Equalizer 3, The (United States, 2023)

September 01, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Equalizer 3, The Poster

The Equalizer 3 is being advertised as the conclusion of a trilogy, although it’s really just a “more of the same” sequel, which can be a good thing for those who enjoyed the first two installments. Director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington have adhered to the formula, which is partly derived from the tamer ‘80s TV show and partly influenced by the Death Wish movies, and avoided going far afield for this episode. And, although there’s nothing in The Equalizer 3 that would preclude additional installments, Washington’s age (67) is probably the biggest impediment.

Narratively, The Equalizer 3 runs into trouble by expanding the canvas to include a CIA operation, an international drug ring, and terrorism into what is (or should be) a pretty straightforward story about one man’s quest to bring down a mafia family. All of this tangential material, including the introduction of agent Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning), diffuses the main story. It’s not well integrated and creates confusion. Additionally, the ending is an anticlimax, with the villain, who seems untouchable for much of the running time, suddenly vulnerable.

The inclusion of Collins is the most head-scratching element of The Equalizer 3 because her presence pays minimal dividends. If one was to create a cut of the movie in which she was excluded, nothing would be lost. Perhaps the filmmakers are eying Fanning as a possible replacement for Washington’s Robert McCall for another sequel or a spin-off. Although it’s nice to see Washington and Fanning reunited 19 years after Man on Fire (when Fanning was a precocious 10-year old), that’s not sufficient justification for her to be in this movie.

The McCall-centric aspect of The Equalizer 3 focuses on the kind of story we have come to expect from this franchise: an apologetically violent apocalypse for bad guys at the hand of an unstoppable vigilante. As the title implies, McCall exists to provide ordinary people with an advocate when they are threatened by malignant forces of greater power and influence. His methods are often brutal, making him a rare breed in a world where violence has been neutered and normalized by the PG-13 rating. He has no compunction about killing bad guys. If they are, as one character suggests, a “cancer,” he views removal as the most expedient cure.

Early in the film, while on a mission in Sicily, McCall makes a mistake and ends up with a bullet in the back. Taken to the small village of Altamonte (near Naples) by a kindly policeman, Gio Bonucci (Eugenio Mastrandrea), McCall is saved from death by a good-hearted local doctor, Enzo Arisio (Remo Girone). While recuperating from his injuries, McCall learns that Altamonte is under the thumb of a mafia family headed by brothers Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) and Marco Quaranta (Andrea Dodero). Once healed, McCall takes it upon himself to intervene. When mild manners fail to convince the Quarantas to leave the people of Altamonte alone, McCall resorts to more forceful means. Meanwhile, evidence discovered by McCall (and relied to the CIA via phone call), results in a raid led by Agent Collins and her supervisor, Frank Conroy (David Denman). Since this relates to an aspect of Vincent Quaranta’s operation, he puts out a hit on Collins.

The Equalizer 3 is very much a pea in a pod with its predecessors, The Equalizer and The Equalizer 2 (no fancy subtitles for these films). Fuqua directs in much the same manner, with a focus on dark locales and little artistic touches (in this one, there’s some hefty religious iconography) livening up the visuals. The action sequences are straightforward and harsh – no John Wick flair or CGI necessary (although one would assume that Washington, due to his age, used a stunt double in some instances). The lead character is steady and relentless, deeply empathetic toward those for whom he advocates and implacable toward their enemies. The villains are as evil as Fuqua can present them to be (scenery chewing encouraged). The formula has worked twice before, producing modest box office successes, and there’s no reason why it can’t work again. The Equalizer 3 is the messiest of the three movies and the most narratively fractured, but it should still satisfy those who consider themselves to be fans.

Equalizer 3, The (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 2023-09-01
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: In English and Italian with subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1