It’s hard to imagine that a man of Denzel Washington’s calibre; precociously talented with a vast and varied filmography, has never starred in a sequel before. His first ever sequel in a long and illustrious career comes in the form of the Equalizer 2, a follow-up to the 2014 action hit that proved popular with fans but received a lukewarm critical response.
A little bit hit and miss
The sequel, with returning director Antoine Fuqua, who also helmed Washington’s Oscar-winning turn in Training Day, aims to delve deeper into Robert McCall’s murky past, reuniting him with close friend Susan (Melissa Leo) and introducing a former partner from the agency, Dave (Pedro Pascal). Whilst the film’s themes of violent vengeance dictates much of the plot, it is when the story moves away from the action and is able to wallow in McCall’s personal demons that Washington’s great ability shines through, an internalised piece of acting that comes with it a subtlety that quite honestly garners the majority of the film’s plaudits.
Whilst McCall moonlights as a pillar of the community, hiding his killer instinct behind acts of kindness and becoming embroiled in several emotional subplots, issues with the film’s pacing become very apparent. The inability to smoothly intertwine the subplots within the main story led to messy storytelling, and the second act of the film does little more than dawdle due to an ineffective cramming of these emotive subplots. There’s nothing harmful in attempting to give a film of this nature an emotional backbone, something the main plot does rather effectively, however it can be said that in using too many emotional subplots cooks, the film has essentially spoiled the broth.
Small doses of redemption
Despite the messy, oddly-paced plot, without a doubt the film’s saving graces lie within Washington’s lead performance and the well choreographed action scenes that aren’t too dissimilar to those from the first film. Not only does Washington’s performance shine from an emotive perspective, it is undoubtedly his effortless charm and ability to switch between the usual mild-mannered McCall and his ferocious side that really enables the viewer to connect with a lead character in a way most action films fail to do so. This only ceases to make the action sequences equally as impressive, encapsulating the kind of thrilling violence that results in a film that one not only struggles to watch but finds it equally impossible to avert their eyes from. Notably during the highly cinematic, climactic end standoff that despite taking up a large chunk of screen time, remains wholly tense throughout and never seems to really drag, the hallmark of a solid action sequence.
Unfortunately however, a sloppy screenplay that was far too predictable meant that the slow second act was made even more redundant. Within the admittedly touching and likeable moments in parts of the subplots, the film’s main story really failed to result in an intelligent thriller, with the revealing of the film’s antagonist proving to be glaringly obvious and resulting in a drastic lack of suspense. This isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of suspense inside of the plot, but the overall unfolding of it really lacked in execution and conviction, which in turn made the film more difficult to convey any kind of feeling that the stakes were high.
It’s pretty safe to say that The Equalizer 2 falls flat in being an impressive first sequel for Denzel Washington, with a poorly structured, over-hashed plot that combined with a lack of suspense makes it difficult for the viewer to become truly invested in the story. The film is heavily reliant on its entertaining action sequences and of course the performance of Washington, who never fails to bring to his roles a charisma and charm that allows for a strong connection with the audience, something the film on the other hand simply failed to do. A disappointing piece of cinema that really left a lot to be desired, despite a satisfying and rather enjoyable ending.
Words by Elliott Jones