The Equalizer 2 is a disjointed waste of Denzel Washington's talents
Despite his recently Oscar-nominated turns in films such as Fences and Roman J. Israel, Esq., it appears the much acclaimed Denzel Washington (Training Day) is looking for his Taken moment, the Liam Neeson-inspired point in an older actor's career where they pick up a gun and put on a salty disposition to deliver zingers like "I'm going to kill you all, and my only regret will be that I only get to do it once."
You'll that find that inspired line in The Equalizer 2, Washington's continued answer to Neeson's success and the first sequel of his storied career. While Washington may have found a profitable role to sink his teeth into, delivering all the intensity you would expect from the two-time Academy Award winner, his talents are wasted on a film that is ultimately a strangely paced mess where originality is in seriously short supply.
Following Washington's Robert McCall, a former government operative turned friendly neighborhood vigilante/Lyft driver, the film is an odd collection of vignettes portraying McCall enacting vengeance on nasty locals, listening to old folks, and mentoring troubled youths (of course the only teen in his building, played by Moonlight's Ashton Sanders, is an artist and a drug dealer). There's a main plot, where McCall is trying to solve the murder of his best friend and former handler Susan (Melissa Leo, The Fighter), but it largely feels like a side-note until the last 30 or so minutes.
The jarringly slow pacing, which seems to be an attempt at a callback to the help-the-little-guy stories of the TV show these movies are based upon, is ultimately the film's worst quality and what prevents it from being the sort of hyper-focused action thriller it wants to be. Instead, the main mystery is solved almost instantaneously with little explanation and its "twist", if you could go so far as to call it that, is so suddenly revealed that its impact is almost nonexistent. By the time the film is over you find yourself asking why, in the middle of investigating the death of his only close friend, does McCall take a break to bust up some drug dealers and deliver corny speeches to a teen he barely knows? The film has far too much on its mind, and nothing it's thinking about is all that intelligent.
The only true quality of the film is Washington himself, who does deliver an action hero that's a bit more fun than his Neeson-type counterparts. Washington brings a dry humor to the role that makes even his more intense scenes seem more human than the robotic performances you would typically see with parts like this. Also notable is the film's final battle, a cat-and-mouse hunt in the middle of a hurricane that does provide some fun moments and visuals. However, the film, like the bodies of those whom McCall leaves behind, is by and large lifeless. It's a messy, derivative misuse of a high caliber actor's talents that has little reason to exist.