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THE EQUALIZER 2–4 STARS
Four years ago in my review of The Equalizer, I presented some peer age comparisons from what I called the “Old Man Tough Guy Club” (Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Liam Neeson) versus the then-59-going-on-60-year-old Denzel Washington With Washington matching a certain Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band song this December, let’s deal out some new ones. Denzel is the same age as John Travolta, Dennis Quaid, and Ray Liotta. He is a year older than Bruce Willis and Willem Dafoe and two years older than Bryan Cranston and Tom Hanks. Other than the previously referenced Cruise (eight years younger) and Neeson (two years older), do you see any of those gentlemen convincingly doing anything close to the physical kind of performances matching Washington? Yeah, me neither, and don’t say Willis because he’s not making two films a year like Denzel and still finding time to perform on stage.
I said it before and I will say it again. Denzel Washington is a walking Fountain of Youth. Turning 64 this year, his eyes may be heavier and his body might be softer than before. But it’s what’s between his ears and trumpeting out of his mouth that are truly ageless. For The Equalizer 2, all four years has done is make this man-of-action more methodical and calculating with this ass-kicking punishment and sin-correcting righteousness. This twisty sequel takes the temperature and weight of the cold lead hammer that is Denzel and heats it with anger and stakes to match the hot lead being shot around him.
Washington’s avenging angel Robert McCall is still a voracious reader, soaking up Ta-Nehisi Coates at the moment, and the former CIA spook with high principles looking to right wrongs. He has traded his window seat at a Boston diner and employment at the home improvement store of a thousand improvised weapons for the mobility and social interaction of being a Lyft driver in The City on a Hill. Robert observes and absorbs the good and bad of his community’s hardships one passenger and driver rating at a time, from Holocaust-surviving seniors and departing soldiers to bookstore clerks and yuppie rapists.
LESSON #1: TIME YOURSELF FOR EFFICIENCY — How fast can you complete a task you’ve planned or practiced? For example, how quickly can you get ready in the morning or commute to work? Can you improve upon that data?
LESSON #2: “TALENT MAKES MONEY, BUT IT TAKES BRAINS TO KEEP IT” — McCall’s latest local project (of many) is a wayward teen named Miles, played by Moonlight discovery Ashton Sanders. The kid shows artistic prowess and a capacity for empathy, but could use a dose or two of character-correcting wisdom (like the words of this life lesson) and instilled hard work to avoid the gang influences that will ruin his talent and potential.
Looming larger and more threatening than Miles, an international assassination case in Belgium, its unearthed secrets, and its violent repercussions are being investigated by his friend and former superior Susan Plummer (Oscar winner Melissa Leo) and an old team partner Dave York (Pablo Pascal of Game of Thrones). Ulterior motives and shifted cross-hairs pull in Robert’s involvement where the only hatchets being buried are those entering opponents’ bodies. The melee trail of broken bones, spilled blood, and settled scores peak with a breathless cat-and-mouse finale occurring during a raging coastal hurricane.
The film’s best cinematic trait is its methodical pace and level of rigor. The Equalizer 2 is slower than the first film and appropriately more menacing than the usual Liam Neeson entry often cited for comparison. The plot from returning writer Richard Wenk has its level of convolutions of clarity and questions marks of motivations where no new ground is really broken in the revenge genre. Still, the professional polish here calculates an urgency that serves the engaging mystery unfolding before McCall and not any constant need to punctuate every moment with the choice spurts of violence.
This sequel, coincidentally Denzel’s first as an actor (but don’t expect him to admit that label), entirely centers on showcasing the many moves of warranted verbal and physical severity meted out by the two-time Academy Award winner for maximum indulgence. After four films together now, director Antoine Fuqua knows how to showcase this living legend. Every side is his good side and the entire symphony of slaughter is tuned to Washington’s ageless stamina. Harry Gregson-Williams’s musical score bends to tighten with the Denzel’s tone and the steeliness of the scenes. When Washington starts that trademark gait of urgency or dispenses some brutish foes with quick hits, Bourne franchise cinematographer Oliver Wood’s camera moves with him. Answering the cues, the esteemed actor, to no surprise, never misses a movement mark for getting his hands dirty or tone choice for line readings and reactions.
LESSON #3: DENZEL WASHINGTON IS THE BEST TEACHER OF MANNERS — When Denzel Washington is involved, you know one powerhouse speech is coming. Unlearned critics of the actor say he plays the same altruistic anti-hero in every film lately. If they say that, those amateur tone police officers only hear Washington’s volume and aren’t listening to his words or read his actions in between the speeches across the many different shades of characters he plays, from football coaches and disgraced cops to failed fathers and this vicious vigilante. Whether it was scripted or not by Wenk, Washington reels off a topical and poignantly corrective rant for the ages directed at Sanders’s Miles. If the aggressive theatrical combat didn’t already amp you up, soul-rattling and truth-telling moments like that one will rouse you in the best possible way.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#710)