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Lone wolf on a mission

Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2.

Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2.

The Equalizer 2
2 stars
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders
Duration: 121 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

There is no doubt that Denzel Washington is one of the greatest actors working today. In a career spanning almost four decades, he has amassed a plethora of awards for the numerous deep and complex roles he has portrayed, including many real-life figures.

From the early notices he received as anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1987’s Cry Freedom, to his Academy-Award nominated directorial effort Fences (2016) and the 50 or so films in between, Washington has consistently imbued his performances with intensity, feeling, intelligence and effortless charisma.

This is true whether he’s a historical figure, lawyer, journalist, gangster, sportsman, father, husband, lover, always with complete commitment to the character; oftentimes ‘being’ rather than merely performing. So it is a bit of a disappointment to watch what amounts to a comparatively sub-par performance in The Equalizer 2.

This is the first sequel Washington has attempted in his career and it probably says much that he returns to the role he played for the first time in 2014 for director and frequent collaborator Antoine Fuqua.

It kind of makes me wonder if this was more of a favour to a friend than anything else. I could not shake the feeling that here the acclaimed actor is simply phoning it in.

Washington is intelligence operative Robert McCall, a man known as the Equalizer, a man who helps the exploited and the oppressed by meting out his particular brand of justice.

Now trying to earn a quiet living as a Lyft taxi driver, McCall goes about his days quietly, oftentimes serving as a sympathetic ear to his customer or, on occasion, helping them to right their wrongs.

The film’s biggest failing is its lack of emotional depth

However when, in Brussels, a man and his wife die in a staged murder-suicide, McCall finds himself drawn back into his former career. In the meantime, he strikes up a friendship with a young neighbour Miles (Ashton Sanders), who has fallen in with the wrong crowd.

As we have seen many a time before in the lone-wolf-on-a-mission genre, the film juggles between the two sides to the character – the professional and the personal.

However, the script by Richard Wenk first allows a good 35 to 45 minutes to pass before the actual plot kicks in. And, when it does, it’s all a little underwhelming and brings absolutely nothing new to the mix, resulting in a slickly made but by-the-numbers action thriller.

Unless I missed an important plot detail, the plot, based around the murder-suicide affair (brutally and bloodily staged), comes down to being merely an excuse for the bad guys to settle some personal scores. It all comes to a head in the climax, set in a small-seaside town that has been evacuated because of a hurricane.

Things do perk up a little here as McCall plays an elaborate wind-fuelled and waterlogged game of cat-and-mouse with his quarry; but it is too little, too late.

If the action is passable, the film’s biggest failing is its lack of emotional depth. Washington can never be dull and it’s always a pleasure to see the man at work. Yet, it is hard to actually care for McCall – he goes about his equalising business with ruthless efficiency yet we never truly get under his skin. Does he really care about meting out justice or is he doing what he is trained to do? The question remains frustratingly unanswered.

In the meantime, the relationship between the ‘softer’ side to McCall and Miles unfolds over a number of scenes where McCall tries to keep the younger man on the straight and narrow by encouraging his artistic talent and sharing his favourite books; and it never quite convinces as much as it aspires to.

Ironically, it is the scenes that bookmark the film – McCall reuniting a young kidnap victim with her mother, and helping a Holocaust survivor solve a mystery in his past – that have the most emotional resonance. But these storylines are mere padding.  

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