It’s been four years since Oscar-winner Denzel Washington brought the role of Robert McCall from the 80s television series to the big screen.
That film was directed by Antoine Fuqua, the same director at the helm of 2001’s “Training Day,” the film that earned Washington a Best Actor nod after three previous nominations.
“The Equalizer” wasn’t Oscar-worthy, to be sure. But it was enjoyable. And, Denzel was well-cast in a recreation of the role to suit the change from a former British cold-war spy to a more modern former American spy and assassin.
What made the first film work so well was a mixture of McCall’s reluctance to get involved at all, and his desire for a simple life of semi-retirement. He much preferred to read, enjoy his daily routines, and generally, stay retired from the spy business and therefore not draw attention to himself.
McCall only got involved because he was concerned for innocent bystanders trapped in bad situations. He tipped the balance — ‘equalizing’ the situation in favor of the little guy.
In “Equalizer 2,” any reluctance McCall has at getting involved is only perfunctory. He’s quick to the draw, and quick to kill… brutally.
The violence factor has been ramped up, and the connection to any of the characters suffers.
It’s such a different film that it’s hard to believe both writer Richard Wenk and Fuqua returned to create the sequel.
Of course, Wenk’s credits are such character-driven films as 1986’s “Vamp,” 2011’s Jason Statham vehicle “The Mechanic,” and a 2016 direct-to-video film called “Countdown” that featured C-list WWE star Dolph Ziggler.
Still, I enjoyed “The Equalizer” and was disappointed by how little I enjoyed “Equalizer 2.”
Pedro Pascal (“Game of Thrones”) is McCall’s former spy/assassin teammate, who steps in to help McCall unravel a mystery surrounding his former boss Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo).
Bill Pullman is woefully underutilized as Plummer’s husband and there are a dozen other characters we barely get to know and still don’t know why they’re on screen.
The real bright spot in the film is Ashton Sanders, who won much acclaim for his role in 2017’s Oscar-winning “Moonlight.” Here, Sanders plays the by-now-expected neighborhood kid caught between a life of crime and a desire to paint. As cliche as his character’s appearance in the film is, Sanders’ performance as Miles provides a much-needed lift to an otherwise drab movie.
Sure, I couldn’t wait for a couple of the ‘bad guys’ to get theirs. But, for most of the kills, there was just no reason to care. I barely knew what they’d done and the plot weaved in and out of three primary storylines so erratically that it was hard to tell which bad guy had supposedly done what bad thing to which well-meaning bystander.
If you want to see ever-more inventive ways to dispatch a series of bad guys for two hours, timed on McCall’s now-nearly-famous stopwatch, go see “Equalizer 2.”
But if you’re looking for a film that you can really root for the good guy and care about the people he’s defending, this isn’t it.