The Equalizer 2 Film Review
Critics have been using words like ‘sadistic’ and ‘nasty’ (RogerEbert) to lambast The Equalizer 2, labelling it a ‘grisly exploitation movie’ (Variety) and warning audiences away from its morose approach to violence. The same thing happened recently to Sicario 2 (2018) and Red Sparrow (2018), with critics balking at frank, nihilistic depictions of violence, a critical trend you could trace back to the original Death Wish (1975) (critiques that cropped up again with its 2018 remake).
I’ll spare you the details of my enthusiasm for a movie panned by critics who prefer their movies sanitary, because I know frank depictions of stabbings and beatings aren’t for everybody. What a critical response like this does show, however, is that the movie is having an effect on audiences. Its material is handled with enough expertise by director Antoine Fuqua to stir people up. Richard Wenk’s verbose script counters the brutish violence with decidedly earnest moralising, a refreshing rebuke to the cynically disaffected quips in most franchise instalments today. The result is as weird and problematic as it is enthralling and compelling.
The movie’s almost B-movie exploitation qualities are offset by its lead actor, Denzel Washington, returning with the same director and writer of The Equalizer. He’s Robert McCall, a dead-by-all-official-accounts vigilante who avenges the downtrodden and lives a quiet life in an apartment block.
Washington imbues McCall with a kind of resigned righteousness. He drives a Lyft, often picking up word of someone’s bad fortunes through a phone call or a customer’s fretful mumblings to himself. These sequences are Washington’s best. He stays true to the stoic indifference of a transporter, while his face flickers with pity over an alcoholic’s pained decision to keep drinking, or grim determination at seeing a battered woman goaded into a cab by an unsympathetic rich kid.
These sequences are interesting, and rare in American movies today. I watched them expecting to be hit with a plot development or chance encounter with a returning villain, before realising I was witnessing character development for its own sake, amid titbits of storytelling from characters whom we’d never see again. Fuqua lingers on the various customers in McCall’s car, much the way he lingers on a sunset as a scene ends or on McCall’s reactions as he peruses images on his laptop of a grisly murder scene.
The plot that eventually does emerge is peculiar twisty, feeling almost incongruous to the pathos it establishes in the side characters McCall comes across. One of them is Miles (Ashton Sanders), a talented artist whom McCall pays to paint over some graffiti, and later his apartment walls. As a writer, Wekn doesn’t restrain himself when it comes to sermonising and moralising. A later scene in which McCall crashes an armoury-themed party Miles is reluctantly attending sees McCall shouting at Miles, ‘Do you know what death is!’ after a monologue about choices and mistakes. It’s a bit funny, coming from a guy who slaughters packs of men based on his observations of their moral lapses.
Fuqua favours closeups and quick cuts in the fight scenes, lending the film a typically American avoidance of any impressive choreography. What he does well, however, is give each death its own brutal closeup. A man is shot through the face with a harpoon gun, necks are broken like twisted juice bottle lids—it’s deliriously entertaining for someone sick of sitting through Marvel, Star Wars and Jurassic World’s aversion to onscreen violence. The best fight doesn’t feature the overpowered McCall at all however, but the wickedly brusque Melissa Leo as McCall’s ‘only friend’ Susan Plummer. She’s accosted in her home by the mysterious attackers McCall eventually hunts down, resulting in a scrappy, violent tussle that had me terribly tense. Though she can fight, she’s overpowered by the two masked men, who throw her into walls and mirrors. Every hit hurts. She briefly gains the upper hand by smashing one of the attackers’ faces with a vase and slamming their fingers in a door, but the result is enough to enrage McCall to do some serious equalising.
Overlooking The Equalizer 2’s obvious problems will allow you to enjoy an unfashionably earnest, morally-driven exploitation B-movie with a superstar in the lead who can still get greenlit anything he wants. It’s fun in a macabre kind of way, thrilling in a silly kind of way. It climaxes in an evacuated seaside town where a storm rages while McCall and his nemesis fist-fight atop a tower, wind and rain lashing all around. I was right there with it.
Feature image via collider.com