Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Starring Denzel Washington, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal. Certificate: 15 121 mins
Released on Blu Ray, Digital, 4K Ultra HD and DVD on December 10th, 2018
Our nostalgia for 1980’s pop culture continues unabated, perhaps because endless borrowing from the (unsurpassed) films of Joe Dante feels very comforting when you’re a member of a foolhardy race facing its own imminent extinction. Oh, and there’s not a whole lot to be nostalgic about from the 1990’s. Chances are, by the time we reach the eighth season of STRANGER THINGS, and an irony-laden big-budget remake of HOWARD THE DUCK, the yearning to revisit our youth will have run its course and we’ll all hate ourselves for welcoming the long-delayed Hanson comeback with open arms.
While we were waiting with bated breath for the Hollywood version of JULIET BRAVO, Antoine Fuqua’s 2014 take on THE EQUALIZER took the bare bones of the popular 1980’s TV series - sadly minus Stewart Copeland’s catchy theme tune and the late, long underrated Edward Woodward. It became a perfectly serviceable vehicle for the eminently watchable Denzel Washington, bringing much needed gravitas to a movie that aped the gritty nastiness of vintage vigilante exploitation pictures, albeit with a soft touch that ensured a happy ending for Chloe Grace Moretz’s TAXI DRIVER-inspired underage hooker. Typical of contemporary “reboots” (we’re using the word because we feel we have to), it padded out a 90-minute premise with various extraneous supporting characters. The principal reason for staying the course was Washington’s portrayal of an employee of the American equivalent to B & Q whose customer service proficiency was matched by his ability to wipe out small groups of Russian villains in 28 seconds using an array of power drills, bladed weapons and corkscrews.
Denzel is the best thing about this sequel too and the publicity celebrates its status as the first sequel in the actor’s long and distinguished career, having possibly turned down at some point a tempting offer to make a cash-in follow up to CRY FREEDOM (CRY MORE FREEDOM?). Although Washington has coasted on trashy scripts at various intervals, THE EQUALIZER movies are the closest he has come to making a sequel to Russell Mulcahy’s marvellously mean-spirited RICOCHET, a Joel Silver-era action movie variation on CAPE FEAR, in which a lip-smacking John Lithgow threatens to visit his parole officer’s house to fuck his wife, his daughter and his pet dog. EQUALIZER 2 has no room for such loquacious villainy – but scrupulously follows the usual formula of delivering the ingredients that test audiences rated highly last time around : Denzel massacres a bunch of one-dimensional antagonists every reel, in between showing his tender, loving side with vulnerable characters of all ages and ethnic types.
The punchy opening finds Robert McCall (Washington) on a train-bound kill mission, reminding us of his invulnerable efficiency as a killer. He then hits the arse-kicking trail when a long-term friend (Melissa Leo) is killed while investigating a particularly nasty family murder in Brussels. Meanwhile, the script keeps reminding us what an unfailingly decent guy he is, thanks to the time he devotes to a possibly senile Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) and a troubled but artistic young man (MOONLIGHT’s excellent Ashton Saunders). All of which neatly distracts from the kind of celebration of vigilantism that would have starred Charles Bronson in 1973, who dourly delivered the kind of post-kill one-liners Washington deadpans here. The actor brings such heart and charisma to the role that he elevates the material more than it probably deserves, though returning director Fuqua’s experience in the field ensures the crunching, hyper-violent set pieces are genuinely stirring, and there’s a bravura finale set against the backdrop of a hurricane.
The cluttered script results in multiple endings designed to wrap up the myriad sub-plots, and both Leo and Bill Pullman are wasted. Like its predecessor, this movie was cut for some of its grisliest moments to achieve the studio-requested 15 rating... though this (despite appearances) isn’t 1985, so you won’t have to send a cheque in the post to receive a fifth-generation video tape of the uncut version or wait 28 days for its delivery.