“The Equalizer 3” stars Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Eugenio Mastrandrea, David Denman, Sonia Ben Ammar, and Remo Girone. Released on September 1, 2023, the film has Robert McCall battling the mafia in Southern Italy.
The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also directed films such as “Training Day”, “Tears of the Sun”, “Olympus Has Fallen”, and “Infinite”. It is the third and final installment in the “Equalizer” film series, which is loosely based on the television series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. Being a vigilante is no easy task, not just because of breaking plenty of laws to bring justice. It’s also because you can’t take a relaxing vacation without someone ruining your fun. You know, since crime doesn’t sleep. So, the best way to get some peace and quiet is to fight for it, which is what Mr. Denzel Washington is setting out to do.
It’s hard to argue that Washington is a fantastic actor, mainly for his dramas. However, he’s also proving himself to be a compelling action star, with his recent example being the film adaptation of the 1980s thriller series, “The Equalizer”. The 2014 thriller was well-received and commercially successful, leading Washington to star in his first sequel in 2018, “The Equalizer 2”. Due to the success of that movie, despite its reviews being more mixed, it didn’t take us too long to reunite with Robert McCall for one last round of brutal violence and charismatic interactions. This time, he’s taking his vengeful nature to international territory, mainly Italy. Does it deliver a satisfying conclusion to the character’s bloody journey, or does it signify that he should’ve retired early? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Robert McCall (Washington), a former U.S. Marine turned vigilante who brings bad guys to justice through brutal measures. Following his recent mission in Sicily, which almost cost him his life, McCall escapes to Southern Italy to get the peace he deserves. Unfortunately, his quest for a tranquil life is interrupted when he discovers that the Camorra, led by Vincent Quaranta (Andrea Scarduzio), is taking over the country. When the mafia harms those who interfere with their power, including Robert’s new friends, the vigilante must unleash his vengeful rage once more to defend the place he calls home.
It has been a decade since I last watched “The Equalizer”, but I remember liking it during my first viewing. It had a few slow scenes that almost took me out of the movie, but Washington’s performance and Fuqua’s direction for the action scenes kept it from being a snooze fest. As for its follow-up, it’s an enjoyable yet by-the-numbers revenge thriller that favors style over substance. Don’t ask me about the recent “Equalizer” series with Queen Latifah because I still haven’t watched it. My experience with these installments got me somewhat excited about the latest chapter, which promises a fulfilling end to McCall’s violent journey…unless Hollywood continues to milk this cow like the other action franchises. So now that I finally got to watch it, does it live up to my similar expectations of the previous installments? Yes and no.
If you’re familiar with the previous two “Equalizer” movies, you’ll know what you expect from “Equalizer 3”. This is another thriller that’s more dialogue-driven than consistently action-packed as the marketing wants you to believe. While it offers the brutalities in between the serenity courtesy of Mr. Washington, the film is more about his character attempting to escape his violent past to live a peaceful life in Italy. But, of course, he would have to contend with the mafia threatening the people around him first. Since this is marketed as the final chapter of the “Equalizer” trilogy, this idea seemed like an excellent opportunity to finish McCall’s arc on an emotionally compelling note. This was due to the film’s first half, which involves Robert’s injury forcing him to retire. Not only did it make the badass character more vulnerable, but it also would’ve made him engaging based on his pursuit of justice affecting his life and the other people around him. The addition of the ruthless Camorra would’ve also helped provide the movie’s high stakes regarding McCall’s vigilante duty.
Unfortunately, despite how good the first half was, the rest of the movie fumbled its intriguing premise with another middling by-the-numbers thriller that’s more relaxing than a week-long stay at Cocoa Beach. That’s not to say it was boring, as the character interactions are as endearing as seeing the mafia members get their just desserts. However, regarding the execution and Richard Wenk’s screenplay, the movie didn’t do much with the narrative to earn that sense of fulfillment in its conclusion. From its underwhelming stakes to the antagonists, the film offers a fascinating story that’s sadly hidden underneath its mediocre genre formula that’s done better in other thrillers.
But, of course, like its previous installments, “The Equalizer 3” also delivers an equal amount of goods to match its equivalent amount of disappointments. One of them is the cast responsible for providing mildly entertaining interactions. Denzel Washington is again terrific as Robert McCall, which is unsurprising given his track record. He maintains a significant amount of charisma when interacting with the supporting characters but also continues to prove himself as a worthy action star when he’s brutally murdering heartless people. Now I need him to star in a thriller with Liam Neeson, and my life will be complete. The movie also marks the latest collaboration between Washington and Dakota Fanning, following Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire”. For fans of the 2004 action thriller, it’s a violent dream come true to see them share the screen again. As for Fanning’s performance, she did pretty well as Emma Collins, a CIA agent who shares a common enemy with Robert. Eugenio Mastrandrea and Remo Girone also delivered likable performances as Gio Bonucci and Enzo Arisio, respectively.
Another element that was handled well was Antoine Fuqua’s direction. Despite its flawed story, it’s easy to see that Fuqua mostly compensates with his gritty presentation. It’s not without its share of brutal violence, which is undeniably satisfying regarding his vision. However, it also has a sense of beauty in its grim and immersive environments, thanks to Robert Richardson’s cinematography. By the way, Fuqua and Richardson previously collaborated on last year’s “Emancipation”. The cinematography works wonderfully in capturing the gorgeous town in Italy and even the violent side of the country, which is enough to keep me engaged in the film’s less-than-thrilling sequences. I would also credit the movie for being 12 minutes shorter than “The Equalizer 2” to avoid overstaying its welcome. Despite the amount of flaws it had, I’m more than willing to accept this change.
Overall, “The Equalizer 3” offers the usual brand of equal justice that we usually expect, but it lacks a gut-punching impact big enough to conclude the action trilogy with a bang. The film had some interesting ideas that would’ve made McCall’s retirement a rewarding sendoff for the vigilante. Unfortunately, it wasted those opportunities on a low-stakes and formulaic plot that felt more like an uneventful vacation than an exciting one. Denzel Washington is as charismatic as ever as Robert McCall, and his screen time with his “Man on Fire” co-star, Dakota Fanning, should satisfy audiences who enjoyed that movie. It is also another well-directed and beautifully shot thriller by Antoine Fuqua, which is enough for me to forgive him for his straight-to-streaming disaster, “Infinite”. However, its middling screenplay, underwhelming thrills, and unfulfilling ending heavily affected its good intentions, making it the weakest film in the action thriller trilogy, in my opinion.
If there’s one other generous thing I can say about this movie and its previous installments, it’s that I’m glad that Washington took the chance of making his first trilogy in his career. Considering the amount of one-and-done films he accomplished, it was nice to see him do something different outside his comfort zone. It’s far from a perfect trilogy, but from a personal perspective, it’s an accomplishment Washington should be proud of regardless of the quality. Suppose you love the actor in his other movies, including the two “Equalizer” films, and prefer dialogue-driven thrillers with a small amount of adult-rated violence. In that case, you’ll likely enjoy this action threequel, probably more so than I did.