Like the Dark Knight without the gadgetry or Deadpool without the snark, The Equalizer is an avenging angel, delivering justice from the end of a steel-capped boot for those who have a problem and nowhere else to turn.
The character, former black ops operative-turned-vigilante Robert McCall, was made famous by the late British actor Edward Woodward, who played him on 1980s TV as a cross between Jack Reacher and a mildly irritated actuary.
Denzel Washington took over the part in filmmaker Antoine Fuqua’s big screen version in 2014 and reprises the role in The Equalizer 2, out in the United States on Friday.
Incredibly, this will be the first sequel ever undertaken by Washington or Fuqua, who have made a combined 60 movies — four together — over four decades.
“When I did ‘one’ I didn’t think about ‘two’ because I think you would fall into a dark hole. You never know you’re going to get a chance again and you’ve got to leave it all on the field,” Fuqua told AFP.
“I just gave it all I had on the first one, and that’s that movie. When it came up about ‘two’ I said, ‘Let me read it to see — if you didn’t know anything about (number) one, and this was a movie on its own, would it hold up?’ And it did.”
The Equalizer 2 sees McCall — an outwardly ordinary man with devastating combat skills — coming to terms with grief, reading Marcel Proust and working as a Lyft driver, while beating up baddies by night.
His past catches up with him and he ends up in a deadly game of cat and mouse, pitted against an adversary he was least expecting.
For Fuqua, part of the franchise’s appeal lies in its repurposing of the ancient mythology of the “dark angel” meting out brutal justice for the downtrodden in a world that usually denies them the privilege.
In the violent conflict between McCall and his enemies, the movie articulates its resonant central dilemma: how can people be held to account for their transgressions when the very concept of morality is under threat?
“Our moral compass says you should pay for what you do in life, and that’s what separates us from animals,” Fuqua said.
“The people who have lost their way feel like it’s just shit people do to one another and that it doesn’t really matter or have any consequences. That’s not a good thing and that’s a bad place to be, because then you have no moral compass and your humanity has been lost.”
The film’s supporting cast includes Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo and Ashton Sanders, the 22-year-old rising star who won acclaim for his performance as the teenage Chiron in 2017’s best picture Oscar winner Moonlight.
Sanders plays Miles, a young man who lives in McCall’s building in Boston and looks up to him as a mentor.
Lacking a positive role model, Miles looks like he might be getting into the kind of trouble that could soon put his life in danger, or even end it, when McCall steps in.
The student-mentor relationship came naturally, says Sanders, since he and Washington, 63, clicked immediately.
On the shoot, Washington would offer his protege the benefit of his nearly 40 years of showbiz experience.
“I remember being on set that first week, and just being super-nervous, psyching myself out when I didn’t need to,” Sanders told AFP.
“We were in between takes, and Denzel comes out to me, sees me across the room and he’s like, ‘Hey I noticed you over here — what’s going on?'”
Sanders says he explained his problem and Washington simply reminded him he’d been picked based on his audition, that he had already shown he was good enough.
“That was the first week and I wasn’t trusting myself over something that had nothing to do with acting,” Sanders said, flashing a grin at the thought of the confidence boost Washington gave him.
“It just intervened, like got in the way of what I was trying to create. That’s something that I still carry with me to this day.”