Denzel Washington's Equalizer 2 underwhelms

Denzel Washington takes aim at the criminal fraternity in the action-packed sequel The Equalizer 2

Denzel Washington returns as Robert McCall in The Equalizer 2
Damon Smith

THE EQUALIZER 2 (15, 121 mins) Action/Thriller/Drama.

Starring: Denzel Washington, Ashton Sanders, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, Pedro Pascal, Orson Bean, Jonathan Scarfe, Rhys Olivia Cote.

Director: Antoine Fuqua.

Rating: 6/10

CRIME and punishment trade furious blows and bludgeon us into wearying submission in The Equalizer 2, a blood-spattered sequel to the 2014 action thriller, which reunited director Antoine Fuqua with Training Day leading man Denzel Washington.

Both return to active duty alongside scriptwriter Richard Wenk for a revenge mission, which doles out rough justice on home soil in breathlessly staged and gratuitously violent fight sequences.

This Robert McCall bears scant resemblance to the avuncular figure embodied by Edward Woodward in the popular 1980s TV series.

A wince-inducing prologue, set inside a speeding Turkish Railway dining carriage, details McCall's single-handed rescue of a bookshop owner's daughter (Rhys Olivia Cote) from the girl's thuggish father.

The set-piece serves no wider narrative purpose, merely underlining the central character's predilection for snapping limbs and face-planting knife-wielding henchmen as a means to a noble end.

Fuqua could cut away from the brutality but he relishes it in close-up, justifying each adrenaline-fuelled bout of fisticuffs by suggesting that everyone is stained by sin.

"There are no good and bad people anymore," opines one of McCall's CIA buddies, who has compromised integrity in the name of national security. "No enemies, just unfortunates."

Ultimately, we're the unfortunates because The Equalizer 2 squanders its Oscar-winning star and builds to a final showdown battered by hurricane-force winds that is overblown in every sense.

McCall (Washington) patrols the streets of Boston as an on-demand taxi driver, forcibly rebuking one group of cocaine-snorting city gents, who casually deposit a trembling, bruised woman in the back of his car.

Occasionally he engages with passengers like Holocaust survivor Sam Rubinstein (Orson Bean), who hopes to be reunited with a cherished family heirloom.

McCall also acts as mentor to a gifted artist called Miles (Ashton Sanders), who needs to distance himself from a circle of friends comprising drug dealers and gun-toting gang members.

In the midst of playing good Samaritan, McCall receives devastating news about one of the few people to know his location: former CIA associate Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo).

She is investigating the murders of a Belgian couple and a tangled web of intrigue propels McCall back into the orbit of his ex-partner Dave York (Pedro Pascal).

Bullets fly, friendships implode and McCall shields Susan's husband Brian (Bill Pullman) from a merciless hired assassin (Jonathan Scarfe).

The Equalizer 2 feels considerably longer than two hours, padding out a linear central plot with Miles's journey of self-discovery and an uplifting resolution to Sam's quest.

Washington's face registers barely a single emotion as he cuts a swathe through the criminal underworld with his fists, or by gouging out an eye.

He elevates the pulpy material and makes McCall's second righteous rampage a tolerable but unedifying experience.

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