Back in 2014, The Equalizer introduced to us the world’s most dangerous guy: a trained killer who’s convinced he’d also make a great life coach. Former intelligence officer Robert McCall, played with stately gravitas by Denzel Washington, can both politely coerce you into swapping fast food for salads and butcher the Russian mobsters on your back. Now, after chucking Pedro Pascal off a cliff in 2018’s The Equalizer 2, McCall has returned to stab pistols through mafia men’s eyeballs in picturesque Sicily.
Antoine Fuqua’s action franchise, loosely based on the Edward Woodward-fronted TV series of the Eighties, has made McCall the typical “avenging angel”, the saintly man called upon to do humanity’s dirty work. At its best – and The Equalizer 3 is about as good as the first film – it neatly counterbalances Fuqua’s baroque, blood-and-guts action with Washington’s ability to command attention while sitting perfectly still.
McCall rocks up to a coastal Italian town and immediately charms the local barista (Gaia Scodellaro). That is despite only ever ordering tea, a drink reserved exclusively “for old ladies and Englishmen”. Inevitably, the place turns out to be infested with mafia-types known as the Camorra and led by Vincent Quaranta (Andrea Scarduzio), who is something of a Ferrari in human form. He’s trying to drive the locals out of their homes so he can turn the place into a holiday resort. McCall, of course, can’t abide nice people being bothered, so he starts breaking a few Camorra arms and skulls. Eat. Pray. Murder.
The Equalizer 3 acknowledges that McCall has aged (and Washington, by extension), but it’s also modest enough to avoid the self-indulgent “legacy sequel” shtick, even if it introduces a new, junior agent played by Washington’s Man on Fire co-star, Dakota Fanning. McCall has, it seems, grown a little soft-hearted, and an early slip in judgement ends with a bullet in his back. He’s given a cane and a little bit of a shuffle in his walk, enough that one of the local nonnas exclaims, “go slowly!”, as they both climb the stairs up to the town’s church.
But these films have all consistently been about a protagonist who murders and then dutifully ponders on the moral defence of said murders. Any self-reflection in Richard Wenk’s script is really just business as usual. And, while composer Marcelo Zarvos’s screaming chords hint at an edgier, modern update, it’s still largely a retrograde affair, from the use of nonsensical conservative lingo like “jihad drug”, to the scene where a police officer’s beautiful, mostly silent wife is set upon by the mafia right when she happens to not be wearing any trousers.
Fuqua at least makes the most of his stereotypical, Roman Catholic fever-dream rendering of Italy. Blood splatters across a stained glass depiction of the Virgin Mary. Our hero seeks absolution under the watchful eyes of stone angels. He’s reintroduced to audiences bathed in a single beam of light, as if blessed by the warmth of the divine. McCall also does far more equalising here than in the film’s dry, oddly action-lite predecessor, with a handful of kills as inventive as the first film’s nail gun to the back of the head. While it’s not all that likely that this series has much of a future, watching Washington in full movie-star mode is never an unwelcome prospect.
Dir: Antoine Fuqua. Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, David Denman, Sonia Ammar, Remo Girone. 15, 109 minutes.
‘The Equalizer 3’ is in cinemas from 1 September
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