If you’ve always wanted to watch a movie that explores what Denzel Washington’s life would be like as a Lyft driver, you’re in luck, because that comprises the bulk of The Equalizer 2’s bloated, 121-minute runtime. And yes, it’s as dull as that sounds.
After his epic hardware store fight in The Equalizer (in which I still maintain the main villain is the devil), we find Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) ferrying passengers around Boston, righting wrongs. Though he spends most of his time behind the wheel with only sporadic bouts of OCD-tinged thrashing of bag guys. Eventually, his only friend, CIA spook Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), is killed on assignment, and Robert teams up with his former friend and ex-military buddy, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), to find out what happened and exact some retribution.
The Equalizer 2 certainly takes its sweet time getting anywhere. Susan’s death—not a spoiler, it’s given away in every single trailer or TV spot—is the primary motivating factor, but it doesn’t happen until near the midway point. Until then it’s Robert shuffling around through a bevy of wholly unnecessary subplots, including helping a dementia-ridden Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) track down a lost painting (?). And once the narrative finally moves forward, he takes a sharp aside in the middle of the escalation to help out a local kid (Ashton Sanders) he’s taken a shine to escape an ill-advised foray into gang violence. (Though this does lead to a scene where someone tags Robert’s building and the graffiti just reads “Gang,” like someone put the word in the script as a placeholder and never bothered to insert an actual gang name.) All of this is supposed to illustrate Robert’s moral compass, but that’s readily apparent from the first scene, and the rest is overkill that distends the plot and hamstrings the pace, never allowing the film to build any momentum.
Richard Wenk’s script does have a few fun moments, notably when Robert encounters a crew of old friends who thought he was dead, as well as incidents of violent wish fulfillment, such as when he dismantles a bunch of entitled preppy assholes who sexually assault a woman. Director Antoine Fuqua and cinematographer Oliver Wood try to give the film stylistic visual flourishes, but even that’s just empty posturing that only wastes time.
The climactic battle in a raging hurricane—in case you didn’t realize huge storm was on the way, the film heavy-handedly reminds you of it at least every other scene with a weather report—is solid. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s generally what most of us hoped to see from The Equalizer 2. Problem is, by the time we get there, the film has already wasted so much time it loses any impact or enjoyment.
Denzel Washington is good, as is to be expected, but he can do this in his sleep. I’m here all day for the 63-year-old playing a much more convincing aging badass than, say, Liam Neeson, but by the time the movie finally gets to the best part, The Equalizer 2 has dragged its feet for so long I just wanted it to end. Fuqua and company trade in the vicious streak that made the first film so gleefully mean for ho-hum tedium. Hopefully this means we won’t get a third chapter you just know would be marketed as The 3qualizer. [Grade: C-]