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 Ultra HD with a beautiful 4K HDR10 presentation, a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack and a small set of supplements. Overall, the package is Recommended. (We have also reviewed the Blu-ray HERE.)
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 Ultra HD Blu-ray
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings The Equalizer 2 to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital Copy, which can be redeemed via sonypictures.com and MoviesAnywhere. When redeeming said code, users have access to the 4K Dolby Vision version with Dolby Atmos audio. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, and both are housed inside a black, eco-elite vortex case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive main menu that changes screens when switching between the usual options while music plays in the background.
The vigilante hero battles the ghosts of his past on Ultra HD with a beautiful and highly satisfying HEVC H.265 encode, offering an appreciable step-up over the Blu-ray version though it's not quite a night and day difference. Shot on the Arri Alexa camera system, capable of up to 3K resolution but likely mastered to a 2K digital intermediate, the 2160p picture shows a welcomed uptick, however small, revealing the stitching, threading and small creases in clothing. The tiniest crack, imperfection and pock mark in the streets and sides of buildings are plain to see while exposing every nook and cranny during the many interior shots, and facial complexions come with lifelike textures, especially during close-ups. Nevertheless, the sharpest edges along bridges, tops of buildings, brick walls and the chrome trim of cars are not the most stable and lightly dither on several occasions, and there are also several moments of mild softness in a few sequences.
Like its 1080p peer, the best aspect of this freshly-minted 4K transfer is the brightness levels, providing the image with a remarkable cinematic quality and a beautiful three-dimensional 2.40:1 picture. Blacks enjoy a substantial boost, looking inkier and richer throughout while maintaining excellent visibility in the darkest shadows without losing its luster or pitch-black gloss. However, there are minor instances where they come off strong enough to almost crush the finer details in various articles of clothing. But this is easily overlooked in favor of the improved contrast, making much of the action pop and providing a few lovely photorealistic moments that standout. From the radiance of light fixtures to the fluffy clouds in the sky, whites are a bit more intense and luminous, but specular highlights don't seem to show a significantly dramatic difference. But that's not to say the chrome trim of cars, other metallic edges and explosions don't come with a brighter, sparkling glow.
As mentioned in my Blu-ray review, Oliver Wood's cinematography isn't particularly colorful, but this HDR10 presentation nonetheless enhances the palette with a vivid and varied assortment of colors. The reds of police sirens shine with a rosy flare, the lights of signs bathe a scene with a crimson glow, and blood is a dark ruby scarlet. Meanwhile, blues and greens, depending on the scene and location, appear more full-bodied and animated. Likewise, secondary hues are also a tad wider with a more true-to-life brilliance, showering the action with either deep earthy yellows and browns, like the climactic battle in the middle of a hurricane, or striking fiery oranges in the massive explosions. Perhaps the best moment demonstrating all this is when Robert and Susan walk down the street after dinner and the neon signs bathe their conversation with brilliant purples, soft blues and magentas. (Video Rating: 82/100)
Continuing its winning streak, the sequel comes home with a magnificent, reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack that provides several welcomed enhancements over its DTS-HD counterpart.
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. Many of these elements travel into the height channels with an effective sense of space that immediately immerses the listener. Even in quieter, character-driven moments back home in Massachusetts, the entire room is continuously filled with the chirping of birds flying overhead, the rustling of leaves moving high above and the bustling commotion of city traffic echoing all around. The design is terrifically layered with a variety of subtle atmospherics that awesomely create a true-to-life envelopment. 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 encircles the listener and spectacularly maintains a hemispheric soundfield from beginning to end.
And as if that were not enough, the object-based track delivers a phenomenal soundstage where much of that same aforementioned activity spreads across the entire screen, creating a highly-engaging half-dome wall of sound. With outstanding directionality and placement, imaging endlessly feels spacious and expansive, as a variety of noises fluidly pan between the three channels and into the front heights 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. 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: 96/100)
All the special features are contained on the accompanying Blu-ray disc.
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 Ultra HD with a beautiful 4K HDR10 presentation that only offers a minor step-up over the reference-quality Blu-ray, but the Dolby Atmos soundtrack delivers one demo-worthy moment after another. With a nice but ultimately small set of supplements, the overall package is recommended for action fans and UHD collectors.