The Equalizer 3 delivers cathartic action and a second-to-none movie star performance courtesy of Denzel Washington.
Director Antoine Fuqua, screenwriter Richard Wenk, producer Todd Black, and star Denzel Washington can now say they have produced a rarity, a consistently satisfying action franchise. No duds. Even the best of them (Lethal Weapon, Aliens, Kingsman, Rambo, Taken) slip with their sequels. Not Equalizer. Each chapter made a promise. Each chapter kept that promise.
Based on a television show I’ve never seen, the four men named above launched The Equalizer in 2014. Two-time Oscar winner and the world’s greatest movie star (now that Sir Michael Caine has retired), Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a Boston widower who works at a home improvement store and whose grief burdens him with insomnia.
The middle-aged McCall also has a past. The retired Marine and intelligence officer can take out a room of Russian mafia using whatever’s handy. He’s fast, strong, lethal, and most importantly, his sense of justice allows him to live with it. By the end of The Equalizer, McCall has regained a purpose by becoming The Equalizer, an extraordinary man ready to help ordinary people.
After two adventures in Boston, Equalizer 3 wisely changes the scenery. Without giving anything away, the results of a brutal job (the opening scene) and advancing age finally give McCall pause. Mortality and God are much on his mind. Maybe it’s time to settle down. This coastal town of Altamonte, Italy, which has adopted him without judgment or questions, seems like the perfect place.
But first, he’ll have to deal with the local mafia, the Camorra. Your imagination can take it from here.
The locations are gorgeous, and the action sequences are cathartic. Equally impressive is the subtle evolution of McCall’s character. He’s still a man burdened with grief over the loss of his wife, only now he’s willing to make friends with a local woman. This relationship is touching in its subtlety. Without saying so, we can sense McCall might be ready to move on. Might. And the movie leaves it up to us to decide what might happen next.
On a higher thematic level, Equalizer 3 is a rousing defense of Western Civilization. The storybook Altamonte is everything a sane world could be: a world of small towns and small businesses, of decent people who look out for one another and are held together by generations of tradition and religious faith. This is where McCall believes he belongs; this is something worth preserving, so he will rid it of the Italian barbarians doing business with (unseen) Islamic terrorists.
In this diseased era of DEI and shallow identity politics, watching as McCall is embraced by a town mostly populated by white Italians without the issue of race ever being raised feels like an act of subversion.
The Equalizer 3, though, is what it is: a genre film. To everyone’s great credit, no one is looking to reinvent anything. What makes it special is the talent—the writing, the directing, and above all, The Mighty Denzel.
This entire franchise, most especially part three, should be taught in Movie Star School. You cannot take your eyes off Washington. Everything he does with every part of his body is done for maximum effect. The hunch of his shoulders, the rhythm of his stride, the position of his mouth, how he holds his hands, and, most of all, his pose while perfectly still… None of this is by accident. Washington knows no one will hand him an Oscar for Equalizer 3, so he strives for something iconic, and it’s dazzling to watch. It’s the art of projecting charisma and presence, and it’s becoming a lost art.
In his later years, John Wayne understood the same, so he did the same. The legend of John Wayne was cemented in his sixties, in one programmer Western after another. What makes movies like The Train Robbers (1973), McQ (1974), and Big Jake (1971) endlessly rewatchable is their iconic star giving an iconic performance. Same with the Equalizer series.
Just as I hope we’re done with John Wick, I hope we’re done with The Equalizer. Great franchise and you stuck the landing. Please walk away.
Due to my wife’s health issues, which are improving, I haven’t been inside a movie theater in over a year. But like all good movies, you don’t need to see Equalizer 3 on the big screen to enjoy it. It plays like gangbusters at home because it’s not a stupid carnival ride. You care about the story and characters, which means it will play anywhere.