Movie review: 'The Equalizer 2'

Brad Keefe

If “The Equalizer” was a bizarre choice for Denzel Washington in 2014, its sequel actually cements that, surprise, this could be a decent franchise.

A perennial Oscar-caliber star doing this sort of over-the-top action (with some surprising emotional cues) advances the film beyond the cheese-fest it would be in lesser hands. Not to say it's free of cheese, but that's what summer movies are for, right?

Based on the '80s TV drama, “The Equalizer 2” brings back Washington's Robert McCall, a former CIA agent who now utilizes these skills enforcing smaller acts of vigilante justice. He doesn't work for the government now. He works for common people.

In an opening sequence, McCall is on a train in Turkey, engaged in a mission to rescue a young woman taken by her father.

After dispatching of the father's henchmen in spectacularly violent fashion — bringing back the limb-breaking style of old Steven Seagal flicks — McCall tells the father, “There's two kinds of pain: pain that hurts and pain that alters. Today you get to choose.”

There's an overarching theme of McCall as a kind soul. He moonlights in Boston as a Lyft driver, and we see his gentle interactions. Then we see his not-so-gentle side.

Two key arcs involve McCall's mentorship of a young artist named Miles (Ashton Sanders), who is slipping into the gang life that besieges his neighborhood, and an international plot that affects an old and dear friend.

Washington again reteams with “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua, who manages to make a convoluted plot palatable.

There's actual heart in McCall's interactions, which gives an odd morality to all the violent acts he commits. And it's a lot. This one is rated R for a reason.

And we know that Denzel can deliver that acting range. The physical action is just as impressive. There's a lot going on in this performance, and the whole movie would come undone without it. This could easily be '80s Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme territory.

If the plot feels a bit too much like a low-rent “Bourne Identity,” we're here for the action. In that regard, it delivers on levels of other “one-man army” franchises such as “John Wick” and “Taken.”

Fuqua's assured direction keeps both the action and the plot moving fast enough to not overthink things. It's a well-executed popcorn flick with some feeling, and better than the first. I wouldn't even mind a third.

“Equalizer 2”

Opens Thursday

3 stars out of 5