Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Hard to believe that “The Equalizer II” marks the first time Denzel Washington has ever signed on for a sequel (here’s hoping for an addition to Spike Lee’s “Inside Man”) and with those merits in your corner - you’d think the script would produce a semblance of gratitude. You got freakin’ Denzel Washington to sign on for a sequel, what more could you want?
In a summer blockbuster season filled with Dwayne Johnson, superheroes, and boring dinosaurs - I was hoping “The Equalizer II” would take notice of its predecessors limitations (overlong, hardly memorable, safe etc) and run a marathon around tireless action gimmicks. Aside from a few brief spurts of vivacious energy, Antoine Fuqua's ultraviolet follow-up fails to capture any element of surprise, despite a very good Washington trying his best to make the movie flow.
I suppose one aspect that “Equalizer II” manages well is the human element, as the sequel takes a backseat approach to the relentless mayhem that clouded the initial films screwy edge. For all his money against him, Fuqua decides to slow down the pacing and give our hero some much needed breathing room - if only for ten minutes at a time. He still brings the violence fast and quickly, immediately getting the blood pumping before the opening title card, in which Washington’s now iconic Robert McCall takes down a group of Turkish gangsters aboard a moving (very wonky looking) train. The scene moves, and has just the right amount of zest to kickstart the films prolonged two hour runtime.
Aside from his commutes on trains brandishing wanted criminals, by day McCall fits in like Clark Kent hiding as Superman. Except, instead of a newspaper journalist, he’s actually a Lyft driver. That’s right; the world’s most lethal assassin is driving repressed alcoholics, nine year olds, and teenagers weeping about their acceptance into a local universities. Seems a-bit anticlimactic doesn’t it?
Nonetheless, McCall finds solace in this daily routine, which includes interactions with a young neighborhood boy, a self proclaimed artist named Miles (Ashton Sanders from “Moonlight”). This produces a manipulative father-son relationship that does more harm than good to the films bottom line. At first, you think this casual hangout will only last a few scenes, but my goodness it takes up entire sections of this film, which seems like a filler, because Fuqua needed to kill fifteen minutes. No pun intended.
Even more standard is the plot that feels stale in comparison to writer Richard Wenk’s previous films (“16 Blocks”). And so when a longtime friend and collaborator for McCall is brutally murdered - for reasons that you’ll see from miles away - it forces the fairly secret widower to forgo his usual vigliante tendencies (like putting the smackdown on a group of preppy frat boys that sexually assaulted a young intern named Amy - in the films best scene) to hop back on the prowl for stone-cold vengeance.
It all plays, and Washington acts the role so complacently, I almost want to move the needle on my final assessment. But alas, too many variables start adding up to the point where it's impossible to ignore. Including a third act reveal that *isn’t* so much a reveal, but a confirmation of what the audience already knows, or Fuqua failing to intrigue our perception with something more engaging than bloody knives. I felt desensitized the entire time, without any lack of surprise.
Not to mention, “The Equalizer II” can’t decide what type of film it wants to be. During instances were either the good guy or bad guy would thrash and kill enemies, it would instantly be followed by a shot of McCall mentoring young Miles. If you want the audience to believe such a relationship, don’t force it upon us - let it earn its place at the dinner table. Instead of feeling inspired, it comes across as a cheap bloodied version of “The Karate Kid.”
At least “The Equalizer” had a snarky baddie played by Marton Csokas (from the 2003 guilty pleasure “XXX”), who, you know, transfused some stakes into an otherwise heavily cliché thriller. To make up for that, “The Equalizer II” cooks and builds to one final hurrah, all to the backdrop of some deserted Boston streets, amidst a perfectly timed hurricane for reasons I can’t justify. I guess it looks …. cool? Except most of the camera work is spotty and you barely see any of the carnage.
In terms of production value “The Equalizer II” has style, but the constant dark lighting, and rough editing took me out of the film at times - even though the action scenes are few and far between (which, for a studio picture of this caliber is surprising). Sure, praise is granted for some well choreographed slayings, but considering the cost of a movie ticket today, you’re better off staying home and waiting for this one on basic cable.