Like a perfectly cooked egg, or popping the individual pockets of air on bubble wrap or the “pawooof” sound a properly opened bottle of champagne makes, watching Denzel Washington open up a can of whoop ass on bad people is extraordinarily satisfying. His latest film, “The Equalizer 2,” the first sequel in his long and stories career, offers up a cornucopia of fisticuffian delights that should keeps fans of tough guy Denzel happy.
Denzel returns as former secret agent and righter-of-wrongs Robert McCall. Although he’s looking to scale back his ongoing quest to protect and serve the exploited and oppressed, when his former boss and close friend Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) is murdered, he goes looking for revenge. “You killed my friend,” he says to the baddies, “so I’m going to kill each and every one of you. My only disappointment is that I only get to do it once.” Cue the carnage, Denzel-style.
There’s more, like a subplot with a young artist McCall tries to steer away from gang life and some double crosses, but you don’t go to an “Equalizer” movie for the social messaging or the plot. You go to see Denzel reign holy hell down on people that deserve a punch or two. That’s why the first, largely plot free, half of the movie is more satisfying than the second. We see McCall in random situations doing what he does best, not getting bogged down by the vagaries of narrative style or thematic statements. The fight scenes are don’t vary much, he scopes out the room, mutters a killer one-liner and devastates those who get in his way. It’s in the second half, after Susan’s murder that it sags as the movie strays into procedural territory. McCall’s investigative work leads to another improbable “Equalizer” style climax, although this one, set in a beach town during a hurricane, isn’t quite as ridiculous as the Home Hardware shootout—who knew those places were so dangerous?—in the first film, but it still requires some suspension of disbelief. (Start by asking yourself, when did he have time to hang up all those pictures of Susan in a wild windstorm?)
Director Antoine Fuqua has snapped up the pace from the first film, showcased the action, and added in two great motivators, betrayal and grief. Washington brings gravitas and ferocity to a character stuck somewhere between atoning for his violent life by helping those around him and knocking the snot out of people who get on his bad side. This sequel muddies the character by presenting him as a one-man posse, meting out his own brand of over-the-top justice. You can root for him, just don’t get on his bad side.
Not as trashy as “Death Wish” or as action-packed as “John Wick,” two other exemplars of the man on a crusade genre, “The Equalizer 2” is a solidly entertaining popcorn flick with pretensions of bringing Shakespearean level of pathos to the tale of vengeance. Instead, it’s “Taken” with the special set of skills and without the annoying daughter character.