By Jack Dignan
There’s something about Denzel Washington brutally murdering criminals for 121 minutes that’s endlessly enjoyable. It’s something that, perhaps, I wasn’t able to understand the first time around. That first film missed all the marks it should’ve hit, resulting in an uneven sludge barely redeemed by a nail gun-wielding Denzel. But going into the second film, I knew what this was. This wasn’t going to change the world. But it does manage to escape from it, and that’s all it really needed to do.
Denzel’s Robert McCall is back, now with an additional layer of hair to assist in his unrelenting brutality. His life as a “dead man” is an unfulfilling one. While spending his nights bringing justice to victims has its up-sides, the loss of his wife has still left a gaping hole in his heart. So what could possibly make matters worse? The death of the one person he still holds dear. McCall’s vigilantism has suddenly become personal, and if he doesn’t bring about justice soon, everyone he once worked with could meet an early death.
The plot holding The Equalizer 2 together is, admittedly, far from sturdy. Much like the first, the screenplay by Richard Wenk is all over the place. There’s a primary thread supposedly woven into everything we’re seeing, but you can barely feel it. The primary plot takes an extended amount of time to really get pushed into the spotlight, and even then, a tedious sub-plot follows up every relevant plot beat with little to no relevance to anything else. Focus is found in the second half, but by then, the audience is already growing restless.
This main storyline sees Game of Thrones and Kingsman 2 actor Pedro Pascal thrown into the mix, and while it’s beat-you-over-the-head levels of obvious where this is all building towards, his dynamic with Denzel carries the film. The two share some legitimately great moments. You get a strong sense of their past and what this means for the present, all building towards a brutal, if unbelievable finale that’s bat-shit insane, but completely fitting. Pascal’s character lacks any necessary intimidation, but he feels like a living breathing human being, and that should’ve been delved into further.
However, it’s the chemistry between the always brilliant Denzel and Moonlight star Ashton Sanders that drew me in emotionally. His arc is interesting, and a scene at McCall’s apartment is full of genuine suspense that the rest of the film felt severely lacking in. Sure, the violence is visceral and gut wrenching, and several action sequences are a hell of a lot of fun (an opening train sequence and early apartment throw down are obvious highlights), but director Antoine Fugua struggles to maintain focus in what could’ve easily been one of 2018’s strongest action films.
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