Denzel Washington is good. This isn’t new information. You can put him in the center of anything and an enjoyable experience will form around him. When The Equalizer 2 holds Denzel in its frame, it has moments of great power and authenticity. It’s a film after my heart, opening with Denzel reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ great intellectual manifesto Between the World and Me on a train. He later gives this book to an at-risk youth as a kind of contract; if he’ll read it, then he’ll have work painting Denzel’s place. That’s when I knew The Equalizer 2 had a good heart. You’re already going to see Mission: Impossible but don’t let that be the reason you do not see this film.
The Equalizer 2 plays out a solid atonement story. Denzel’s character, Robert McCall, seeks reparations for the repressed. He is making up for his own sins. If he must die for his sins, he knows it is a virtuous sacrifice to make. It’s in his random acts of kindness that we find character growth. As a driver for the Lyft service, he gets many opportunities every day to right social wrongs. A girl gets in obviously drugged and having been passed around a party, so he will get her the right level of care and then take care of the guys who did this to her. A guy is struggling with his sobriety, and McCall awaits the right decision: let’s turn around and deliver you safely home. It is the most random modern job you can have, where interactions are brief and yet interpersonal, existing inside your own car. And it opens up a space of good deeds for our character.
It is also fair to say the movie is a big Lyft commercial. It is shot like a car commercial anyway. It has an unsteady camera that cannot stop moving, panning, following, focusing on products, books, art, the weather, a nice view; it has an easily distracted lens. This takes away something, where we’re floating over lovely shots and any purposefulness slips away into feelings of consumerist ease. This is the language used when we consume things. We’re here to buy a couple hours of peace in a too stressful world with Denzel as our steward—everything is gonna be all right.
The plotting spills out episodically, built like a TV show for suspense; we’ll spend allotted amounts of time with our series of characters. It has an effective build and is paced to elicit the requisite feelings, and it’s entirely competent this way. That is the best way to surmise what is going on: an action film defined by its exceeding competency. Being Denzel’s first ever sequel, we will feel a good relief if it is extended, a remarkable safety net of summer viewing pleasure that ticks every box you’d want going out to the movies. This film does everything you’re asking of it and does it better than the original.
All things being equal (pun intended), this isn’t the film demanding the attention of your summer. It is a guaranteed good time out, however, and fulfills every promise in a way that makes it expandable if they so wish to do so. While the acting is top-notch, the camera work and plot threads have the drifting spirit of a car commercial and can’t always reign it in when Denzel shows up and does his best Denzel. If you’re already going to see Mission: Impossible, you couldn’t ask for a nicer pairing for a double-feature than this.