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Denzel Washington, his stopwatch, and his clever use of common items to clear a room are all back in The Equalizer 2.

Robert McCall has become a Lyft driver in Boston, which puts him in the perfect position to help people in need. When tragedy strikes an old friend from his life as a government agent, his quest for justice and redemption gets personal.

Richard Wenk returns as the screenwriter for this sequel to 2014’s The Equalizer. This script has many of the same elements that made the first film so engaging, including tight clever fight scenes in a room full of bad guys, and multiple plots that follow people who need help. But this time we learn a lot more about Robert McCall, where he came from and what made him into the inventive ninja assassin he is.

Due to the multiple plots, and how long the A-plot takes to heat up, the second act seriously lags. And while the final action scene is fine, it lacks the clever devices and the menace of the original movie.

Then again, what we get here is a greatly expanded character study on McCall, and some great scenes with the people he helps throughout the film. I enjoyed the smaller stories much more this time. One scene with a young man McCall is mentoring is especially powerful. And another scene during the denouement brought tears to my eyes. This film has more going for it than a body count.

The main plot is unfortunately predictable, and the bad guys are not interesting or developed at all. I will give credit for not simply remaking the first film though.

Antoine Fuqua returns to the director’s chair for The Equalizer 2. He’s one of the best action directors working in Hollywood today. Even in transition scenes, he’s approaching shots with the creative eye of an artist. But he also knows how to bring some gritty bone-crunching violence to the screen while keeping his storytelling solid. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of his work, and he’s doing his typical bang-up job here.

If you’re making a film, you really are blessed to have Denzel Washington in the lead. We’ve been treated to a lot of greying Hollywood action heroes since Taken, but you get something special with Denzel. He has so much range. One scene he’s charming, the next he’s menacing, and another he’s deeply compassionate.

When he finally identifies who the real bad guys are there’s a scene where he literally goes from friendly to threatening and back again multiple times, in a way that’s simply brilliant and would never be convincing with a lesser actor.

The rest of the cast does a fine job, but wow, Ashton Sanders stands out here. I was wondering where this talented young actor came from and he was in Moonlight, which I haven’t seen. Holy cats, this guy can act. He really moved me with a handful of scenes.

I just answered a question on here about favorite new actors, and Ashton Sanders could have easily been my choice. He’s memorable and going places quickly.

On the other end of the spectrum is veteran actor Orson Bean, who takes a small role here, and acts his heart out.

If you liked The Equalizer, you’ll probably enjoy this film too. If you haven’t seen the first film that’s okay, you can still see this film all on its own.

Like the first movie, the action scenes are tight and crafty. There are some well-timed laughs, and you might even shed a tear.

If you follow MMA, keep an eye out for the heavies in this film.

While overall The Equalizer 2 is not as thrilling as the first movie, there’s so much more this time out. I think the B, C, D, and E plots are legitimately more interesting and powerful than the main plot. And the message of reaching out to your fellow travelers and helping them out is joyous and poignant in this film.

I hope we get to see more of Robert McCall soon.

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