The Equalizer 2 isn’t quite as good as its predecessor for two main reasons. The first is that the conclusion, set in a deserted beachside town during a hurricane, lacks the bone-crunching, stomach-churning, revenge-fueled antics of the Home Depot massacre of the original. Instead, Denzel Washington just kind of takes out a small squad of soldiers singlehandedly. The other quibble is that the villain’s identity is a foregone conclusion as most viewers will figure out who he is the moment he steps on screen.
What is not predictable is the nuance, depth, and emotion Washington and returning director Antoine Fuqua bring to the early scenes of the film. Most sequels take the “Bigger is Better” approach. Fuqua is more interested in the quieter, character-driven moments. Yes, the plot is largely about Washington going after the men who murdered his best friend (Melissa Leo). It’s also about how Washington tries to connect a Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) with his long-lost sister. It’s also about Washington rescuing a young inner-city artist (Ashton Sanders) from a life of crime. He also finds time to save a young girl from her gangster father as well as beat up a roomful of scumbag yuppies for raping an intern. Washington brings unprecedented levels of gravitas to what, in lesser hands, could’ve been a disposable (and forgettable) revenge programmer. He gives just as much here as he did in his Oscar-nominated (and winning) roles.
The best section of the film follows his daily routine as a Lyft driver. Some of his interactions with his customers are raw, honest, and human. What he says (or sometimes doesn’t say) to them impacts them greatly. Again, Denzel’s excellent performance prevents things from turning into a big-screen version of Taxicab Confessions. His most meaningful interaction though comes when he stops Sanders from going down a violent path. (“’Man’ is not spelled ‘G-U-N’.”)
Let’s face it, we all came to see Denzel kick ass, not impart life-changing wisdom. We still get scenes where he times himself while beating up a gang of thugs (although not as many as I was anticipating), reconstructs crime scenes with his mind, and improvises elaborate ways for bad guys to come to an untimely end. I just wish Fuqua had added a little extra sizzle to the finale. If there were one or two more quality deaths in the third act, The Equalizer 2 would’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with the original.
Nevertheless, it does contain at least one scene that will go down as an all-timer in the history books. It’s the scene where Denzel gets revenge on the rapist yuppies. They underestimate him by assuming he’s just your typical Lyft driver and try to beat him up. Naturally, he mops the floor with them. He picks the most vulnerable one out of the group and tells him he’ll let him live if he turns himself into the cops… AND he has to give Denzel a positive review on Lyft! Folks, it is my sincere hope that “I expect a 5 Star rating!” will become Denzel’s “I’ll be back”. The way he sells the line with unflinching deadly seriousness is one of the funniest and most crowd-pleasing things I’ve seen at the movies all year.