Will You Still Need Me... When I’m Sixty-Four? - A Review Of 'The Equalizer 2'
With no apologies to Paul McCartney and his "When I’m Sixty-Four" composition, Denzel Washington was born in 1954; so in most books, putting him in the title role of an action film like Equalizer 2 could have been courting disaster in terms of plausibility and audience acceptance. But needless to say, this Antoine Fuqua-directed film is well on its way to box office success. While the 2014 Equalizer grossed $192 million worldwide; as of last weekend, this first-time sequel for Denzel was already in the $145 million range, and still to open in several global markets.
So what makes this work? It’s not the first time some long in the tooth, established actor decides to reinvent himself as an action star. Liam Nesson did it successfully with the Taken franchise; but for every Neeson or Washington, there are more Sean Penn’s or Clive Owen’s who don’t make the transition with any marked success. Bruce Willis did it when he was much younger with the Die Hard franchise, but has tried ever since to rekindle that magic without much to show for all the effort via countless films that rehash his action star persona.
Well, having Fuqua on your side obviously pays dividends for Denzel. Fuqua has directed Denzel in four films now; Training Day, The Magnificent Seven, the 2014 Equalizer, and this new chapter. Fuqua has this uncanny sense of imbuing his action with motive, passion and complexity so that beyond his proficiency with the visceral, fast-paced action scenes, there are telling moments of calm and character which allow us to emotionally invest in his protagonists. And naturally, Denzel, who’s a consummate thespian and actor first, takes to this like a fish to water - I can’t say if the action sequences are speeded up, whether Denzel can still handle all the moves, but you definitely aren’t thinking he’s too old to be doing the action sequences.
For those who watched the first instalment, there is no Chloe Grace-Moretz reprising her role; but we do have Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman returning. Melissa Leo is once again, Susan Plummer, the one link Robert McCall (Denzel) has with his past CIA life. Here in 2; he’s passing time as a Lyft driver (think of a Grab or Uber operating in Boston), and establishing relationships or finding missions via his pick-ups. From a physically-abused law intern, to an old folks home Russian emigre, and a young African-American inner city artist—there are opportunities aplenty for McCall to ‘equalize’ and dispense justice where none would be forthcoming.
It’s when Susan (Melissa Leo) gets caught in a particularly nasty game of agency opportunism that McCall has to all out and the film transitions to textbook vigilante action film. And this works precisely because we’ve been treated in the first half to a healthy dose of humanizing McCall and getting into his head and motives. Despite his age, the film more than holds its own in providing thrills and spills; and maintaining a high quotient of tension and suspense.
Just wondering if the established four year gap augurs well for a third installment; when at 68 years of age, Denzel may have to drive himself to that old folks home. Till then, there’s this second installment to enjoy.
Images from The Equalizer's official website