“The Equalizer 2” picks up where “The Equalizer” ended. For those not in the know, the first film ended with Denzel Washington’s character, Robert McCall, placing an ad offering assistance (as “The Equalizer”) to those in need of retributive justice who could not obtain it through legal channels. He receives a response as the film ends.
The first installment was a well-crafted story that ostensibly was about saving a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz, in a remarkable performance) being exploited by the Russian Mob, as well as some side stories. But the movie also was about the character of Robert McCall. He may not be working for the CIA any more (in fact, he is considered to be dead), but he still abides by a moral code that affirms the worth of every person and holds people accountable for their mistakes, especially those who commit purposeful evil. The fact that he was a reader appealed to me as a librarian as well.
The second film begins with McCall in local costume aboard a train that looks like the Orient Express on his way to Istanbul. He has taken a case to pursue an abusive father who has abducted his daughter from the United States. Let’s just say that he is successful.
Back in Boston, Robert now is a Lyft driver. Among his clients is Sam Rubinstein (Orson Bean!), who is looking for his sister Magda, separated from him during World War II. In a montage, we see several types of riders using Robert’s services. In one notable scene, a battered woman is deposited into his car by a man. After dropping her off at the hospital, Robert returns to exact justice. After all of the men but one are incapacitated, he demands that the one remaining conscious person give him a five-star rating on Lyft, which indeed occurs.
At his apartment building, we see Robert befriend Miles (Ashton Sanders), a young artist caught between two worlds. Throughout the story Robert continues to offer jobs, advice and support for Miles. One scene involving the two reminded me of a scene from “The Blind Side.”
The main story revolves around an early scene in the film where a random Belgian couple are murdered by hired assassins. Later we find out that the murdered man had a connection to the CIA. Robert’s colleague, Susan (Melissa Leo), who knows that Robert is not dead and comes to visit every so often, begins an investigation into the murder with Dave York (Pedro Pascal), Robert’s ex-partner who does not know that he is alive.
Susan travels to Belgium, and is murdered in a brutal fashion in her hotel room. This gets Robert to begin his investigation into her murder. Once he knows too much, he becomes the target.
I did not realize until this past Sunday, when I read a note in Parade Magazine, that Denzel Washington had never made a sequel until “The Equalizer 2.” So one has to ask the question of why he chose to finally make a follow-up to an earlier film.
One obvious reason seems to be the director, Antoine Fuqua. Not only did he direct Washington in his Oscar®-winning performance in “Training Day,” but he also directed him in the original “Equalizer” as well as the remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”
Fuqua’s movies have a visceral feel to them. He is not afraid to confront the seamy side of humanity and to expose the hard realities that people often face. He also highlights the consequences of the choices that are made without passing judgment in an obvious way.
But I think that another reason Washington made the film was that he felt that there was more to explore in the character of Robert McCall. This film hints at the emotional consequences of the loss of his family. Is he going to confront this and deal with his past? How does he react when a close friend is murdered?
There is an obvious tension with his character. On the one hand, we admire his moral code and his efficiency at dispensing justice and helping the helpless. Yet he also is a vigilante, however noble, and operates outside the law. Of course the same could be said of superheroes, but here we have a real person doing it.
To say that Denzel Washington is the highlight of this film is an understatement. After a career of great roles, including last year’s superb “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” he has become a master of the craft. The subtleties and nuances which he provides to Robert McCall are a pleasure to watch.
Melissa Leo gives humanity to someone who works for the CIA since these roles are often grim duty-bound types. Ashton Sanders makes Miles a multi-faceted person who is finding himself and unwittingly gets involved in the murder investigation. Pedro Pascal’s take on Dave York is filled with his love for his family, his ruthlessness when need be, and his sadness at what he has become.
The main achievement of the film, though, is its moral center. It is willing to take a stand on identifying what is right and what is not. Even if you disagree with how making things right occurs, you are still struck by the doggedness of Robert McCall in upholding standards of fairness, decency, respect for others, self-respect, and making your community a better place than you found it. I remember feeling the same way after seeing the first Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man,” where Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben served the same function.
Another theme is that your choices have consequences. In Robert McCall’s world, if you make bad choices that harm others, then retributive justice is on its way. I appreciated the fact that he gets no joy out of exacting what he feels is necessary.
As with all stories, there are some inconsistencies and annoyances in the movie. In one scene, Miles is hiding from assailants and Robert, on the phone with him, tells him to be quiet as they continue to yak on their phones. There is a scene of personal combat in a hurricane that seemed contrived. In addition, there is background media coverage throughout the picture that announces the impending hurricane. This foreshadowing was done to overkill.
I have to comment on seeing Orson Bean again in a film. I didn’t even realize it was him until the credits rolled. I remember seeing him when I was a child on “To Tell the Truth.” He also was a proponent of Orgone therapy and wrote a book about it. Google it to find out more.
I found “The Equalizer 2” to be engaging, even if you had not seen the first film. It has plenty of action but also has fleshed-out characters. While certainly not the greatest performance of Denzel Washington, it is worth seeing just to watch him act.
Rating: Three and a half out of five stars.
Robert McCall serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed – but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?
Cast: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, with Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua