To watch Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2 is to understand one of the ways in which he is unique — he places his two Oscars on equal footing with his can of whoop-ass.
Washington, for the record, has two Academy Awards and eight nominations. Add all that up, and you get roughly half the number of horrible people his character kills or maims in The Equalizer 2, another in a long line of Washington's avenger dramas — Magnificent Seven, Book of Eli, Man on Fire.
>> READ MORE: 'The Equalizer': Hardware clerk, hardcore avenger
And of course the original Equalizer, wherein moviegoers met Robert McCall, the fearsome former wetworker now living a relatively quiet civilian life – reading Great Books, managing a hardware store, and ruthlessly murdering the Russian mobsters who pick on his friends.
In Equalizer 2 he's changed jobs. Now he's a Lyft driver, attentively and warmly listening to the stories of his customers, and taking a sincere personal interest in their lives. Like, for instance, the young female investment banking intern who leaves a party of Wall Street bros looking bruised and abused. McCall drops her at the hospital, returns to the debauched penthouse, and beats a roomful of arrogant swells nearly to death.
This score-settling continues – bad news for child kidnappers, street gangs – and ramps up when McCall learns that a good friend's been killed, and vows to bring the evildoers to justice.
"I'm going to kill all of you," he says, "And my only regret is that I only get to do it once."
He takes his sweet time. McCall is never in a hurry, and neither is director Antoine Fuqua, whose Equalizer movies (all 260 minutes of them) are as deliberate as the character himself. Sometimes too much so.
We think of the Equalizer films as action movies, but there's really not a ton of action. Often what we get – and like – is McCall as life coach. He helps hookers get off the street and interested in literature, helps people lose weight and get fit, and in this movie helps a wayward neighborhood lad (Ashton Sanders) turn away from crime to develop his talent as an artist. This comes with a lecture on personal responsibility. There aren't many actors who could get away with that kind of paternal scolding, but Washington is one of them.
He portrays McCall as a penitent, a fellow making up for past sins by helping the powerless, the abused (the movies could stand to be less invested in the grisly spectacle of this abuse). He's advocating in others the kind of personal reform he seeks in himself. You get the increasing sense there is something biblical in his mission (we learn his wife once ran a bakery called Our Daily Bread). That vibe grows more pronounced in The Equalizer 2, which culminates with McCall facing down a squad of bad guys in a beach town about to be hit by an Old Testament hurricane.
You feel especially bad for the villains, faced with the wrath of McCall and the wrath of God. Hard to say which is worse.
The Equalizer 2
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Denzel Washington, Melissa Leo, Ashton Sanders, Pedro Pascal, and Bill Pullman. Distributed by Columbia.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 mins.
Parents guide: R (violence, language)
Playing at: Area theaters