizer 2” works. But if Washington and Fuqua decide to make another one, I’ll be there for that, too.
I just hope McCall brings his stopwatch.