Denzel Washington has been working in Hollywood for a long time, but it’s surprising to discover he’s never starred in a sequel. Rest assured, he’s finally able to cross that off his list as The Equalizer 2, the follow-up to the 2014 film reboot, hits theaters. That film boasted a box office of over $190 million against a budget of $70+ million – just enough for a follow-up to be approved (with roughly the same budget). With the origin story for Robert McCall (Washington) out of the way, Antoine Fuqua (who returns to direct) gets intense and gritty enough to remind viewers of Man on Fire (which also starred Washington).

Along with Washington and Fuqua, writer Richard Wenk returns to pen the script. EQ2 follows McCall as he lives in Boston and works part time as a Lyft driver. When he’s not driving or at home reading, McCall takes on the occasional “job,” helping out his fares facing adversity. Some problems are easy fixes – McCall drove home a girl who was obviously abused by some shady men, and he in turn went ahead (as shown in the trailer) and took care of the men who abused her. His other jobs are more involved – McCall traveled to Turkey to rescue a young girl from her abusive father and return her to her worried mother. McCall operates much like Frank “The Punisher” Castle (Jon Bernthal), but with less fanfare. And McCall has a handler in Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), his only friend and former colleague at the CIA.

Susan, though, is murdered while on assignment in Brussels, and McCall sets out to learn who did it. Obviously, this job is personal and the revenge tale comes full circle as he reunites with Dave York (Pedro Pascal), his old partner who believed McCall was dead. At the same time, McCall befriends Miles Whitaker (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders), an aspiring artist who’s torn between going to school and making something of himself and allowing himself to join a local gang. Both stories come to a crossroads, of course, and McCall is the common denominator.

Because he's immensely talented, Washington makes everything he’s in watchable. He exudes a charm and confidence which is unrivaled. In many ways he’s like Tom Hanks, but Washington is more of risk-taker in regards to the roles he chooses (outside of Road to Perdition, when is the last time Hanks played a violent character who’s borderline unlikeable?). McCall is a quiet, stern and forgiving man, and he’s likeable mainly because of Washington and because McCall has endured loss. Plus, it’s easier to root for a violent good guy as long as the bad guys are really bad (or simply underdeveloped script-wise). In this case, the baddies are definitely bad (and you don’t care about them anyways), but their motivations as to why they’re killing people goes largely unexplained (McCall stating that they are “tying up loose ends” simply isn’t enough). Regardless, killing people, especially Susan, justifies his violent reaction, especially when McCall turns out to be a loose end.

I’m backtracking here, but McCall’s relationship with Miles is obviously here to highlight our hero’s softer side and showcase his paternal instincts (much like McCall did in the original reboot when he befriended Chloe Grace Moretz’s character, Alina). But this storyline is ultimately unnecessary because it slowed down and lengthened the film, and it’s already been established McCall is good man who knows right from wrong, but chooses to make a difference in situations most would avoid.

Depending on your temperament, The Equalizer 2 may be too dark and violent, although there are things to like. The action, what we all came to see, is likeable - the prologue shows how efficient and unmerciful McCall can be. And there is a memorable scene where McCall fights off an attacker sitting in the backseat of his car while driving around the traffic-filled streets of Boston.

So is The Equalizer 2 enjoyable? Sure. Is it a great piece of filmmaking? Not at all. It’s a serviceable, violent action drama that borrows too much from previous features, is full of tropes, has a weak and obvious plot twist, and leans heavily on Denzel Washington’s star power. He carries this film to the point where this would be forgettable and terrible without him.

3 stars out of 5

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