Equalizer 2 (****) is a sequel worth coming back for

equalizer-2

The Equalizer 2 – 2018

Director Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay Richard Wenk
Starring Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo

There is almost nothing in The Equalizer 2 you have not already witnessed many times over. There is McCall (Washington) who is the wounded warrior archetype, trying to live a Cincinnatus existence. The promise made to his wife that we heard ad infinitum in the first film is merely hinted at here. He moved away from their home and lives as a guy driving for Lyft. This allows him the chance to listen in on the lives of his passengers, stepping in where appropriate. He does this vigilante charity work for complicated reasons. He cares about those he’s helping, but one can tell that he takes particular enjoyment from hurting those who require being hurt.

His old warrior friends still work for the CIA. Some know he’s still around. Some think he died. Among the former, Leo and Pullman return as two of his best friends. As often happens in action sequels, friends don’t often make it through Act 2. This time, the demise is the catalyst for McCall to break out of his usual ass kicking routine and kick ass for another group of people entirely. Only McCall never did kick ass. His version of stylized violence is much more shocking.

Shocking, stylized violence is a specialty with Fuqua / Washington films. Fuqua has immense talent, but there can be little doubt that without Washington, this film would be more than a few ticks less. Washington has an innate ability to switch gears – often in the same scene – and bring it all into a personal focus with which the viewer feels a personal stake.

Its that intensity that makes rudimentary side stories pop with freshness. Wenk, who is also the sole writer of the original, carries over a sense of familiarity. There is a move forward, though, in the confidence of the stories that are being told. It’s almost a shame when we segue into the main story. One could spend hours watching the vignettes told through McCall’s adventures as a Lyft driver.

Pascal is good, though not as much as he’d been in previous films. Part of the thrill is taken away by the fact that his character is telegraphed so early on in the story. The other is just the pigeonhole he’s worked himself into through casting the same roles, post Narcos.

The reason it succeeds is for the extra dimensions added through the team that he and Fuqua have formulated. They know each other well through 4 films now (Training Day and Magnificent Seven being the other two) and the product represents a harmony of the parts of which it is comprised.

This is not to imagine that the parts are equal, however. No actor today can make average material pop with realism the way he does. The side story between McCall and Miles (Sanders) is as meaningful and intense a drama as anything I have seen this year, and it’s because Denzel knows how to play it for more than it is on paper.

There is no better actor working today and I hope he never stops working in my lifetime. And I hope I live a long life.

(**** out of *****)

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