Denzel Washington deserves better than this. He received Best Actor Oscar nominations for his previous two films, Roman J. Israel, Esq. and Fences. The two films he made prior to Israel and Fences were the forgettable remake of The Magnificent Seven and the disappointing Equalizer. At 63, maybe the actor is entering the Liam Neeson/Taken phase of his career, because Washington has made his first sequel, Equalizer 2.
The sequel finds Washington’s Robert McCall still retired from the CIA and still reading books, but he’s also a Lyft driver, who’s befriended an elderly customer who survived the Holocaust. McCall is also trying to steer a kid in his apartment building away from a life selling drugs for painting and zzzzzzzzzz.
Melissa Leo turns up a little as McCall’s former CIA boss, and her death is supposed to spur The Equalizer 2 into action, but only McCall seems busy with retired life, fitting his tale of revenge in between other endeavors. Pedro Pascal also appears as a former comrade of McCall’s, but with so few suspects as to who could’ve killed Leo’s character… who could it have been?
Why would Washington waste his time with something like Equalizer 2? Or 1, for that matter? Does the movie studio have incriminating evidence on him? Did he agree to the film so the studio would bankroll a passion project? The same goes for Fuqua, a solid director who can’t seem to break free from the upper tier of filmmakers considered little more than hired guns. Does he have a master plan in mind, or will we have to satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that Training Day is the best we’ll get from him? It got Washington his second Oscar, but 17 years later it remains a teaser of Fuqua’s talent behind the camera.
In all fairness, the first Equalizer had moments of Denzel bad-assery, but on the whole it lacked momentum – a nice way of saying it was boring. There’s no need to be nice about Equalizer 2. It’s a slog. McCall is still driving his Lyft well past the film’s halfway point, begging the question what the film is really about. Is the film a rumination on the boredom of retirement? That even in retirement someone needs bursts of excitement to keep things moving along? It doesn’t matter.
Equalizer 2 can’t even be bothered to confirm if McCall is injured at one point, despite him leaving a blood trail for the bad guys to follow. Topped off with a major villain having perfect – and dry – hair in the middle of a hurricane, Equalizer 2 is the worst parts of a ‘90s action film; messy, predictable, and worst of all slow as molasses. This may have been Denzel’s first sequel, but hopefully it will be his last.