Remember when Antoine Fuqua was supposed to be good? He led Denzel Washington to an Oscar win with Training Day, and while I may not have thought as highly of that film as many seemed to at the time, I thought he might at least forge a career as a passable director of pulpy crime thrillers. But somewhere between disappointments like the excoriable Gerard Butler vehicle Olympus has Fallen and the only slightly less regrettable Magnificent Seven remake, I lost faith. Still, I thought 2014’s The Equalizer might offer the faintest glimmer of hope that Fuqua would become something more than a genre journeyman. But here we are, discussing a perfect case study in diminishing returns — Equalizer 2.
The first time around, I thought replacing Edward Woodward — a Brit so staid that he played a virgin in The Wicker Man, mind you — with Denzel in the eponymous role that Woodward originated on TV was just wacky enough to work. And it kinda sorta did, at least in places. I mean, this is Denzel Washington we’re talking about! Even in absolutely terrible movies he’s still imminently watchable, sometimes skirting greatness amidst the depths of mediocrity. So when I heard he’d be reprising the role of Robert McCall in his first sequel ever, I thought he must at least have a great script to compel him to do so, right?
Wrong. Screenwriter Richard Wenk, the “mind” behind the 2014 antecedent as well as the aforementioned Magnificent Seven, has effectively penned a two-plus hour episode of the TV series, complete with underdeveloped characters and excessively extraneous storylines, but with the addition of even more gratuitous violence. It should be noted that Wenk also wrote such classics as The Expendables 2, so maybe he’s just decided to specialize in bad action sequels. Or maybe his mortgage payment is due. Regardless, his narrative lacks any sense of focus or originality, and boasts the pacing of a snail on Xanax. But hey, Denzel’s a Lyft driver instead of a Home Depot clerk now! So timely.
As bad as the script most assuredly is, Fuqua’s lackluster direction is where Equalizer 2 really falls apart, Denzel or no. He seems to have abandoned all sense of spatial orientation, going so far as to place his third act set piece in a hurricane so he can violate the 180 degree rule with impunity. Even a claustrophobic panic room sequence looses its tension with Fuqua’s inexplicable set design (who puts a panic room behind a giant mirror anyway?), lending credence to the suspicion that he may similarly be phoning it in to pay off some debts with a quick check.
Still, for those who want nothing more than to watch Denzel kick some bad guy ass, well, this movie has that. Sometimes. The rest is a quagmire of hamfisted social commentary and relentless Lyft rides that do little to advance the plot and even less to develop character. If you really need a Denzel fix this week, go rewatch Fences and leave Fuqua to the mercy of his accountant. Maybe he’ll get the message and leave well enough alone.