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In 2014, director Antoine Fuqua and actor Denzel Washington reteamed for the first time in over a decade for the action thriller The Equalizer, having previously worked on 2001's Training Day. In The Equalizer, Washington starred as Robert McCall, a retired CIA Black Ops agent who used his skills to help a girl escape from the Russian mafia. Between Fuqua's stylistic directorial efforts and Washington's dynamic performance, The Equalizer earned decent reviews and inspired plenty of fans who hoped to see Robert return for a sequel. Now, after working together again on 2016's The Magnificent Seven, Fuqua and Washington re-team for The Equalizer 2. The Equalizer 2 is an equally stylish sequel to Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington's action drama, but with fewer thrills and surprises.
After the events of The Equalizer, the sequel finds Robert McCall in his new normal. While he hasn't confronted the events in his past that caused him to fake his own death and lead a quieter life in Boston, Robert now works as a Lyft driver, taking odd jobs on the side for folks who need help from a man with his particular set of skills. Instead of being completely removed from his past, Robert now walks a more delicate line between his life in Boston and putting his old skills to work for new people. However, that changes when his old friend from the CIA, Susan Palmer (Melissa Leo), is murdered, and the men who orchestrated the attack come after both Susan's husband Brian (Bill Pullman) as well as Robert himself.
As Robert tries to unravel the mystery of who murdered Susan with the help of an old friend, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), he's also working to mentor a young man in his building, Miles (Ashton Sanders), who wants to become an artist. When the building they live in is vandalized, and the garden of fellow resident Fatima (Sakina Jaffrey) is destroyed, Robert and Miles try to undo the damage. Unfortunately, the case Robert is working and the men responsible for Susan's murder eventually catch up to him, forcing Robert to confront his past and the events that led him to seek out a new life in Boston. But, even with all his skills at his disposal, it remains to be seen if Robert will be able the thwart his would-be killers, avenge Susan, and protect the people he cares about.
As a returning actor-director duo, Fuqua and Washington manage to nail a lot of what worked so well about The Equalizer in its sequel. There's plenty of the brutal action that fans enjoyed about the first film and, since The Equalizer 2 picks up with Robert having reverted back to his violent ways, the sequel is able to hit the ground running - though it slows down in the middle. Fuqua carries over the stylistic flourishes of The Equalizer, utilizing the same method of showcasing Robert's meticulous nature in a fight, but it isn't expanded upon. Other style flourishes are attempted, but they can be jarring, like a few uses of over-the-shoulder camera shots that don't offer much to the action and bring an odd video game feel to the film.
Further, beyond setting the fight sequences in some conceptually interesting locations, like a coastal town during a hurricane, the action can become repetitive. Essentially, each fight scene is Robert taking down his opponents one by one, especially in the climactic battle. However, after two movies, this line-'em-up, knock-'em-down way of structuring an action sequence becomes formulaic and loses the thrill factor. Fuqua and returning screenwriter Richard Wenk attempt to give more weight to the action in The Equalizer 2 by rooting it in Robert's emotional arc, which dives into his past, but it never quite strikes the right chord.
Instead, The Equalizer 2 unsuccessfully tries to capitalize on the thin back story of Robert by diving deeper into his character, but attempts to walk the same line of holding back just enough to keep it interesting. Additionally, the mystery of Susan's murder sets the sequel up for a twist reveal that will surprise very few viewers. Relying on that shock, rather than building up the ultimate villain of The Equalizer 2 means the sequel sacrifices a necessary foil to Robert in order to actually ground his actions in any kind of real emotional stakes. Unfortunately, the result is what comes off as a poorly planned story meant to facilitate the action that makes little sense if you think about it too much. Altogether, the action and story aren't enough to elevate The Equalizer 2 beyond a solid sequel that stays consistent with the style of its predecessor.