The Equalizer 3 is being advertised as the “final chapter” nearly a decade after the first was released. The Antoine Fuqua-directed trilogy starring Denzel Washington has never been a critical darling, even within the weirdly specific “aging star kicks ass” genre like Taken or the John Wick series. (Which, coincidentally, also debuted in 2014.) Regardless, the first two films grossed over $100 million domestically each, so a third was inevitable despite the six-year gap from The Equalizer 2 (partially because of the pandemic). The upside? This third installment is easily “the best” of the mediocre bunch. Soooo yay?
Set mostly in a tiny Southern Italian seaside town, “Roberto” McCall (Washington) finds himself, once again, fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. The hook this time, beyond the surprisingly well-used landscape of the villa (shot by master DP Richard Richardson), is that instead of merely protecting one or two individuals, it’s a whole darn town. Do we know how every encounter with cartoonish thugs (the mob) will play out? Pretty much, but to Fuqua and Washington’s credit, these moments are never dull. With his handy digital watch to countdown how he’ll dispatch a single or double digits of armed men in seconds, it’s hard not to root for McCall. Save those innocent Italians! After all, they make darn good tea, smoked fish, and tailored suits!
And there’s the rub: I never tired of Washington’s charm as he OCD’s a napkin and spoon as well as the R-rated kills, but man oh man, these baddies are complete dumb dumbs. Do you want to know why the first John Wick is my least favorite? Because Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen was just the worst. Never for a second did I think he was a good foil for Wick. Take that idiot and multiply him by like twenty here. Although, I can appreciate the meat-and-potatoes approach Richard Wenk’s script has to just “get to it.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with this trilogy being all surface like the 80s television series it’s based on, but a good (heck, decent) villain would have been appreciated.
Imagine how a worthy adversary for McCall could have played out. To say nothing for casting. As Gio, European actor Eugenio Mastrandrea chews the scenery as the younger brother of a crime boss with all the subtlety of a machete. What if, instead, the big bad was (hear me out) Roberto Benigni? First off, the casting against type would be glorious. Second, the onscreen pairing of two Oscar winners would be pretty awesome, no? Third, I know this idea works as it’s what the John Wick films have done, bringing on plenty of talented A-listers.
Speaking of a great pairing…
Nearly two decades after Tony Scott’s Man on Fire had Washington protecting a then nine-year-old Dakota Fanning, the two actors are back together on the big screen. As a CIA operative, Emma as a character is by no means all that memorable, but I was definitely a fan of Fanning and Washington’s scenes together. No, it’s nowhere near as emotionally resonant as Man on Fire (obviously), but I had a big smile on my face regardless.
The Equalizer 3 is perhaps a tad long at 110 minutes. The aforementioned lack of a good antagonist seriously zaps any kind of tension out of the narrative. Still, Washing, Fanning, and the breezy Southern Italian setting works just enough. Timing is everything for “Roberto,” and this wasn’t a waste.