Denzel, by his presence alone, has the ability to make a bad movie good and a good movie great, and director Antoine Fuqua is best known for swinging for the stylistic fences on even the most boring dud of a story. That shared enthusiasm for craftsmanship is part of what made their previous collaborations on Training Day and the first Equalizer crackle with such electricity, along with a dedication to drawing every ounce of emotion out of each script.
Unfortunately, that partnership seems unable to work any miracles on intentionally middling rehashes like The Equalizer 2. There simply aren’t any depths to mine in this movie that’s more interested in reminding the audience how good the first one was without trying to match it.
The tension of the first film was built from a pressure cooker of a plot; it was clear to the audience and ex-CIA assassin Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) what needed to be done and the only questions were: How far would he go? And, how much of his new life was he willing to sacrifice? Those are meaningful stakes that’ll keep you watching long after you’ve figured out what’s going to happen. The Equalizer 2, unfortunately, is content to replace high stakes with inevitabilities. The moment a character is introduced, you know what’s going to happen to them and why. And when the story does throw a twist at you, it’s so sudden and unmotivated that you’re left to wonder if you fell asleep during some key moment of exposition.
Following the events of the previous film, McCall is officially in the business of helping people with their unsolvable problems, both undercover and as a legitimate Lyft driver. If you need someone to be rescued from overseas or someone sprayed graffiti on your deceased brother’s mural or you need a ride to the airport—McCall is your man. He’s also taken on the mentorship of a talented young artist, Miles (Ashton Sanders), who wants to attend art school but can’t break free of the pressures of a life on the streets. An old government connection of his, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), is suddenly and mysteriously murdered, bringing him back into the world of international crime syndicates.
On one hand, this is a chapter in McCall’s life that had to happen, a reckoning with what the CIA made him and the effect that had on others who experienced the same treatment. On the other hand, is this why you bought a ticket to see The Equalizer, to watch disposable mercenaries killed for revenge?
This is a bit of a spoiler, but the people McCall helps only appear as unrelated bookends around a forgettable conspiracy story. That might be forgivable if the action sequences were at all remarkable, like the final series of traps or the foot chases through the tight alleys of Boston in the first Equalizer. Whoever dreamt up the manhunt in a hurricane should have woken up first, because it makes no sense and is no fun to watch. To top it off, they have totally discarded the clever use of Boston geography and replaced it with spatially baffling decisions about where people live and how they get around. One moment involving taking the wrong exit for Logan was a clever touch locals may appreciate, but I didn’t realize Washington, D.C., was a neighborhood in the South End.
Despite all this, I’m still on board for an Equalizer 3, because the first one was so good. Just as long as it’s actually about something.
The Equalizer 2
R, 129 minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Ant-man and The Wasp, Hotel Transylvania 3, Incredibles 2, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Skyscraper, Sorry to Bother You
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Ant-man and The Wasp, The First Purge, Hotel Transylvania 3, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ocean’s 8, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Skyscraper, Uncle Drew, Unfriended: Dark Web
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Ant-Man and The Wasp, Beast, Hotel Transylvania 3, Incredibles 2, Leave No Trace, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Skyscraper, Sorry to Bother You, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?