At least half the time, Robert McCall is more of a Wish Granter/Life Saver than an Equalizer.
A kindly bookstore operator’s ex-husband and his evil henchmen have kidnapped her daughter and are taking her to Turkey. She’ll never see her little girl again! We’ll see about that, says the Life Saver.
A Holocaust survivor who was separated from his sister when they were children is convinced she’s alive — but nobody believes the sometimes confused the old man. Give me a little time to look into this, says the Wish Granter.
Thing of it is, McCall’s beneficiaries often don’t even know the identity of their guardian angel. They just think of him as the unassuming neighborhood bookworm and Lyft driver who always has a kind word and carries himself with quiet confidence. He hardly looks the part of a superhero.
Ah, but we know the truth about the widower McCall. We know he’s a highly decorated former military man and ex-CIA Black Ops specialist. We know he was quietly spending his retirement in Boston, avoiding trouble — until he couldn’t look the other way any more. Now he’s back in the game, but on his own terms, as a freelancer who works alone.
In “The Equalizer 2” the great Denzel Washington hits a variety of notes reprising his role as McCall, in a brilliant performance that often rises above the pulpy, blood-soaked material.
When McCall is coping with his OCD and interacting with his neighbors and his Lyft customers, he’s funny and warm and a little bit sad at times.
When McCall is spitting fire while telling a gifted high school kid to make a choice between becoming a gun-totting gangbanger or doing something meaningful with his life, it’s as if we’re suddenly watching a powerful stage performance.
And when McCall (and presumably a stunt double or two) is dispatching garden-variety bro-jerks or heavily armed mercenaries, it’s all about cheering for the quality kills and cringing at some of the bone-cracking violence and even laughing at how coolly McCall bests his opponents — not only physically, but when it comes to action-movie one-liners as well.
Antoine Fuqua, who directed Washington’s Oscar-winning turn in “Training Day” (2001) and helmed the first “Equalizer” (2014), returns for the sequel. It’s slick, violent, fast-paced, well acted but by-the-numbers summer fare.
This is the kind of movie where it’s kind of OK to nudge the person next to you (if you know the person next to you) and whisper, “He’s not going to get out of this movie alive,” or, “It’s so obvious THAT guy is a double-crosser!” It feels as if the screenplay is designed to give you the satisfaction of always being right — not to mention how it stacks the deck by making each of McCall’s opponents so cartoonishly despicable, they deserve the street justice doled out by our guy.
“EQ2” is pure B-movie in terms of plot, but we get A-list performances from wonderful actors such as Melissa Leo, who returns as McCall’s former boss, Susan Plummer; Bill Pullman as Susan’s husband, an historian and author; Pedro Pascal as McCall’s former partner in the CIA, who has long thought McCall was dead; and Ashton Sanders (who played the teenage Chiron in “Moonlight”) as Miles, a teenage neighbor of McCall’s at a pivotal crossroad in his young life.
Fuqua the stylist has never been one to shy away from ominous metaphors and impressively choreographed, extended action sequences — and oh, boy, is that the case here. For days, there’s talk of a storm coming. Ooh, double meaning! We get an actual storm that is close to hurricane level, and of course the bleep-storm of justice McCall will eventually rain down upon those that dare cross him. (Yet even when the storm is raging and McCall’s main adversary is struggling to keep his balance and stop McCall, he still spits out standard Yapping Villain insults, eventually running out of verbal ammo and yelling, “F— you!”).
There’s no real story to speak of in “EQ2.” Many of the action sequences are self-contained vignettes in which McCall either quietly helps out someone he knows, or takes matters into his own hands when he happens upon a grave injustice.
The main plot line is put into motion when some hired killers take out a guy who seems to be some sort of diplomat or businessman and his wife in Belgium, and McCall eventually becomes involved. There’s not much effort to tie it all together with any kind of plausible, big-picture cohesion, but no matter.
All we need to know is some very bad people have crossed Robert McCall, and that’s almost always a deadly mistake.
‘The Equalizer 2’
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Richard Wenk. Rated R (for brutal violence throughout, language, and some drug content). Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.