‘The Equalizer 3’ Review: Denzel Washington Returns for More Numbingly Violent Vengeance

‘The Equalizer 3’ Review: Denzel Washington Returns for More Numbingly Violent Vengeance

There’s one cliché, and only one, that The Equalizer 3 manages to avoid. Usually, films set in photogenic Italian seaside villages deliver ample displays of food porn with close-ups of mouthwatering pastas, fresh fish and gelato. This third installment of the Denzel Washington-starring action franchise features plenty of gorgeous scenery, but barely any attention is paid to the region’s gustatory delights. When the bad guys hungrily scarf down plates of spaghetti, the marinara sauce looks…okay.

No, the real porn in these movies is strictly of the snuff film variety. The films are loosely, and I mean loosely, based on the classic ‘80s television series starring the debonair Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent devoting himself in retirement to helping innocent people being victimized by criminals. Woodward’s Robert McCall was plenty tough, but he mainly turned the tables on the villains through well-honed savvy and street smarts. He often had to resort to violence, but he wasn’t what you’d call a killing machine.

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The Equalizer 3

The Bottom Line

Kill, rinse, repeat.

Release date: Friday, Sept. 1
Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, David Denman, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Gaia Scodellaro, Remo Girone, Andrea Scarduzio, Andrea Dodero
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenwriter: Richard Wenk

Rated R,
1 hour 49 minutes

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the big-screen incarnation of the character has turned into, dispatching his victims with a relish not seen since the glory days of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. This installment begins with a loving depiction of the aftermath of a typical McCall massacre, with the camera lovingly caressing the mutilated bodies of victims who’ve clearly been killed by a virtuoso of his craft. We don’t doubt for a second that these people deserved what they got, but it’s hard not to think that McCall, and director Antoine Fuqua, got a little too much pleasure from it.

It’s a shame, because the film’s vigilante formula is of the tried-and-true variety, its heyday stretching back decades to the likes of Death Wish. And Washington is an actor who, if anything, is overqualified for this sort of thing, a two-time Oscar winner as comfortable playing Shakespeare, Eugene O’Neill and August Wilson as he is holding a gun. He single-handedly makes these films worth watching through his sheer force of charisma, but he deserves better than this sort of exploitative grindhouse fare.

The main novelty of this supposedly final installment is that it takes place on the Amalfi Coast, where McCall is forced to recuperate after getting shot in the back (it’s the one time he seems to have lost his touch). He’s nursed back to health by an elderly doctor (Remo Girone, Ford v Ferrari), who, instead of reporting him to the police or sending him to a hospital, keeps him at home and makes him soup.  

After gaining his strength, McCall discovers that he really likes this village filled with good-hearted people, including a kindly carbinieri (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a kindly barista (Gaia Scodellaro), a kindly fishmonger…well, you get the idea. He’s soon happily spending his days walking around, drinking tea at his favorite café and buying himself Italian clothing.

His contentment unfortunately proves short-lived, since the entire town is being terrorized by a gang of rampaging Camorra thugs who think nothing of setting fire to the fishmonger’s store and torturing the policeman in front of his terrified wife and little girl. That’s when McCall starts to get mad, real mad. You can’t blame him, since everywhere he goes, he runs into trouble. If he happened to stop by Mayberry for a spell, he’d probably discover Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney Fife shaking down the townspeople.

It all plays out exactly as you would expect, with the Equalizer barely breaking a sweat as he takes down one bad guy after another, including one particularly mouthy one whom he subdues by squeezing a nerve in his hand. There’s little to no suspense, because there’s never any doubt that McCall, who seems like a murderous automaton rather than merely a veteran secret agent, will triumph over his adversaries. Well, maybe there’s some suspense, because Washington likes to preface his character’s violent outbursts with a slow burn, usually followed by a deadpan sardonic aside. When he occasionally unleashes that megawatt movie star smile, the audience practically cheers. He’s an actor who knows exactly how to push our buttons.

But to what end? Just to see him savagely kill loathsome characters in a variety of inventive ways? By the time he dispatches his final victims — all of whom really, really deserved it — you’re as exhausted by the carnage as he probably is. It’s no wonder the final massacre is punctuated by a lavish fireworks display.

For those not motivated purely by a desire for cinematic bloodlust accompanied by an abrasive musical score that sounds like electronic fingernails on a blackboard, there’s some fun to be had. Washington has some enjoyable moments when McCall playfully teases a green CIA agent (Dakota Fanning, reuniting with the actor nearly twenty years after Man on Fire) he’s alerted to the gang’s drug operation. And the way he happily struts around town wearing a rakish hat will make any American feel that they too can move to a picturesque Italian seaside village and be warmly embraced — especially if they have the ability to ruthlessly kill any criminals who happen to come along.