The Equalizer 2 (2018)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
“The Equalizer 2” marks a surprising first in the long, illustrious career of Denzel Washington. Until now, he had never reprised a film role. Now, in the second installment of Denzel’s first franchise, the actor gets the chance to portray Robert McCall without the burden of origin storytelling.
A former CIA black op, Robert McCall is like what would happen if Sherlock Holmes had Batman’s money and ego. He uses his keen, superhuman observation skills to set things right in the world. This time around, he’s trying to find out who attacked his closest friend, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), who he credits with getting his life back on track after the death of his wife. But his efforts don’t stop at solving crimes. He’s also interested in preventing them, as McCall tries to guide a young neighbor (Ashton Sanders) to choose a life of purpose over a life on the street.
Generally speaking, action movies are composed of shootouts and fistfights linked loosely by scenes of dialogue that nobody wants to hear. That’s not the case with “The Equalizer,” thanks to Denzel Washington. Denzel is arguably the best pure actor working in action movies today (he’s also arguably the best pure actor doing anything today). When he says something, you listen. But he’s also surrounded by other talented actors who ensure that side character dialogue is acceptable, too. Oscar-winner Melissa Leo is marvelous as the fiercely loyal Susan. Critics like to focus on romantic chemistry in movies, but platonic chemistry is just as important. Melissa Leo looks completely at ease with Denzel, like they’re old friends. It goes a long way toward making you care about the fate of their relationship. And after 2016’s “Moonlight,” everyone was excited to see what writer/director Barry Jenkins would do next. But few, including myself, paid attention to where the movie’s stars were headed—least of all Ashton Sanders, who had relatively limited screen time anyway. It turns out, we should have. As Miles, a young boy trying to find his way in the world, Sanders brings so much more to “The Equalizer 2” than it probably deserved. A role like that normally doesn’t get much attention, but Sanders makes it matter. You care about Miles more than you care about similar characters in other movies.
If you’ve come for action, “The Equalizer 2” might not give you as many minutes of it as you’re used to—but what you get is pretty great. Denzel has the element of surprise on his side; rarely do you see 63-year-olds handling close-up fight scenes so capably. He probably won’t be nominated for an Oscar (and if he was, he’d probably be snubbed in favor of a white guy with a history of alleged misconduct against women anyway…for what would be the third year in a row). Nevertheless, Denzel makes this action franchise way more distinguished than most.