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'The Equalizer 3' review: Denzel Washington action franchise goes out with a bang

Courtesy of Sony Pictures


Turns out, three is the lucky number within “The Equalizer” franchise, which are the only sequels mega-star Denzel Washington has done in his storied career. Considering I wasn’t fond of the previous entries, “The Equalizer 3,” wasn’t a film that was sitting on my most anticipated list, but Antoine Fuqua’s threequel takes the series to some unexpected places, including dense conversations on mortality and delivering some killer action sequences. Of course, if you remove Washington from the equation, this would be a different movie and wouldn’t be as held together, but this nearly decade long franchise still manages to go out with style, gravitas, and surprises. 

That being said, “The Equalizer 3” wouldn’t even come close to cracking the upper echelon of Washington’s filmography, though it showcases how bravado and screen presence can go a long way at making an otherwise routine action flick something far more tangible. It’s a different beast compared to the previous iterations where the aging Robert McCall (Washington) was hunting baddies that audiences could care less about. Here, McCall stares down the barrel of mortality and has to look at himself from within and decide what’s worth the battle. In the case of the film, that means dismantling Italian mobsters who are tormenting a quaint and beautiful Sicilian town he’s decided to protect. For once, it’s not about the bullets, but protecting innocent bystanders. 

For long stretches of the movie, especially towards the beginning, “The Equalizer 3” is a slow-burn, and it’s not so much about the violence, but the journey of self reflection. And that all falls back on Washington as the actor runs a clinic on how to smirk, scowl, laugh, and sip a cup of a tea while also being menacing and ready to slit throats at a moment’s notice. He’s a beast and even if you don’t remember the far inferior predecessors, you probably remember the way Washington stared into the camera before cracking skulls and breaking necks. That same energy is present here, but in a far more grounded ethos. The rest of the cast, which includes Dakota Fanning (returning) as a CIA agent investigating the Italian mafia McCall has made public enemy no. 1, are fine, but they can’t compete on the same level. The filmmakers never suggest it’s a fair fight, because it isn’t.

The franchise is loosely based on the 1980s TV series of the same name and shares minor commonalities in how the main character wants to tip the scales of justice to those who have been wronged by the system. Screenwriter Richard Wenk throws a few easter eggs into the mix, but Fuqua, who has collaborated with Washington on several projects, forges his own path within the framework. I’d argue this is some of the director’s best work and the most fun he’s had in quite some time. The way he lets the camera linger on Washington, whether it’s breaking a goon’s arm or strolling the Italian countryside, is infectious. It makes you eager for the duo to find a movie on the same caliber of their “Training Day,” but for now, “The Equalizer 3,” with its easy to follow good versus evil mentality, goes down pretty smoothly. 

Grade: B 

THE EQUALIZER 3 is now playing in theaters. 


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