Up until this point, The Equalizer films have been a mixed bag. For every brutal, gory, and darkly entertaining ‘Home Depot’ murder rampage, there’s extended scenes of subpar character development with characters that don’t have any real impact on the story going forward. It’s quite interesting how a film series with narratives and pacing that are, honestly, boring and drawn out due to their overlong runtimes, can still be held in such reasonable regard with audiences and some critics because of just how bloody great the action scenes are (with a strong touch of that Denzel charisma helping too).
With director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington returning for their third (and touted as the final) outing in The Equalizer franchise, there was a sense of hope that the duo had learned the necessary lessons from the more maligned The Equalizer 2 to create a faster paced, action-led thriller. And when that runtime of 107 minutes (the only film in the series to be under 2 hours long) was revealed, it definitely seemed like punchiness was on the cards for this three-quel. Unfortunately, despite the potential being there on screen for the entire runtime, The Equalizer 3 falls smack bang into the traps of its predecessors – being an action-thriller that has little action, and even less thrills.
In The Equalizer 3, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is temporarily residing in Sicily, Italy after a violent encounter with a local crime family leaves him wounded and unable to travel back home. Finally having time to spend his days in peace in one of the most idyllic and serene locations on all of Earth, McCall’s actions send a shockwave through this small town, and more dangerously, the drug-peddling terrorists who run it.
Involving a CIA financial analyst, Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning) by giving her all the information he has on this gang, Robert’s hope of the law being able to serve the correct justice is disrupted when the head of the local crime family makes it his revenge filled mission to make McCall and the entire cliffside town pay for what they have done.
The Equalizer 3 begins with an absolute bang! It’s a hook, line and sinker opening scene in which various long takes walk the audience through a stone mansion that’s recently been painted red (and brain matter) by a recent signature Robert McCall murder rampage. Knives lodged in heads, bullet riddled stairs, and a deeply tense staring McCall builds up the excitement to a moment that involves arguably the best kill of the entire franchise.
It’s noticeable from this moment that Washington is trying something slightly different than he’s done before with this character. There are characteristics that remain iconic, such as the stopwatch timer countdown of death and destruction, and his Sherlock Holmes-esque pre-analysis of the carnage he is about to unleash. However, McCall has a fair bit more antagonistic sass about him now, far from the mild-mannered and timid man he once was in the previous films. However, it’s a character update that’s most welcome, as his one-liners and darkly comedic timing (even a well-timed stare across from a dinner table had the crowd chuckling) provide a great deal of the film’s entertainment, perhaps too due to the fact that it seems Washington is channelling a touch of Alonso from his iconic role in Training Day.
However, after this electrifying opening 10 minutes, The Equalizer 3 falls into that familiar trap, and the movie comes to a complete halt for a solid hour. Despite having glimpses of scenes building up tension, or leading to a potential action break, whether it be McCall verbally confronting tattooed, arrogant gangsters, or Collins playing the smart and cocky CIA agent, the film’s odd focus on Robert McCall’s Italian retirement just doesn’t come across as the right place to be telling this story, especially in an “action” film. One critic at the media screening described it as Eat, Pray, Love by way of The Equalizer, and that is a spot-on take. There are multiple, repetitive moments of Robert at the local café, drinking tea and befriending the locals. His assimilation into this community did not need approximately five separate scenes to be understood, yet the decision to show them all hinders any momentum that the opening scene had built up.
This isn’t to say that just because the story is boring, that the movie isn’t well made. Washington is at his best and most entertaining as McCall, both personality wise and killing machine wise. Dakota Fanning gives it her all in a limited role, but one that seemingly is being developed in the case of potential spin-offs (which based on her role in this film, wouldn’t be a terrible idea). The direction from Antoine Fuqua is astounding. It almost feels experimental for the director with the way he frames certain shots, specifically in the action scenes, but it does feel unique and original for what could’ve easily been a point-and-shoot the camera film. The use of lighting in dark scenes leads to some great reveals and interesting visual flare that feels engaging. And composer Marcelo Zarvos has orchestrated a belter of a theme for this film. It’s a score beat that when it pops up in the film, amps the audience up for the shit that is about to go down!
The intensity begins to ramp as the film heads to its climatic finale, with some great surprises and tense scenes. And if The Equalizer films are known for anything, it’s the all-out, action-packed finales. Unfortunately, The Equalizer 3 seems to have missed that memo, and all the audience will get in the final 15 minutes is a couple of gory (and admittedly, cringe-inducing) kills, but nothing to the level of what the film’s predecessors conjured in the form of all possible body mutilations. It’s a truly lacklustre finale that doubles down on the disappointment of the entire film’s lost potential.
Despite the outstanding technical aspects of Fuqua’s direction, and arguably Washington’s best performance as The Equalizer himself, The Equalizer 3 is an action-thriller that forgets it needed action and thrills as the two main ingredients to work. It seems like this potentially explosive franchise has gone out with a whimper, and not a bang.
The Equalizer 3 is in cinemas August 31, courtesy of Sony Pictures.
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