Featuring another sterling performance by Denzel Washington as the titular vigilante anti-hero, Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer 2 is a passable action thriller, but not compelling enough to be memorable or as poignant as it clearly aspires to be. Nevertheless, the sequel debuts on Blu-ray with a stunning, reference-quality audio and video presentation that immediately jumps to the top of the "best of the year" list. With a small set of supplements, the overall package is Recommended. (We have also reviewed the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.)
In spite of all its flaws and shortcomings, The Equalizer 2 somehow manages to keep audiences engaged just enough to see it through to the end, much like the film's titular character. In fact, our interest in this direct follow-up to 2014's sleeper hit is largely due to the retired military spy Robert McCall, a quiet and reserved man whose brooding restraint generates an aura of mystery that curiously masks a damaged and deeply scarred soul. And Denzel Washington's sterling performance only adds to the character's mystique, further piquing our curiosity and marvelously adding a level of grounded complexity during the few times McCall momentarily lets his guard down and reveals a wounded man. With simple facial expressions, which rapidly switch from warm smiles to somber grimness in an instant, Washington effortlessly gains our sympathies, slowly exposing more of himself, humanizing this veteran who believes he should be punished a hundred times over for his past actions.
And herein lies both the film's strength and weakness as we follow McCall now living in Massachusetts, working as a Lyft driver while also assisting those in need — the vigilante angle promised at the end of the first installment. The first quarter of Richard Wenk's script is dedicated to our anti-hero being witness to the unfortunate stories of his passengers, along with the occasional inspiring anecdote. And it's these moments of McCall employing the same skills he once used to harm people now dedicated to protecting the vulnerable which fans were expecting to see more of. Whether he's inflicting violent retribution upon a private party of "brahs" or lending an ear to Holocaust survivor Sam Rubinstein (Orson Bean), the film starts on a fascinating and engaging note that teases us with the possibility of a murder mystery plot and an effort to bring justice for the victim's family. It would be a story where we see McCall hone his skills into detective work, on the road towards private eye ventures.
Ironically, that's precisely what we're given in The Equalizer 2, and for the most part, Antoine Fuqua does great in displaying McCall's highly-proficient talents in espionage. Only, his gifts are utilized for an unsolved crime that's personal and hits close to home, which on its own right wouldn't be a complaint. But the previous movie and the entire first act promised, or at least, established a tone, that's different than what we're actually given, instantaneously switching gears when his dearest friends Susan and Brian (Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman) are suddenly entangled in what turns out to be the true central plot. Frankly, the abrupt change and redirection is clumsily executed, and the actual catalyst setting things in motion takes too long in being introduced. The filmmakers' intent is pretty clear, forcing McCall to cope with his wife's death and face the ghosts of his past, like former teammate Dave York (Pedro Pascal), ultimately working towards having these two worlds clash in the end.
Again, on its own, this makes for a strong sequel with a satisfyingly thrilling conclusion, but The Equalizer 2 fails at creating compelling villains capable of battling a sluggish and rather unremarkable middle second act — the sort who are just as complex and skilled as our hero. Instead, the filmmakers ham-fistedly attach a kindly neighborhood protector and community leader slant to the story, which was already plainly established in its predecessor and now feels rather redundant. Nevertheless, Fuqua and his team expand on this when having McCall cross paths with at-risk teen Miles (Ashton Sanders), providing him with an underlying opportunity for redemption, which arguably feels both unnecessary and needless. Remove this labored subplot from the equation, and the action thriller would feel less distracted with better pacing. As is, The Equalizer 2 is a decent companion piece with a well-intended plot, but it also leaves audiences feeling somewhat empty and unimpressed.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings The Equalizer 2 to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for a Digital Copy. The first is a Region Free, BD50 disc sitting comfortably on the panel opposite a DVD-9 copy and housed inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase. At startup, the disc commences with a series of skippable trailers before switching to an animated menu with music playing in the background and full-motion clips.
The vigilante thriller debuts on Blu-ray with a stunningly gorgeous, reference-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that should easily rank as one of the best-looking BDs of the year. Every stitch, thread and crease in the clothing is razor-sharp while individual hairs, out of place thread and fuzzballs in sweaters are distinct and separate from one another. The tiniest crack, imperfection and pock mark in the streets and sides of buildings are plain to see, making Robert's perfectly organized apartment feel all the more foreign and orderly while also revealing every nook and cranny. The remarkably lifelike facial complexions expose the most negligible blemish, pore and wrinkle.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted transfer also arrives with precise, pitch-perfect contrast and crisp, brilliant whites. The picture is continuously vivid and surprisingly upbeat, considering the plot's darker, nastier aspects, allowing for some spectacular visibility into the far distance and making the gorily violent action all the gorier and shocking. Oliver Wood's cinematography isn't particularly colorful, but the overall palette displays a sumptuously rich array of primaries with reds and blues dramatically standing out. Secondary hues are equally full-bodied and accurately rendered, delivering healthy flesh tones in the entire cast.
Overall, what makes this presentation one of the absolute best of the year are the brightness levels, providing the image with a remarkable cinematic quality and a beautiful three-dimensional picture from beginning to end. Blacks are positively opulent and inky rich, giving various articles of clothing a realistic silkiness, the many vehicles a shiny, sleek polish and the shadows a penetrating velvetiness. The darkest moments and corners maintain excellent visibility of the background information without losing any of its luster or pitch-black gloss. Frankly, the movie comes with one demo-worthy moment after another and should be added to anyone's library of HD testing material. (Video Rating: 98/100)
Continuing its winning streak, the sequel comes home with an astonishing, reference-quality DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that should also rank as one of the absolute best of the year. And right from the start, while riding on the train to Istanbul, the entire system comes alive with the rattling of the cars, the swooshing of air as trees pass by and the reverberation of the wheels as they clank against the tracks. Later, back at home in Massachusetts, whether it's the chirping of birds in the distance, the rustling of leaves or the bustling commotion of city traffic, the design is terrifically layered with a variety of subtle atmospherics that awesomely create a true-to-life soundscape. Things only continue to impress when the action erupts on screen, crowding the room with the chaos of cars racing through the city streets or the howling winds of an approaching hurricane. It's a fantastic, immersive experience that continuously surrounds the listener and spectacularly maintains a 360° soundfield to the very end.
And as if that were not enough, the DTS-HD track delivers a phenomenal soundstage where much of that same aforementioned activity is better spread out, creating a highly-engaging wall of sound that is consistent. With outstanding directionality and placement, imaging endlessly feels spacious and expansive, as a variety of noises move between the three front channels fluidly with an incredible sense of realism and fidelity. An extensive mid-range displays remarkable clarity and distinction with sharply-defined, room-penetrating highs and extraordinarily detailed mids during the loudest, ear-piercing moments — again, the climactic hurricane finale comes to mind. Topping it all off is a sensationally powerful and robust low-end, providing the action with a room-energizing weight and a serious palpable presence that occasionally digs well below 20Hz and even hitting 13Hz with subwoofer-damaging decibels (bass chart). Amid all the mayhem and carnage, dialogue and character interactions remain precise and intelligible, making this lossless mix one of the very best of the year. (Audio Rating: 100/100)
In spite of all its flaws and shortcomings, The Equalizer 2 somehow manages to keep audiences engaged just enough to see it through to the end, but the plot is not compelling enough to make this sequel memorable. Although it features a sterling performance from Denzel Washington as the titular vigilante anti-hero, director Antoine Fuqua packs more than he can chew in a script that ironically aspires for something more poignant and thoughtful. The action thriller debuts on Blu-ray with a stunning audio and video presentation that is pure reference quality, delivering one demo-worthy moment after another and making it a top contender for the best Blu-ray of the year. With a nice but ultimately small set of supplements, the overall package is recommended for action fans and the curious.