What critics have to say about the Boston-set ‘Equalizer 2’

Read excerpts from (good and mostly bad) reviews for Denzel Washington's vigilante film.

Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall in Columbia Pictures' EQUALIZER 2.
Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall in Columbia Pictures' "Equalizer 2." –Glen Wilson/Columbia Pictures

“The Equalizer 2” is Denzel Washington’s first sequel in his 40-plus years as a film and television actor. Just as in 2014’s “The Equalizer,” loosely based on a 1980s TV show of the same name, the Oscar winner plays Robert McCall, a retired covert government operative who is hiding out in Boston (this time as a Lyft driver) and enacting vigilante justice.

The action film was shot in 2017 in Boston, including in the downtown area and in the South End and Roxbury neighborhoods. Bostonians will have fun identifying all of the local landmarks, both obvious (the movie may have set the record for most establishing shots of the Zakim Bridge in one film) and more obscure (one scene takes place in Commonwealth Books, a quaint book shop located in an alleyway in the Financial District). But is it worth seeing in theaters?

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If you’re inclined to select movies based on their Rotten Tomatoes scores, the answer is probably not. At the time of this article’s publication, the film had a 40 percent freshness rating, firmly planting it in “rotten” territory.

That said, a single number can’t adequately capture the range of critical response, and many of the reviews coded as “fresh” or “rotten” by the critical aggregation site have a bit more nuance. To help you judge whether to rush to theaters starting Thursday afternoon, here’s what some of the top film critics are saying, both good and bad, about “The Equalizer 2.”

The Good

Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press praised Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) for directing thrilling action sequences and Washington for his usual charismatic performance.

“The Equalizer” is a guilty pleasure for anyone who enjoys that old-school, blue-collar American chivalric hero with a dark past.

 

In a review for The Seattle Times, Soren Anderson wrote that while the plot of the film “is negligible,” Washington is a strong enough actor to make nearly any movie worth watching, including this one.

There’s the old cliché that says, “so-and-so is such a great actor he could read the phone book (whatever that is; as I said, it’s an old cliché) and make it interesting.” That’s pretty much what Washington pulls off in “EQ2.”


The So-So

While Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News referenced a scene in the film in which Washington threatens to break someone’s fingers if they don’t give him a five-star rating on Lyft, the critic himself only gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four. 

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day” and “The Equalizer,” each with Washington), the film boasts style and punch, even if the last act goes slack. Washington’s strong star turn helps compensate for a scruffy script.


The Ugly

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Peter Debruge of Variety wondered if Fuqua knew what kind of movie he was filming. 

Judging by the ponderous tone and pace, Fuqua thinks he’s making high art (likely aspiring to something existential like Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï”), but this is a grisly exploitation movie at best.

 

For Rogerebert.com, Peter Sobczynski called the film’s plot “a drag.”

The screenplay by Richard Wenk is a joke, a lame collection of bland characters, nonsensical plotting and revenge-movie clichés that occasionally interrupt the carnage for the uninspired subplot involving McCall and the kid that appears to have been shoehorned into the proceedings in order to convince Washington that he was making something that wasn’t just another “Death Wish” clone.

 

In The Boston Globe, Tom Russo wrote that while he enjoyed the 2014 film and Washington’s performance in the sequel, he found “The Equalizer 2” disappointing.

We had our doubts when Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua felt compelled to dust off Edward Woodward’s ’80s prime-time relic, “The Equalizer,” for a feature update four years ago. To our surprise, the duo delivered a gritty, relevant genre yarn that bristled with vigilante danger that the product-of-its-time TV show could never muster. … Apparently, we should have reserved our skepticism for “The Equalizer 2.” Save for a couple of crisp standalone segments incorporated as tone-setters, Washington’s first-ever sequel is a narratively and visually muddled disappointment, one that regularly confuses numbing brutality with vicariously thrilling righteous vengeance.

 

A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club said that Washington’s talents were wasted on a film as bad as “The Equalizer 2.”

By the end of The Equalizer 2, it’s clear that hiring Denzel to play [McCall] is a lot like paying Frank Gehry to design your doghouse: He’ll get the job done, and probably do it really well, but surely his talents could be much better applied to almost any other task?

 

The headline of David Ehrlich’s Indiewire review? “Denzel Washington’s First Sequel is Hopefully Also His Last”

Why not “John Q 2″? It’s not as if we ever figured out that whole “healthcare” thing. Why not “The Manchurian Candidate 2″? It’s more relevant than ever! Why not “The Taking of Pelham 456,” or “The Greater Debaters”? “3 Guns”? “He Still Got Game”? “Déjà Vu All Over Again”!? Literally anything else.

 

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