Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Whenever someone is a big fan of an actor that they find endlessly charismatic, they will often tell you that they would “watch that actor read the phone book.”  For me, Denzel Washington is one of those guys, and for the first thirty minutes or so of The Equalizer 2, we get something similar to the phone book concept: Denzel as Lyft driver.

There is something so compelling about watching the legendary actor drive random people from place to place, whether he interacts with them or not.  Sometimes he is reassuring a soon-to-be-deployed soldier by telling him simply that he will be there to pick him up when he gets back, while other times he simply listens and observes while a recovering alcoholic struggles with his decision to go to a bar.  And anyone who has seen the first Equalizer will know immediately that when a woman who has clearly been abused is shoved into the back seat of his car, that it is not going to be a very pleasant night for the guys who put her there.

As interesting of an experiment as this might be, however, the movie’s plot does eventually have to kick in.  Unfortunately, the actual plot of the movie is paper thin, which is probably why they felt they needed to fill the first thirty minutes with the random Lyft encounters.

The Equalizer 2 is a simple revenge story.  Denzel’s Robert McCall is a former CIA black ops operative living a quiet retirement in Boston.  One of the few associates from his deadly past is Susan Plummer, still a high ranking figure in the agency.  After investigating the death of one of her undercover agents in Brussels, Susan is beaten to death in a presumed botched robbery.  But Robert knows that there is more than meets the eye.  As he begins to piece together the pieces of Susan’s death, he becomes a target himself, as well as the few people he has chosen to become close to.  But the ones in the most danger are the ones responsible for his friend’s death, because Robert McCall does not pull any punches when it comes to getting his revenge.

The movie really struggles in its middle act.  Between the oddly compelling opening Lyft commercial and the final island confrontation between McCall and the villains, the movie meanders and never really establishes any kind of momentum.  It is not edited together very well and there is at least one sequence that felt like it started with Denzel in his Boston apartment, then cut to him in Washington D.C., then back to his apartment before returning to D.C. again.  The film’s villains are also lackluster and their motivations never really that clear, aside from the fact that they need to kill every domino that began falling after their first kill.  They mention that they are hired killers simply given a note with someone’s name on it, but the movie never really explores who might be handing out those kill orders.

What stands out most about The Equalizer 2 is the brutal violence.  When Denzel kills someone in this movie, he doesn’t simply shoot them in the head or drive a knife into their chest, he obliterates them.  On the one hand, it is fascinating to watch Denzel go from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye, but on the other hand, at a certain point it just becomes gratuitous.

The best parts of The Equalizer 2 are not the violent outbursts, but rather the more peaceful interactions Robert McCall has with characters like the neighbor kid whom he hopes to steer away from dealing drugs and towards art school.  Unfortunately, these are subplots that are overpowered by the revenge plot that doesn’t quite have the same emotional pull despite the fact that he is avenging a loved one.  This was Denzel Washington’s first ever sequel, but if he chooses to do another one, I for one am hoping for The Equalizer 3: Lyft Me Up.

The Equalizer 2 opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.
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