DENZEL MAKES “THE EQUALIZER

 

DENZEL MAKES “THE EQUALIZER” HIS OWN EXCITING ACTION HERO

A Film Review by Tim Riley

 

THE EQUALIZER 2 (Rated R) Denzel Washington may be edging closer to eligibility for Medicare but you wouldn’t know it from the sheer stamina and physical action required for his role as an avenging angel dispensing vigilante punishment in “The Equalizer 2.”For both Washington and director Antoine Fuqua, this vengeance film represents the first sequel of their careers, though both have collaborated on the successful dramas “Training Day” and “The Magnificent Seven” remake.

Based on the television series of three decades vintage, “The Equalizer 2” has Washington reprising the role of Robert McCall, a retired CIA agent, and veteran who has basically gone off the grid in search of a peaceful retirement. In the first film, McCall was living anonymously stocking shelves at Home Depot.  This time around he’s navigating the streets of Boston driving for Lyft even though he has time for a trip to a foreign land to rescue a kidnapped child from an abusive parent.

Anyway, if killing bad guys on a train in Turkey is not sufficient to establish his credentials in the opening, back in Beantown he takes a battered young woman to a hospital only to return to a hotel to mete out tough beatings to a bunch of arrogant yuppies who had abused her. Arguably, an action film like this would focus on the central character’s mission to do what it takes to deliver justice for the victims.  Yet, director Fuqua seemed bent on taking this sequel into a more character-driven territory and that creates some problems for a cohesive thriller.McCall helps a Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean), still grieving because he’s not seen his sister since their internment in a concentration camp.  He passes out books and helps people in the community, such as the Indian woman whose garden is vandalized.

 More central to the eventual climactic showdown is how McCall becomes a surrogate father to artistic teenager Miles (Ashton Sanders) by saving him first from ending up in the clutches of local thugs and later from a tense situation with deadly assassins. Being the gentle soul with a soft spot for average folks in need may be his true nature, but what is expected here is for McCall to figure out things like a Lyft passenger intending to kill him with the resulting eagerly anticipated vehicular bedlam proving to be a worthy ride. On the anniversary of his late wife’s birthday, McCall is visited by Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), his former handler and adviser at the CIA, who’s on her way to Brussels to investigate the mysterious yet presumed murder-suicide of an asset and his wife.

 Susan and her husband Brian (Bill Pullman), who had basically cameo roles the first time, are really essential to the plot in this sequel.  Very unfortunate things happen when Susan is brutally attacked in a hotel room in what is initially thought to be a botched robbery. Far more sinister factors are in play as it emerges that vicious mercenaries are involved in eliminating loose ends, and the long-presumed-dead McCall is suddenly in the crosshairs of double-crossing agents operating on their own agenda. Coming out of the shadows, McCall reveals that he is, indeed, very much alive to his former CIA partner Dave York (Pedro Pascal), who had assumed that he died in a car explosion.  Though hoping to get answers, McCall finds that treachery lurks ominously around every corner.

Moving into his complete Equalizer mode, McCall soon figures that any friends or associates, no matter how tangential the connection, are suddenly at risk of being  “loose ends” that venomous, sadistic killers are only too eager to eradicate. One of the nail-biting sequences is when McCall realizes Miles, who’s painting his apartment, is in danger with a team of mercenaries staging a home invasion.  With Miles hiding in McCall’s secret closet, the tension mounts to a fever pitch.

 The climactic showdown comes during a hurricane battering the seaside Massachusetts town where McCall and his wife resided when she was operating the local bakery.  The windswept village, already evacuated, becomes a unique setting for McCall confronting his adversaries. The climax does not disappoint because McCall must come face to face with a quartet of highly trained assassins hellbent on destroying him.  To their peril, they miscalculated that his skills would be rusty.

For those who enjoy straightforward action, and still willing to endure some slower-paced subplots, are likely to find that “The Equalizer 2” is great fun because McCall is the good guy who’s accurately described by the press notes as the one “aiding the beaten, exploited and oppressed.” Indeed, McCall, on behalf of his friends and victims, serves unflinching justice, and this time around his dangerous past cuts especially close to home, which offers the chance to see all of McCall’s skills put to good use to settle scores.

Though uneven at times, “The Equalizer 2” may be preposterous like so many action films of today, but you can’t really go wrong with Denzel Washington’s solid hero delivering the goods with conviction and unyielding resolve.