If “time is a flat circle,” as Matthew McConaughey once so persuasively explained in the first season of HBO’s True Detective, then The Equalizer 2 is the latest example of this observation. That’s because the sequel to the 2014 cinematic adaptation of the ‘80s series, which also starred Denzel Washington and was also directed by Antoine Fuqua, feels more like a television show than a feature film.
Screenwriter Richard Wenk, who also wrote The Equalizer and Washington and Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven remake, has only ever written movie screenplays. Nevertheless, so many disparate storylines have been crammed into The Equalizer 2 that the latest entry in the adventures of retired government operative Robert McCall may have worked better as the outline for a brand new television series. Then again, audiences more inclined to follow Washington’s punches probably won’t mind.
The film begins on a train heading into Turkey and where a disguised McCall is tracking a young girl who has been kidnapped from her caring mother by her abusive father. The titular hero confronts the latter and his cronies, and in a brief fight scene that bears all the choreographed hallmarks established by the first movie, he easily defeats them while rescuing the girl.
The sole purpose of this sequence is to reintroduce McCall, who by the end of The Equalizer had decided to regularly (and secretly) help those in need, as the franchise’s good-natured killer. The subsequent revelation that he passes the time as a Lyft driver also serves as an explanation for his cover, as it gives him a legitimate reason to be in the right place at the right time for those whose situation is the exact opposite.
One such person is Amy (Caroline Day), the young woman who is placed into McCall’s Lyft by a man who offers him a cash tip for making sure she gets home. Using the same observational skills that precede almost every fight, McCall realizes that something has happened to the tearful Amy. So he decides to do what he does best, which in this case includes taking Amy to the hospital and returning to the hotel suite to exact revenge against the “bros” who sexually molested her.
While McCall largely maintains the high road throughout these scenes, the plotting lags far too much for a film that bills itself as a fast-paced action thriller. Yes, there’s plenty of action, and yes, thrills abound at all the right moments, but the downtime between said moments occurs far too often and lasts far too long. The discrepancy is so noticeable that moviegoers may find themselves trying to remember precisely what The Equalizer 2 purports to be about.
According to the official plot summary released by Sony Pictures, it’s about a man who “serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed,” and asks “how far will he go when that is someone he loves?” The official trailer and other promotional materials suggest the latter is specifically being asked about the murder of McCall’s handler, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). This particular thread does serve as The Equalizer 2’s main weave, but so much else is spun into it that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of it all.
That being said, those who enjoyed The Equalizer and other straightforward, black-and-white action movies will likely enjoy The Equalizer 2 as well. In this arena, Washington’s acting, Fuqua’s direction, and Wenk’s writing are indisputably successful. McCall is the good guy who protects (or avenges) his friends and neighbors, and the bad guys he regularly contends with are the perpetrators of some unquestionably evil acts of violence. All viewers have to do is buy a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.
The thing is, The Equalizer 2 could have been a much better, and more easily accessible version of this if its specific stories had been expanded and adapted for television. (Or, for that matter, made into multiple films.) Its predecessor offers a far more streamlined story that, despite including many of the same beats, never gets bogged down in excessive plotting.
Sadly, the sequel suffers from so many insurmountable number of characters (like franchise alum Bill Pullman and newcomer Pedro Pascal), arcs, and crossovers, that it just doesn’t work. For a film whose hero prides himself on “equalizing” the playing field for those who cannot defend themselves, The Equalizer 2 is incredibly uneven.