Denzel Washington Reminds Us of His Star Power in Action Sequel
DIRECTOR: ANTOINE FUQUA/2023
Robert McCall is back, which isn’t good news for any ne’er-do-wells operating within walking, driving, or flying distance of him.
We first met Denzel Washington’s version of The Equalizer—not to be confused with Edward Woodward or Queen Latifah’s episodic versions on CBS—in 2014 when he went ham on Russian mobsters in a hardware store. But he’s left behind his hometown of Boston and brought his CIA skills to Sicily for a new target: the Italian Mafia. As he spends time in the seaside village of Altomonte, he discovers an affection for the locals who live in fear of the violent Quaranta family. McCall alerts CIA analyst Emma (Dakota Fanning, reuniting with him two decades after Man on Fire) of his investigation into the family’s activities, but he’s not waiting for backup. It’s only a matter of time until the Mafia meets him face-to-face.
Did you know you can plunge a pistol into someone’s face and it will still fully function? And did you know everything from meat cleavers to stained glass windows can be instruments of terror? These were things I had not considered before The Equalizer 3, even though I’m no stranger to R-rated action. Where John Wick leans into inspirations from first-person shooter games, director Antoine Fuqua prefers more originality, turning everyday objects into weapons and weapons into agents of extirpation. McCall may not be as balletic as Jason Bourne was with magazines and ballpoint pens, but he does move with the precision of a lynx just before devouring his prey.
A synonym of “equalize” is “neutralize,” but that doesn’t describe McCall’s retribution with the same level of justice he seeks. He lays waste to his enemies with a brutality only a handful of movie stars have enough charisma to get away with (see also at present: Gerard Butler, David Harbour, and Keanu Reeves) and only a handful of plots have the black-and-white morality to justify. He protects families, small business owners, and other victims of one-dimensional villains’ collateral damage, and we know he won’t rest until those villains’ lairs are soaked with blood. The emphasis here is on the phrase “we know” because at this point, we know how indulgent this franchise is in its revenge torture and how formulaic it is in its plot structuring.
If that if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality is what you’re looking for, The Equalizer 3 more than delivers because Fuqua is one of the best at making action that is both beautifully shot and easy to follow. (Just a reminder that his Magnificent Seven remake is deeply underrated!) Setting this adventure on one of the dreamiest coastal towns in the world (in reality, the city of Atrani on the Amalfi Coast) means this is the best-looking Equalizer yet, but even that isn’t the real draw. Denzel Washington is the reason we’re getting a third movie at the same time this intellectual property exists as a television series, and all due respect to our current slate of action stars, but very few of them make me leave their genre vehicles thinking about their dramatic talents for the better. Washington’s McCall is conflicted about his violent nature, and though we never see him resist it, we believe him when he insists he’s looking for lagom in how he pursues justice. Charisma is essential, but Washington always does more than what’s necessary, which is why even the way he dunks a tea bag can be a joy to watch.