PLOT Retired special ops officer Robert McCall returns to avenge a friend's murder.
CAST Denzel Washington, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
RATED R (brutal violence throughout, language and some drug content)
BOTTOM LINE Some cheesy moments, but Washington saves the day.
“The Equalizer 2" re-connects many of the people behind the 2014 debut alongside the always-vital Denzel Washington — Antoine Fuqua returns to direct, as does writer Richard Wenk and actors Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo.
Washington again plays Robert McCall, a quiet middle-aged retired special-ops agent who fiercely believes in justice, likes to help others and dispenses the occasional lethal killing for those deserving. McCall is now a Lyft driver, selectively helping people he encounters. He’s kind to old people (a Holocaust survivor, for extra depth) and little kids, who adore him. He mentors a troubled teen (Ashton Sanders), hoping to steer him away from drug dealing and toward art school. Few people could pull off this cheesy sainthood like Washington, oozing charisma and self-assured masculinity.
The sequel confusingly toggles through various initial threads before landing on the main one — someone crucial to McCall’s murky past is murdered in Brussels and that reveals a barrel of bad government apples. The film strays far from its roots as a vehicle for McCall to be the avenging angel for a needy stranger. But we get to see McCall solve the crime from his Boston apartment by putting himself in the crime scene and then avenging the death. Oh, there’s also a hurricane crashing up the East coast, timed for the climax, a little over the top if we’re being honest.
Fuqua is a lyrical director who helped guide Washington to an Oscar in “Training Day.” He’s not afraid to spend time in the still darkness with McCall and likes to focus on small moody elements, like rain hitting the gutters. But he can also deliver red meat: A sequence in which McCall fights off a passenger in the back seat of his car is a mini-masterpiece of taut, sinewy direction.
“The Equalizer 2” is a guilty -- very violent -- pleasure for anyone who enjoys that old-school, blue-collar American chivalric hero with a dark past. He’s cool, with moral clarity and he’s three moves ahead of everyone. No wonder he’s such a welcome sight in 2018 America and no wonder Washington wanted another go-round.