“The Equalizer 2” is an unoriginal film that’s unpleasant to watch. The disturbing brutality and bloody violence seem like an unsuccessful method to shock the audience into forgetting about the weak writing. This bland sequel wants to be an action drama with some heft; instead, it’s a harsh and troubling revenge thriller that is more forgettable than it is satisfying.
Former black ops operative Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) spends his life righting the wrongs in the world. A vigilante for justice, McCall finds purpose helping people by destroying bad guys with a deadly hand and words of wisdom. After a murder of a CIA agent and friend (Melissa Leo, in a too-brief supporting role), McCall solves the mystery and sets out to kill each and every one of the men responsible.
No doubt it’s fulfilling to watch this group of baddies finally get their what-for at the hands of the brutish McCall, but it’s also hard to shake the feeling that it’s misguided to root for such an antihero. Washington plays McCall with a peaceful intensity, like a savage street preacher who is ready to open up a can of whoop ass. His performance is not the problem here.
It’s Richard Wenk‘s script that’s a sluggish mess. The film starts with a puzzling opening action sequence on a Turkish train that never comes back into play within the plot. Where 2014’s “The Equalizer” focused on one abused girl, there are too many elements presented in this sequel. The first half hour of the film is full of multiple short stories of various baddies and McCall’s violent retribution for each of them. Secondary character development, including an elderly Jewish man (Orson Bean) and a former military buddy (Pedro Pascal), is virtually nonexistent. There’s also a cheesy impending storm metaphor (that does eventually pay off with a pretty cool shootout during a hurricane), and a storyline about the fatherly relationship McCall develops with neighborhood teen Miles (Ashton Sanders).
Between the moralizing life lessons that are spouted at full volume intensity, director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t shy away from graphic violence: bones crunch during hand-to-hand combat, blood spurts from knife wounds, and heads are blown apart with guns.
The ending retreats into a ho-hum game of garden variety, military-grade cat and mouse, complete with cheap jump scares. All of this leaves the film on a low note. Sometimes making a sequel can be a good idea, but not when it’s as forgettable as this.