Anyone going to a movie that has a simple “2” in its title should probably have first seen the movie that came before it. But that’s not the case every time, and it’s not a necessity here, as “Equalizer 2” is really more of a companion piece to its 2014 predecessor “The Equalizer.” Both were written by Richard Wenk and directed by Antoine Fuqua, and both star Denzel Washington and feature brief performances by Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman. But their roads diverge from there.
Still, just to assist any newcomers with what makes the protagonist tick, here are a few factors: Robert McCall – or just Mac (Denzel Washington) is a quiet man, someone who observes more than communicates, is a voracious reader, is widowed, has OCD, is a highly trained killer, and is dead – not in any supernatural way; but in his long-ago CIA days, things worked out better if it was presumed that he was killed in action.
As established in the first film, Mac keeps to himself, living in a small, comfortable apartment, holding a nondescript job to pay the bills – he’s a Lyft driver. Actually, he does get to practice some social skills while picking up and dropping off passengers all over Boston. He chats with a regular customer, the elderly and talkative and maybe a bit addled Samuel (the great Orson Bean). If it’s a new customer, he’ll listen to them or watch them in his mirror, and he’ll decide if they need his help.
That’s Mac’s other side: He helps people. Sometimes it’s with a few words of advice; other times, if he believes a wrong has been committed, he makes himself available to right it, with conviction and quiet fury. Sometimes it’s a personal mission – as it was with the Chloe Moretz character in the first film. Often, it’s because he’s returning a favor to his former boss Susan (Melissa Leo), one of the higher-ups at “The Agency” (no one mentions the name CIA).
“The Equalizer 2” opens with Mac in “official” mode, in disguise, aboard a Turkish Railway train, righting a wrong for Susan … with conviction and quiet fury. Soon after, a seemingly unrelated sequence involving some brutal murders in a Brussels apartment sets a twisting story in motion. As does a completely separate story concerning one of Mac’s teenage neighbors, Miles (Ashton Sanders), who has artistic aspirations but has trouble avoiding the lure of the gangster lifestyle.
In a film that’s as filled with tension as it is with unexpected plot turns, all you need to know is that Mac’s motivations are eventually fueled by anger, despair, and a need for retribution. He’s already been established as a man who’s carrying an inordinate amount of emotional baggage, and can be lethal when the situation calls for that. In this story, he remains mostly quiet, and maintains a Zen-like composure, but there’s no doubt that something on the inside has become unhinged.
Amidst the grimness of people killing other people, or being killed, Richard Wenk’s script neatly factors in a philosophical discussion of good and evil and the ways of the world; establishes Mac’s mantra of “People do bad things; if you’re lucky, you get a chance to set it right”; a dark turn of events that’s complemented by a dark sense of humor; and several hints that a hurricane is approaching.
A hurricane? OK, why not. It’s not really needed, but its inclusion does kind of gussy up the atmosphere for the film’s third act: a good old-fashioned showdown between adversaries. And in keeping with Antoine Fuqua’s decision to make a very violent film, but keep most of the violence either off-camera or partially obscured – objects whipping around in a hurricane tend to do just that – the hurricane makes sense.
Fuqua and Wenk have made a terrific follow-up to their previous film, featuring a good story being told, often with a minimum of words. It marks the first time Washington has reprised a role. If the resulting box office is big enough, he might want to do it again. There’s lots more to explore in his Mac.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE EQUALIZER 2
Written by Richard Wenk; directed by Antoine Fuqua
With Denzel Washington, Ashton Sanders, Melissa Leo, Orson Bean