The Equalizer 3’ review: Denzel Washington returns

Antoine Fuqua has yet to make a horror film, but with The Equalizer 3 concluding this deadly trilogy, he comes perilously near.

With their imaginative, horrific deaths at the hands of a tenacious killer who refuses to die, these action films match slashers.

However, in this case, the killer is the hero rather than the villain, and he slaughters to protect innocent people from exploitation and murder.

Instead of virgins and co-eds, Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall dispatches Russian mobsters, American mercenaries, and the Italian mafia with everything from a corkscrew to their own weaponry.

The question Robert poses in each Equalizer film — “What do you see when you look at me?” — attempts to spark a debate, yet this franchise is devoid of moral ambiguity.

The series portrays Robert as a decent man, and everyone else on screen is categorizes as either good or wicked, with no gray ground in between.

Other than betting on which everyday thing Robert would make into a deadly weapon next, such as a wine bottle or a meat cleaver, these films provide little to think about.

He simply does bad things to bad people, or, to be more specific, bad things to bad men. Robert never delivers justice to a single female character over the course of three films, six hours, and innumerable fatalities, which feels a little retrograde.

Women exist in this man’s world of bad and good men to be murder victims or damsels in distress with little agency, supposedly incapable of the type of bad behavior Robert battles against.

Complaining about gender representation in a film that appears to be mainly interested in horrific battle scenes seems like a waste of mental energy. But Fuqua has always failed in his attempts to make these films more than just an action franchise.

Even now, three films into a morally simple franchise, Fuqua refuses to slack off, bringing his gritty style and attention to visual minutiae to every scene.

Shots are intelligently crafted, and he provides a wonderful feeling of location, whether in the original film’s Boston (and its battle in a large box hardware store), the sequel’s finale set in a coastal Massachusetts hamlet, or an Italian village in The Equalizer 3.

Each setting is different, rather than existing as a faceless, featureless location that will soon become collateral damage in the struggle between Robert McCall and whatever has earned his righteous rage this time.

We should really be happy for action films done with this level of directing skill, as opposed to what can happen when a random filmmaker merely captures all the punches and gunfire in frame and calls it a day.

However, it appears to be a waste when that look is combined with a script that hints at greater meaning but then misses its mark.

Washington’s performance has continually elevated The Equalizer 3 and its predecessors closer to their high aspirations of being more than merely shoot-’em-ups, in tandem with Fuqua’s direction.

He clearly adores the part, considering it is the only time he has returned to it in his decades-long career.

Despite the heinous devastation, Washington commits as much energy to this character as he does to others that have lately earned him praise, such as Fences and The Tragedy of Macbeth.

He offers a nuanced performance, replete with beautiful tiny touches acquired across the three films, such as the times where you can see him emotionally and physically move from warning about the violence he’s about to inflict to taking action.

These films are never on his level, but Washington’s unflappable charisma makes them watchable, even when the gore tempts you to turn away or the ludicrous screenplays from Richard Wenk make you roll your eyes.

At the very least, the narrative for The Equalizer 3 — written by Richard Wenk and based on Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim’s ’80s TV series — is significantly superior to the previous film in the series, which didn’t even pretend to be intelligible.

In the opening part of this film, Washington’s Robert McCall goes after a notorious criminal in Sicily. (The film is quick to point out that Sicily is in Italy, demonstrating how little it thinks of its audience, who, for God’s sake, has watched The Godfather.)

However, Robert — who now goes by Roberto, grazie — is hurt in the process, and he is taken in by a doctor (Remo Girone) in nearby Altomonte. Robert recovers in the little community, befriending the locals and possibly finding serenity.

However, they are plagued by violence as the Camorra exploits its residents for money. Robert wishes for a simpler existence, but he can’t sit back and watch while gangsters attack his new neighbors.

The Equalizer 3 follows in the footsteps of The Equalizer and The Equalizer 2. (Aside from the absence of Robert’s love of reading this time around.

I suppose because he completed his reading list and there are no more books in the world?) The line between what counts as a callback and what is simply a lack of originality blurs.

It’s an improvement over the sloppy plot of the 2018 sequel, but this film swings too far the other way.

Apart from the blood splatters, everything here is a little too tidy and excruciatingly loaded with significance, much like Robert’s careful approach to his regular cup of tea.

A late disclosure made me groan, both for its obviousness and simple foolishness.


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