“The Equalizer 2”

“The Equalizer 2”
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

When I gave Antoine Fuqua’s first installment of the “Equalizer” a gander back in the winter months, I wasn’t aware a sequel was in the offing. It wasn’t my first choice that cold night, but I thought if they’re going to keep making “revenge-fantasy” action flicks, I might as well watch the ones with the great actors. And, wouldn’t ya know, there was a halfway decent movie in there. Or maybe it was just how easy it is to watch Denzel do  pretty much anything…especially when directed by the helmer of “Training Day”. So there I was, this past week, Moviepass in pocket(poor Moviepass – if not quite RIP, currently in hospice care), looking for something to see after watching the Red Sox win another game late on a Saturday night. And the only showing left at my neighborhood multiplex was the sequel to the first, so off I went. I sat down with expectations as low as I’d had for the first, and…

…wouldn’t ya know, there’s BETTER than a halfway decent film in there.

1529948631982_212415_cops_10No, not THAT much better, but certainly a smart, well acted and fairly suspenseful gun-play fest featuring a magnetic and mysterious hero. Denzel’s Robert McCall holds all his internal anger, vitriol, hurt and pain in his eyes…therefore he doesn’t need a Liam Neeson/Taken-esque monologue. No, this vigilante only needs about eleven words (if that) to both announce his plans to his enemies and to heighten the anxiety level of the audience.  That, in a nutshell is what makes this franchise work. There is very little dialogue, outside of character and relational development, and with actors this good, and a director as in control as Fuqua, that’s obviously for the best.

Let’s be clear, this is not your father’s “Equalizer” – the television show from the mid-eighties. While a terrific series, that “EQ” featured a weekly, pseudo-noir, network-safe, morality tale. And while Fuqua’s “EQ/EQ2” still has the same fixation on the idea of right and wrong – and that the world is tilted against the former, that’s pretty much where the comparisons diverge. This version of McCall believes justice has not much to do with the laws of the land, but, rather, the laws of survival for those he deems “good” and a pretty serious culling of those he deems “bad”. And when the focus is placed on both the “how” and the “now,” it makes for some pretty suspenseful cinema.

As noted, Denzel Washington is his usual brilliant self here. I’d go as far as saying this is a more three-dimensional character/performance than his most recent Oscar-nommed role in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (a film I did not particularly like). But, in “EQII”, more so than in “EQI”, he quietly shows us more of who this man is doing not much more than sitting quietly and reading a book, which ends up being more than most films tell us in hours of dialogue.

He’s joined by two new actors this go-round; Pedro Pascal (whom you’ll remember as the Inigo Montoya of “Games of Thrones'” season four) and Ashton Sanders (the unforgettable adolescent Chiron from “Moonlight”). Both are fantastic additions. Pascal’s Dave York successfully represents McCall’s past, filling in many of the empty spaces in McCall’s present day existence. Sanders’ Miles Whittaker, meanwhile, is the living embodiment of McCall’s aspirational, pay-it-forward organizing principle…which means his character also acts as Fuqua’s how-to for changing the cycle of violence in modern day urbania. Further, the actor’s brand of aloof is both specific and consistent…which is to say, he never pushes, even when the script places him in positions where most other actors might.

Finally a word about the environment of the film (both visual and aural). While I wouldn’t call Oliver Wood’s cinematography gorgeous or revolutionary, it sets us up in a very specific manner with its bleak pallet and perfect approximation of how New England weather patterns can affect emotion. And the score, from Harry Gregson-Williams, is actually quite good. Subtle and effective, it stays away from the mountains and valleys that usually blanket revenge action flicks. I’m not a fan of Gregson-Williams work. In fact, of the ultra-successful Hollywood composers working today, he might be my least favorite. However, here he does an excellent job of adding to the film’s inherent anxiety.

Look, this is not a great film by any stretch, but it is both an excellent addition to the genre and an improvement on the original film upon which it’s based. So go watch Denzel kick some ass. There are worse ways to spend a couple hours.

Written on August 5th, 2018

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