Director: Antoine Fuqua
Notable Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Gaia Scodellaro, David Denman, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Remo Girone, Daniele Perrone, Andrea Scarduzio, Andrea Dodero, Giovanni Scotti, Melissa Leo, Sonia Ammar
Over the last 30 years, the relative variety of films that Antoine Fuqua has made that exist within the realm of action/thriller/crime has been fairly impressive. Does anyone remember that he made a historical flick with Will Smith called Emancipation last year? Probably not, since it went to Apple and subsequently died a forgotten death, but he did. Yes, he made one of those too. Yet, the only real “franchise” he has repeatedly returned to is The Equalizer, the modern update of the 1980s television show featuring his frequent collaborator Denzel Washington.
Finding relative success with the first two entries, it’s no shock that The Equalizer 3 was on the docket for some time in the future even if Denzel is starting to show his age at 68. Trilogies are not easy to pull off, but the first two entries have only grown on me since their releases as they are kind of Charles Bronson meets John Woo melodramatic slices of action cinema. Thus, my expectations - even mediated - were elevated for this threequel.
The Equalizer 3 is a perplexing puzzle, though. Despite being the shortest film in the series (by at least 15 minutes) and featuring the least complicated story and plot, it’s trying to do a lot and rarely managing to find its identity in doing so. It’s making many bold choices compared to its predecessors, changing up the film's tone a smidge, fully taking Denzel’s Robert McCall character out of Boston, and it doesn’t necessarily land where it needs to thematically or what it's setting up for the character. Despite some highly entertaining moments elevated by the Oscar-winning actor, The Equalizer 3 rarely feels equalized in its balance, and it leaves the trilogy feeling a tad underwhelming.
Yet, it’s hard not to love the Robert McCall character and his various misadventures in trying to take his particular set of skills and put them to good use. The film easily features the least amount of action in the trilogy. Still, the film attempts to do some intriguing things with it, particularly since it’s trying to cover up Denzel’s age and ability to complete the action sequences. A flashback towards a one-man siege of a Sicilian winery is told in first person POV, the finale feels like Denzel channeling Batman with his shadow disappearing act, and the overall film is more focused on the character trying not to extract the right hand of God justice on the oppressors of this small Italian village. When the action does pop, it’s popping, but don’t expect the cat-and-mouse hurricane battle or trust-fund-bro beatdowns of the previous films.
With its simple story where McCall stumbles into a mafia shakedown of a small Italian village that has him staying there, starting to find peace at the end of his time on this earth, and how the two collide, one might expect that this film’s themes around moving on would be stronger though. The Equalizer 3 kicks off that way, introducing a potential new love interest for him, how his fatherly vibes start to gel with the locals, or the choice for him to put his digital watch in the drawer by the bed as a choice to stop his equalizing ways. Yet, all of those choices felt abandoned in the third act. There are no choices made with any of them to finalize any of those thematic threads, and despite its best efforts to send the character off in a heartfelt manner, it all feels manufactured and out of rhythm for the first two acts of the film. It’s rushed, to say the least, and, dare I say it, the film feels like it needed that 15 to 20 more minutes to tie everything up.
One of the more intriguing plots of The Equalizer 3 is the introduction of Dakota Fanning as CIA operative Emma. Almost immediately, the film introduces her and, unlike its predecessors, gives her almost a partner-like role to McCall in breaking down the mafia’s international criminal activities. Emma becomes almost a protege to McCall in the first two acts, which seems in line with the potential retirement of the character as he looks to settle down and find some peace. Then the movie makes the baffling choice to sideline her for the entire third act and never really ties together that thread. It’s as if The Equalizer 3 wanted to create a ‘passing of the torch’ narrative but never had the initiative to see it through. It leaves the film feeling unfinished in some regards.
The Equalizer 3 feels rushed, like it was filmed with an unfinished script or that the entire third act was plagued by reshoots that removed the character Emma and some of the thematic threading to keep the series open for potential sequels or continuations. Yet, with the steady hand of director Fuqua and another elevated and layered performance by Denzel, the threequel does remain an entertaining entry into the series. It’s a bit blander visually with its bleached-out colors from new DP Robert Richardson, but it's trying to progress the tone and change things up in a way that deserves some respect, even if the results are a step down for the series.
The Equalizer 3 never quite manages to finish the task it seemingly set out to do, but it’s entertaining enough, and fans of Denzel or the character will find plenty to love.