Let’s face it; it’s no easy task to exist in or keep pace with the action thriller space these days. Even if you manage to not immediately stamp yourself as forgettable, you still have to strap in for the daunting task of being a good movie, and with genre trappings as volatile as these, it very quickly becomes clear that all the tools, talent, and gusto in the world sometimes just aren’t enough, and The Equalizer 3 is the latest of these high-profile action thrillers to prove that harsh reality.
The third and final film in the Denzel Washington-led trilogy ends Robert McCall’s story in sweet but sputtering fashion, all in spite of the legendary actor delivering his business-as-usual scenery chewing and director Antoine Fuqua bringing his A-game behind the camera. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can salvage from a weak script.
The movie peaks during its first few minutes, and while that could be read as a knock on the remaining runtime, it’s in fact a tip of the hat to the team’s creative merits that in another life may have been present throughout. As Fuqua’s gloriously-paced unbroken shot takes us through the carnage that Robert left behind, everyone will find themselves anticipating the moment when Washington’s protagonist shows his face; a moment that Fuqua catches us off-guard with as the cherry on top of a masterful opening scene.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that absolutely none of the fault lies with its director, who takes full advantage of the coastal Italian location, his own directorial know-how, and his penchant for timing to deliver some deliciously captivating shots both bloody and tranquil. Indeed, Fuqua’s direction was the beefy lifeline that gives The Equalizer 3 some semblance of a heartbeat.
To that point, none of the fault really lies with Washington, either, but even if it did, one would have a hard time noticing. For a story intended to be a sendoff for a franchise protagonist played by one of the greats of our time, The Equalizer 3 drastically under-utilizes Robert McCall, and though the screentime he did get is markedly elevated by Washington’s charisma and gravitas, he isn’t given nearly enough time for his crucial musings between his righteous rampages.
It’s that specific lack of that specific time with Robert that undermines the essence of what makes him such a fantastic protagonist in the first place; we know he’s capable of grotesque murder, because most all protagonists in this genre are. We know that he does what he does for the sake of helping the less fortunate, so he’s easy to cheer for. But, without those moments where he’s benignly humoring a civilian or offering up ruminations on identity that any audience member would be happy to tuck away for a rainy day, it creates a ripple effect that zaps a noticeable amount of life in a tragically multifaceted way; the switch he flips from “friendly man with the tea” to “one-man death machine” is less impactful, and he just generally feels like a bit of a husk of the hero we know him to be.
And that’s not to say that those aforementioned moments are totally absent, but the dialogue supporting them is, for lack of a better word, quite dire. And that’s just one symptom of the near-fatal illness that is The Equalizer 3‘s script.
If the characters aren’t indulging in some forgettable conversations, then they’re trying to bolster the criminally messy, uninspired plot – which, if this writer were to venture a guess, might have partly gotten mangled by poor cutting room decisions – with some unhelpful investigative parlance, generic mafia melodrama, and expository reminders that this movie is supposed to be about finding peace.
Let’s be real, though, no one’s turning up to The Equalizer 3 for a story about finding peace; they’re turning up for a story about Robert McCall going absolutely postal on very bad men who deserve very horrible deaths. If your expectations amount to that and nothing else, you might be satisfied; it obviously has its fair share of fast-paced bloodshed, but outside of the routinely graphical way it’s presented, the fact that it’s there at all is the most one can really say about it. There are occasional signs of life courtesy of some mildly creative knife fight choreography and Fuqua’s MVP-worthy direction, but even those can’t lay claim to any sort of distinct personality amongst the mountain of corpses the action thriller genre adds to with every release.
In fact, the most memorable kill of the movie – one that, appropriately, occurs during the final confrontation – doesn’t even have a whole lot of action or active attacking going on. Granted, Robert delivers quite a few blows to get his opponent to the point where he’s crawling through the street against the light of the full moon and fireworks, but it’s not that violence that sticks in your mind; it’s the peculiarly mythological ethos that comes with the last moments of this man’s life as he helplessly drags himself along some cobblestones with Robert’s ice-cold gaze bearing down on him. Was that evocation intentional? Who’s to say? By that point, though, The Equalizer 3 needs as many wins as it can get.
By the end, you can’t help but feel happy for Robert, as is to be expected of Washington’s historically-likeable, stab-happy patron saint of a protagonist, and that made this writer desperately want to extend that same sentiment to The Equalizer 3 as a whole. But, despite Fuqua firing on all cylinders and Washington making the most of what will probably be his final outing as McCall, the narrative foundation of The Equalizer 3 is sadly far too rocky for even the best in the business to breathe the proper life into it, only managing gasps of what could have been if the script (and, again, the possibly-guilty final cut discussions) hadn’t been so gutless.
With the ever-on-point Denzel Washington's protagonist reduced to premium set dressing, Antoine Fuqua almost single-handedly carries 'The Equalizer 3' all on his own. But with an agitating plot piling on more and more dead weight with every scene, he could only take it so far.