Equalizer 3 Denzel Washington
Credit: Stefano Montesi/Columbia Pictures
Blockbuster Beat by Steven Warner Featured Film

The Equalizer 3 — Antoine Fuqua

September 1, 2023

According to certain cinephilic thinking — specifically arguments that come from those who worship at the altars of Michael Mann and Tony Scott — director Antoine Fuqua is some sort of unheralded genius, his work a master class in unfussy genre filmmaking that consistently delivers the goods, pretensions be damned. As is always the case when it comes to the extremes of discourse, particular when occasioning social media spaces, where hyperbole rules above all else, there is both truth and fiction to be found in such wild proclamations. Fuqua is a fascinating case study in that his technical prowess emerges only when in service of something with which he truly connects. Otherwise, he is a bland director-for-hire steadfastly refusing to show off the goods that undoubtedly got him the gigs in the first place. One need look no further than the recent string of misfires he directed for various streaming services, including duds like Infinite, The Guilty, and Emancipation. Indeed, The Guilty was so confoundingly awful — and with Fuqua’s usual directorial tics utterly absent — that it almost seemed as though the filmmaker was purposely sabotaging the tension inherent to that movie’s race-against-the-clock plot and claustrophobic setting. Fuqua has always been much more at home in the realm of B-grade exploitation flicks, where studio backing gives them a sheen of respectability that makes the ickier elements go down far more easily. It’s easy to see why certain individuals respond so positively to the likes of Training DayShooter, Olympus Has Fallen, and Brooklyn’s Finest; these are films that love to rut around in the mud and dirt, wearing their political incorrectness as a badge of honor, Fuqua shooting the absolute hell out of them with a glee that is borderline infectious, even as one occasionally struggles to fully take in the ultraviolence unfurling before their eyes.

Add to that list the director’s latest film, The Equalizer 3, the supposed final entry in the Denzel Washington-led trilogy based on the 1980’s television series.  For the familiar, it’s abundantly clear that The Equalizer trilogy has no patience for your CGI blood, with thousands of squibs being employed for every production and what one can only imagine as hundreds of gallons of fake blood. This latest entry opens with what can only be described as Fuqua Vision, as an unidentified “bad” man walks through his palatial manor in the hills of some vague European country and discovers the dead bodies of his various guards and henchman, the camera lovingly panning over each body and fixating on every jagged and bloody wound. Turns out, this particular guy pissed off our titular character, former Black Ops and CIA agent Robert McCall (Washington) — and as audiences have learned from the past two entries, this is not a man you want to piss off. That this particular stand-off involves a shotgun blast to the asshole — again, this is the film’s opening! — shouldn’t be surprising, but it does carry a wallop. An act of kindness ultimately results in Robert suffering a near-fatal gunshot wound to the back, and he is later found on the side roads of the small, Sicilian seaside village of Altamonte. Cared for by an aging doctor who simply asks Robert if he is a good man or a bad man and gets “I don’t know” for a response — only a good man would say that, apparently — he recuperates in what is possibly the most picturesque place on the planet while slowly getting his strength back. A series of steep stairs, and Robert’s mastery of such proves the ultimate metaphor; while one could roll their eyes at such an obvious and hoary cliché, Fuqua and screenwriter Patrick Wenk are unapologetically uninterested in subtlety here. For the first time in his life, Robert experiences something akin to peace, and he believes he has found his place in the world. Cue the local drug-trafficking mafia who have plans to turn the quiet village into a destination vacation spot with luxury hotels and casinos, with the pesky townsfolk seen as nothing more than collateral damage on the road to wealth and power. Yet these baddies didn’t count on Robert, who is more than willing to put up a fight.

The Equalizer 3 is shockingly straightforward for this particular series, as the two previous entries were bloated, two-hour-plus monstrosities with far too many superfluous characters and wending subplots that ultimately served to suck the fun out of the proceedings. Part three, by contrast, is laser-focused on delivering outrageous kills, thrills, and nothing more, its lean 105-minute runtime like a soothing salve on a shotgun-blasted asshole. There’s a subplot involving a green CIA agent with no field experience who is assigned the task of tracking Robert down, but the fact that the role is played by Dakota Fanning, and seems to exist solely so that she and Washington can share scenes together 20 years after their pairing in Man on Fire — where she was only nine years old — makes it go down a whole lot easier, a nostalgic thrill in their reuniting for another blood-soaked tale of vengeance. The script also occasionally hints at the horrors Robert has had to endure over the years and the toll it has taken on his humanity, yet The Equalizer 3 is less Unforgiven and more High Plains Drifter, a pure slice of exploitive pulp that isn’t afraid of offering audiences a little fan service in the name of a good, sleazy time. It has always been rather surprising that, out of all of the movies in Washington’s filmography, The Equalizer films stand as his only sequels. He’s certainly better than the material, but the gravitas he brings to the proceedings grounds them in a way that would prove near impossible with any other actor — and he clearly brings out the best in Fuqua. Which is to say, while The Equalizer 3 bills itself as the series’ concluding entry, don’t count out another sequel just yet; it’s possible both of these men need the viscera-encrusted blasts of mayhem more than viewers themselves. If a next entry were to continue in the entertaining fashion of part three, count this critic in.

DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua;  CAST: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, David Denman, Gaia Scodellaro;  DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures;  IN THEATERS: September 1;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 49 min.