REVIEW: The Equalizer 3 (2023, dir. Antoine Fuqua)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 109 mins

UK Distributor: Sony Pictures

UK Release Date: 30 August 2023

WHO’S IN THE EQUALIZER 3?

Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, David Denman, Sonia Ben Ammar, Remo Girone, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Andrea Scarduzio, Andrea Dodero, Salvatore Ruocco

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Antoine Fuqua (director, producer), Richard Wenk (writer), Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Tony Eldridge, Alex Siskin, Michael Sloan, Steve Tisch, Clayton Townsend and Denzel Washington (producers), Marcelo Zarvos (composer), Robert Richardson (cinematographer), Conrad Buff IV (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Robert McCall (Washington) faces off against the Italian mafia…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE EQUALIZER 3?

Three movies into the Equalizer series, and you’d think that Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall would have found a way by now to permanently detach himself from all the death and violence that follows him everywhere. But like Paul Kersey, Harry Callahan, and many other vigilante (anti)heroes in cinema, there’s simply no rest for the wicked, and in this third and presumably final entry the character is confronted with his unavoidable purpose in a slower, quieter, but no less brutal entry which ends things on an uneven, but still watchable, note.

Immediately, we find that Washington’s McCall is up to his usual avenging, having travelled all the way to Sicily and infiltrated the lair of a crime boss, just to retrieve an undisclosed item that is revealed much further down the line, and to violently take out anyone and everyone standing in his way. After he is injured during said massacre, he is nursed back to health in a small town by the Amalfi Coast, where he befriends the locals and realises, perhaps for the first time in his life, that he has finally found a place to call home. Of course, things turn out to be far from idyllic, as the town is under the nasty grip of the local mafia, headed by the psychotic Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) and his equally unhinged brother Marco (Andrea Dodero), forcing McCall to once again step in and take matters into his own hands, with the help of CIA agent Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning) who’s investigating McCall’s raid on the Sicilian crime boss’s villa.

Like its two predecessors, The Equalizer 3 is not that much different from your average vigilante thriller, following similar narrative patterns that almost always end up exactly how you’d think they would (even the mid-80s TV show on which this film series is based was, narratively speaking, as conventional as they come). Movies like this can be familiarly plotted and still be a good time, but director Antoine Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk – who, like Washington, have stuck around for all three of these movies – give their film an all-too steady, even sleepy pace that plods through events with subdued enthusiasm, which doesn’t make it particularly exciting to sit through. After a slow-moving and occasionally repetitive first half that’s mostly just Washington’s McCall going about his day in this quaint Italian town, making friendly conversation with local civilians that he’ll undoubtedly help out later on, you’re almost begging for the cartoonishly sadistic mafiosos – one of whom is styled to look like if Jonathan Pryce played Hans Gruber in Die Hard – to arrive on the scene and antagonise anyone they so please, because then at least it’ll be more interesting.

The key element that keeps this movie, and indeed all movies in the Equalizer trilogy, from slipping into total mundanity is, of course, Denzel Washington. His cool and calculated screen presence as Robert McCall is quietly chilling, making it fully believable that this is a guy who can end your life in a matter of seconds, all without raising a single octave. Although a lot of his kills are strangely kept off-screen (presumably because the 68-year-old actor didn’t want to be as hands-on with the action this time around), there’s enough brutal violence and gory imagery surrounding him that leaves an intimidating presence, such as one victim with a machete lodged into their face, or shooting at another person with their gun sticking through a corpse’s eyehole. In between these rather grisly moments is plenty of Washington’s trademark charisma, which is even more endearing here whenever he acts opposite his former Man on Fire co-star Dakota Fanning, with whom he still shares that sweet and charming paternal chemistry (plus, it’s always nice to see the underappreciated Fanning sister be given a more sizeable role in a movie again).

Ultimately, though, The Equalizer 3 is perhaps a bit too slow-moving for its own good. Wenk’s script lays heavily into familiar conventions of not just vigilante thrillers but hardcore mafia movies as well, and doesn’t give them enough of a spark to stand out from the many other examples, rendering the storytelling more dull than it should be. Fuqua, meanwhile, is a fine filmmaker who has made plenty of strong movies in the past, but he often has problems with setting a decent pace, and here (and in the other Equalizer movies, too) he can’t seem to let go of his indulgent need to linger on a scene for much longer than he should, which once again does little to elevate the overall energy. At least Fuqua can rely on cinematographer Robert Richardson to provide some neat backdrops of the Amalfi Coast every now and then (making this a far more colourful and visually interesting movie to look at than his and Fuqua’s last collaboration, last year’s Emancipation).

As a trilogy-capper, it’s a muted final entry that only someone like Denzel Washington could elevate, and to his credit he makes this otherwise forgettable vigilante series feel more memorable than it perhaps will be.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Equalizer 3 is an uneven final entry in the vigilante trilogy that suffers from a slow and sleepy pace that makes most of the action feel unengaging or subdued to a fault, but it is made less mundane by an ever-charismatic lead turn by Denzel Washington, and his charming on-screen chemistry with Dakota Fanning.

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