Oscar-winner Denzel Washington had never starred in a sequel throughout his eclectic career until The Equalizer 2, the follow-up to his popular reteaming with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. Based on the popular CBS show from the 1980s, Fuqua’s Equalizer trilogy has consistently delivered on what each film promises on the tin. Witnessing screen legend Denzel Washington maim, disembowel and discard numerous sets of enemies. The latest sequel, billed as the “final chapter”, continues the franchise’s promise, with a more stylish and brutal third outing.
We’re introduced to Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) this time around as he’s held up in the basement of a Sicilian winery, having just wiped out a small army’s worth of nameless goons. He’s seemingly captured by the remaining mobsters, but of course, he’s not trapped in there with them, they’re trapped in there with him. The first shot we see of Washington’s vigilante, he’s illuminated by a striking white light, photographed like a literal angel of death. After clearing out the remaining enemies, Robert is fatally wounded and is moved to recover in the small town of Altamonte. On his road back to recovery, Robert grows to care for the local community, seeing a chance to finally find peace and settle down. However, peace is disrupted at the hands of local mobsters who terrorize the community, forcing Robert to spring back into his old habits of brutally disposing his enemies.
The Equalizer 3 is easily the grisliest entry of the trilogy. When we first meet Robert he’s seemingly at the end of his line, ready to die if it means exacting brutal vengeance. Fuqua practically frames McCall as a slasher villain with how he dispatches Italian mobsters. It’s not even five minutes in before Washington impales a man in the eye socket with a revolver and then uses the revolver, still inside the man’s eye, to fire back at the other men still shooting at him. The villains are largely generic and exist largely as fodder to be displaced by our hero in swift fashion, but there are a number of tense moments laced with occasional bursts of dark humor that are genuinely funny. A confrontation at a restaurant garners both laughs and squeals as Washington threatens to break a henchmen’s wrist with merely a finger.
While there still isn’t a sequence in here on par with the department store finale of the first film, Fuqua finds more inspiration and more visual flair in his third chapter than in several of his past works. The Will Smith-starring Emancipation was a misfire that was largely ignored at its release, and his straight-to-Paramount+ flop Infinite garnered some of the worst reviews of the filmmaker’s career. It’s a relief to find Fuqua this confident again behind the camera, with his operatic stylings put to effective use. The Italian locations are used to winning effect, utilizing the tight, crammed streets and large architecture to enhance tension in some of the set pieces. Robert Richardson’s exquisite, moody cinematography is desaturated with lots of greys and steely colors. The use of large shadows is downright expressionist, even in the vein of an Orson Welles film.
Washington has always played men of intense duality, and while Robert McCall isn’t one of the actors very best characters, he never stops being anything less than compulsively entertaining. McCall is more of a Yojimbo/The Man With No Name figure here, as the quiet outsider learning to find peace among a new part of the world. He’s a violent man looking to find peace amidst a violent world. And although the film never digs deep into its meditative elements, Denzel works overtime to bridge the gap lacking within the film’s script. Denzel carries a great deal of pathos into his performance which is somehow both subtle and towering. A fun addition to the film is its Man on Fire reunion with the inclusion of star Dakota Fanning as an enthusiastic, young CIA analyst who gets an important tip from Washington’s McCall. One of the best scenes of the film is the first meeting between the two characters. Washington and Fanning are great once again, despite it being almost 20 years since their last appearance together.
The Equalizer 3 is precisely the film you want it to be, nothing more, nothing less. Even if it doesn’t dig deeper into more intriguing existential elements, the third and possibly final chapter of The Equalizer trilogy is a brutal and stylish action thriller that is right on par with the first film, if not better.
The Equalizer 3 is now playing in theaters.