There’s a moment during The Equalizer 2 in which Denzel Washington, as homicidal yet caring former Army man Robert McCall, is meticulously scrubbing graffiti off the inner wall of his apartment courtyard. His adolescent neighbor, Miles (Ashton Sanders), walks by, casually inquiring why a tenant like McCall would go to all the trouble of scrubbing off graffiti rather than just let the landlord handle it. McCall gives him some speech about how sure, he could wait for the landlord to handle it and walk by it like everybody else, but he’d rather just do it because he can, and everything would be better if everyone just pitched in to do the things that should be done when they know they could do them.
It’s a speech that’s clearly meant to express a lot about McCall as a character, and what motivates him in his life as a vigilante. He’s a guy who’s very passionate about “cleaning up the community,” so to speak (subtle metaphor alert). However, all I could pay attention to the entire scene was the fact that the only legible section of the graffiti he was cleaning up read “GANG.”
That’s right, a gang member apparently broke into this random apartment complex, and, as gang members are wont, spray painted the word “GANG” on the wall. For me, this scene was a microcosm of the entire Equalizer 2 experience. Which is to say, acceptably silly for a bit and then one step too far for no good reason.
Whenever I write something critical of a movie like this, someone always jumps in to ask, “Yeah, well what did you expect?”
In this case, the answer is that I expected a sort of dumb action movie about Denzel Washington killing lots of people. I expected to suspend certain kinds of disbelief, like, say, deferring my preconceived notions about the prevalence of innocent young girls getting kidnapped in the vicinity of Denzel Washington. Or setting aside my previously-held ideas about the ability of a 63-year-old man to disarm and murder multiple gun-wielding assailants (and to be sure, Denzel does not look like a 63-year-old). What I didn’t expect was to have to pretend to believe that gang members are running around town trashing apartment complex gardens and spray painting “GANG” on things. That feels like a bridge too far. In fact it kinds of reminds me of the Mississippi man who claimed some vandals spray-painted “BLACKS RULE” on his driveway. Only in this case, there was no hint that it was an attempt at a false flag.
Throughout, director Antoine Fuqua, who’s probably most famous for directing Training Day, possibly my favorite LA cop movie, has a flair for gritty, realistic violence, that, when paired with this TV-movie script about a kindly neighborhood man who goes around killing cartoon bad guys, just seems kind of tacky. We’re treated to closeups of gouged out eyes and disemboweled guts, and — my favorite — the blood and brain matter spraying onto framed family photos. This is interspersed with McCall delivering long exhortations about hard work and bootstrapping to young Miles, who might as well have “IMPRESSIONABLE YOUTH” tattooed across his forehead, GANG-style.