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The Equalizer 2 ••1/2

Starring: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan
Action/Crime/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: July 20, 2018


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, all things being equal, I’d say it’s time to review this next movie.

There’s certainly an inequity is the storytelling this time around. Let’s recap.

We’re reintroduced to Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), a retired defense intelligence agency operative who now lives in Massachusetts. He occasionally helps deliver justice on behalf of the poor and less fortunate. He even takes a young kid named Miles (Ashton Sanders) under his wings to help him make better choices in the ‘hood. McCall earns a living in retirement as a Lyft driver. Meanwhile, in Brussels, Belgium, a married couple is brutally murdered by an American and his gang of thugs. They make it look like a murder-suicide.

McCall’s old friend from the DIA Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) goes to investigate and is herself murdered. McCall senses something is wrong and starts investigating. Things get complicated as McCall tries to pull Plummer’s death into focus while still keeping young Miles on the straight and narrow.

Greg, Denzel is back again, reprising his role as a geezerly bad-ass good-guy from the original 2014 film. I went back and re-read my review from the first Equalizer and much of what I said then still applies to this installment. Robert McCall is a character we love because of his impeccable morality, and also because a guy his age isn’t supposed to kick ass so effortlessly. In fact, it’s pretty clear that no mere human can do what McCall does. He’s nearly equivalent to Superman. Even when McCall is shot and stabbed, you’d never know it, as he doesn’t register pain nor are any of his skills diminished.

McCall’s near-perfection is a problem in terms of character design. Sure, we want our heroes to be perched on a pedestal, but we know that all good heroes should have at least one prominent vulnerability. McCall appears to have no kryptonite, and thus his character lacks credibility.

The movie has some other flaws, not the least of which is the feeble attempt on McCall’s life orchestrated by his former partner, David. The film tells us that David knows McCall better than anyone, but if that were true David wouldn’t have hired one lone hitman to pose as a Lyft customer in McCall’s car. Clearly, a former friend and partner would know that only a large fleet of nuclear-armed super-behemoths could defeat McCall – and only if the behemoths were lucky. Yet David sends one measly and ineffectual guy after him. That’s just poor screenplay writing.

You’ve stolen almost all my thunder, Scott. Not only is McCall’s character poorly drawn (didn’t he make a promise to his dead wife that he would never use a gun again? That went out the window in this installment), but the movie cannot find its center.

The first scene (a prologue of sorts) shows McCall killing bad guys in Istanbul. Then back in Massachusetts, he saves a young woman from some bad rich kids. Then back at home he befriends and tries to right a young man. And finally, after about a third of the movie has passed, we get to the main goal of the film – which is revenge for his killed friend. It takes a really long time to get to this point – so much so that we don’t really know what this movie is about.

In the TV series and in the first installment, McCall is “the equalizer” for those who can’t stand up to the corruption and injustice of the dark side of society for themselves. He uses his “special skills” to balance the scales of justice for the little people in his community. He’s Batman-like in that he’s a near vigilante. But the filmmakers of Equalizer 2 have tried to turn McCall into a sort of James Bond, Jack Ryan, or Ethan Hunt – a super spy working covertly for the government. It’s too bad, because I liked the McCall from the first film much more.

The Equalizer 2 is a fun action-hero film that works almost entirely on the strength of Denzel Washington’s star-power. There is no doubt that some Hollywood actors can carry a mediocre movie just from their magnetism and charisma. Still, there were a few annoying deficits in this Equalizer that were easily fixable and yet somehow overlooked during screenplay development. We need a hero who has a weakness or two, and we also need smart characters to make smart decisions. I enjoyed the first Equalizer  despite its flaws, and I semi-enjoyed this one, too. I’ll therefore assign it a rating of 3 Reels out of 5.

We perceive McCall to be a strong hero because he taps into an important hero archetype, namely, the archetype of the dangerous and underestimated old guy. Bruce Willis has played this role very well in the RED movie franchise, and perhaps we first saw it in the character of Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid. There are some good elements of the hero’s journey present here, with McCall being “called” on the journey when he picks up the raped woman in his Lyft car. He travels the hero’s journey but never transforms into a better person because he is already perfect to begin with. So while I enjoyed McCall as a hero, his lack of vulnerabilities lowers my rating of him to 3 Hero points out of 5. The archetypes of the bad-ass geezer and traitorous former partner earn 3 Arcs out of 5, too.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Equalizer 2 is a forgettable mess of a film that Denzel Washington saves with his venerable acting skills. I imagine a battle behind the scenes of this production between studio heads and writers about where this franchise is going. Unfortunately that dysfunction is on full display on-screen. The only reason to see this film is Denzel’s performance, which is flawless. I give Equalizer 2 two out of 5 Reels.

Scott, you’ve already listed the great features of McCall as a hero. Like other episodic heroes we’ve mentioned above, McCall doesn’t transform, but he is the catalyst for change in those around him. He exacts revenge for the wrongful death of his friend and at the same time sets a young man on right path when he was about to go down a dark route. As such he is both the catalytic hero and mentor-hero. I give McCall 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes are pretty standard fare. There are DRUG DEALERS, EVIL FOREIGN SPIES, MERCENARIES, and TURNCOAT SPIES. They were boring and predictable in every way. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Arcs for them.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

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