Reviewer ranking: 3,115 / 5,185
I spent part of the summer catching up on The Equalizer franchise to prepare for the proposed conclusion to the tale of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington). Viewing the three Antoine Fuqua films in such close order, I thought about the shift from Westerns into Action films that took place in the 1980s. This series embodies that reality. The first film trades the O.K. Corral for a Home Depot shootout reckoning. The second installment climaxes in an abandoned town, even including a rifleman trying to pick off our lone rider hero — McCall moonlights as an Uber driver).
As the original era of the Western ventured to Italy, so does our hero, all dressed in black. We open in a large Sicilian villa strewn with carved-up corpses. We know our vigilante is there and has distributed swift justice. However, McCall does spend some time injured. We see him in need of medical care, left to the kindness of strangers in a village he doesn’t know. We watch him briefly consider the moral merit of his lifetime of brutality and watch him unsteadily ascend stairs with a cane. For a few minutes, The Equalizer 3 hints at the themes of old-age gun-slinging tales such as John Wayne’s The Shootist (1976) and Clint Eastwoods’ Unforgiven (1992). Through his vulnerability, McCall is embraced by the locales and gradually becomes accepted into the quiet, seaside Italian village.
Under the surface of the calming town is a dark underbelly of organized crime, which threatens the heart of the community. As McCall mends, all considerations of the ethics of a life of violence and the immovable march of time vanish. The mysterious stranger enacts his vengeance upon the young, tattooed mafia henchmen who ride motorcycles instead of horses, engines echoing loudly through the cobblestone streets. Through McCall, the community stands together and finds strength to push back the villainous mob boss. The climactic showdown feels more like a sequence from a slasher film, only this time we’re rooting for the figure hidden in the shadows.
The Equalizer 3 maintains the Wild West ethos that order is justifiable by any means necessary, and that “bad” violence can only be stopped by “good” violence. Denzel elevates the proceedings by his charm and gravitas as the 68-year-old action star destroys the Gen Z criminals in his path. Dakota Fanning, who played the little girl saved by Washington in Man on Fire (2004), returns as a partner of sorts for McCall. Her CIA agent chases down the plot’s McGuffin involving drug smuggling tied to Syrian terrorists (referred to a “jihadi drug” in a lazy cultural trope). The two Americans work in tandem to save Italy and Europe from institutional corruption.
Overlong at 109 minutes with empty subplots, The Equalizer 3 engages in American Exceptionalist cliches and generational conflict, while sporting a law-and-order ethic that prizes righteous violence as the ultimate tool in the pursuit of the good life. Nevertheless, Denzel Washington is always a welcome presence on the big screen. He has created a likable “man with no name” protagonist, and Fuqua’s action direction is smooth and satisfying even if it lacks dramatic tension.