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I’m Surprised How Much I Didn’t Mind ‘The Equalizer 2’

It’s amazing that even in these “throwaway” roles, Denzel Washington still manages to show why he is one of the greatest actors the world has ever known.

“The Equalizer 2” is the sequel to the 2014 film, which was in-turn based off the 1980s TV series of the same name. Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall, a retired CIA agent who now works as a Lyft driver while helping out the defenseless people. When one of his oldest friends (Melissa Leo) is killed, McCall sets out on a path of revenge. Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders and Bill Pullman as Antoine Fuqua returns to direct.

I really did not enjoy the first “Equalizer” film. I thought it was too self-serious, had horrible pacing and was visually too dark and just ugly to look at. So needless to say I was not looking forward to this needless sequel (the first of Washington’s esteemed career) with any sort of anticipation; and maybe those low expectations had something to do with me enjoying this film a surprising amount.

Fresh off years with back-to-back Best Actor nominations for “Fences” and [sighhh] “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” it is more than fair/expected that Denzel would do a paycheck movie where he doesn’t have to break as much of a sweat. That being said, he doesn’t mail in his performance here and actually is given a surprising amount of emotional range to play with. From grieving the loss of his friend to those classic Denzel-isms like that devil smile or low-grumble voice, this may not be an Oscar-caliber role or performance but Denzel makes sure moviegoers will get their money’s worth of him.

There are a handful of sideplots, including McCall being a mentor to a young man in his apartment complex (Ashton Sanders, best known for “Moonlight”). Denzel, who in real life has spoken up that it is a man’s job to be in the home and be a part of his child’s life, acts as the father figure to Sanders and while the plotline itself is only there to be filler en route to a last minute climatic scene, it holds a nice message at its core.

And I suppose that is one of the film’s issues, is that for the first half there are a lot of tiny “missions” that McCall has to do and none of them really seem important or even get a resolution until the very end of the epilogue. One of them is to show McCall’s mentor side, the other is really just an excuse for the filmmakers to get a manipulative (albeit admittedly effective) heartstring tug, and they really just seem useless in the grander scheme of things. The actual plot, the one sold in the trailers and why people would pay to see an “Equalizer” film, is a little more straightforward than the first film and I enjoyed it, although I have a soft spot for CIA coverups.

The action is much more clean-cut than the first film, too. Whereas that climax took place in a dark Home Depot, this one is set in a seaside town in the middle of a hurricane (where I imagine much of the film’s $62 million budget went). There are some cool kills and moments of tension and I really do think that all but the most demanding junkies will enjoy it.

“The Equalizer 2” is great escapism even if it won’t be memorable. I personally found it to be an improvement on the first installment and continue to appreciate getting to see a legend like Denzel Washington on the big screen every chance I get. There is a small lull in the middle of the film (basically when the sideplots end and the main one comes into focus) but aside from that I was never bored, and think that you’ll find enjoyment in it, as well.

Critic’s Grade: B-

Sony Pictures