For the first time in his career, Denzel Washington adds a sequel to his filmography. The actor has, for whatever reason, refrained from doing so in the past, though some of his movies certainly warranted one. That sequel is The Equalizer 2, the follow-up to the 2014 film based on the classic TV show of the same name.
In both movies, Washington plays Robert McCall, a former government operative with a knack for clearing rooms of threats quickly and a soft spot for those down on their luck or facing abuse of some kind. When he finds out Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), a former colleague who he’s kept in touch with, has been attacked by highly-skilled agents he sets out on a vendetta to find out who they are and make sure justice is served.
Denzel’s face glares out at the audience from a Roman numeral II, showing both the intensity of the character and reinforcing that this is the second film in the series. “There is no equal” is the tagline used, which is something that could be applied to both the character and the actor himself.
McCall is on a train in Turkey as the trailer opens, engaging in some verbal taunting of the tough guys who have kidnapped a little girl, tough guys he dispatches with relative ease. Things get personal when he returns home and one of his oldest – and only – friends is attacked despite her being far off the radar. That makes his next mission one of not just justice but revenge as he realizes the attack could only have been the work of someone inside the agency they both work for. After all that it’s just a series of action sequences showing how deadly McCall is.
Washington is so good he embues, even in the trailer, a role like this with more gravitas and emotion than most other actors who have either discovered action films late in their career or who have stayed in the genre well past when they should have left it. The story isn’t exactly original – a variation on the “This time it’s personal” theme – but Fuqua and Washington are good enough to elevate the material.
The second trailer gets to that same story, but only after doing a little more setup work showing McCall passes the time as a Lyft driver who also helps avenge those he comes across who have been wronged. That inclusion makes the story of him seeking out justice for his friend even stronger.
Just a couple days before the movie hit theaters, Sony released a short “Music Trailer” featuring largely the same scenes and material but with the song “In the Name of Love” from Jacob Banks turned up a bit more prominently in the mix.
Online and Social
Most of what’s included in the top content menu is the standard “Synopsis,” “Trailer,” and “Gallery” material. In addition to that are sections with the “NBA Audition Videos” that were used as TV spots (more on those below) and the “Twitch: Solo Squad Showdown,” which appears to have been a movie-sponsored tournament on the streaming channel.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising kicked off with a spot that aired during the NBA Finals featuring Washington talking about how he doesn’t do sequels and that instead the studio should audition NBA stars to take on his role. That specific campaign continued with a whole series of commercials featuring different NBA players like Dwight Howard, Lonzo Ball, Paul George and others, including one with various players offering their own catchphrase suggestions.
Some of the videos were used as social ads while the key art was used for online banners and other units, all leading to the website for people to buy tickets.
Media and Publicity
Things kicked off on the press front when Washington showed up on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie, basketball, the Oscars and lots more.
Washington, Leo and others from the cast also participated in Twitter Q&As, Reddit AMAs and other online fan interactions. There were also a few other interviews and appearances, some including Fuqua, but that’s about it.
It really seems as though Sony is relying heavily on the paid campaign to generate awareness of the movie as opposed to engaging in a significant earned media push. In particular, the studio seems to believe the core audience is sports fans of some kind or another, either NBA aficionados or those more interested in e-sports. It’s almost like the decision was made to sell this as a testosterone-fueled revenge flick that offers a stark contrast to the more nerd-centric super hero movies.
Washington seems to be having some measure of fun, at least as much as I’ve seen him have in some recent campaign, relaxing a bit by returning to a character and even poking some fun at his unwillingness to do so previously. That’s good and he’s allowed to loosen up a bit from time to time. Whether that charm is enough to convince people to turn out to theaters for a story that’s more personal than many other action franchises remains to be seen.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.