13 years after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 classic Training Day, Denzel Washington reteamed with the acclaimed filmmaker for a dark, violent big-screen update of 1980s television thriller The Equalizer. Big box office success and a solid critical response meant a sequel was pretty much guaranteed, with 2018’s The Equalizer 2 holding the distinction of being Denzel’s first ever sequel in his long, illustrious career. Fuqua also returned to take up directorial duties again. While critical reception was a little weaker this time around, a strong box office paved the way for this – the third, and supposedly final, entry. With Washington and Fuqua together to bid farewell to their take on this iconic character, do they stick the landing?
I’m going to start off by saying this review may be a little biased; I am a huge fan of both Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua. I loved the first two films in this trilogy – as modern action-thrillers go, they don’t get much better. With Fuqua’s direction and impeccable eye for action paired with Denzel’s unparalleled acting chops, the films are explosive and compelling. The films are as much character studies as they are action flicks; there’s always plenty of quiet moments between the carnage – and this threequel probably brings us the most of that yet.
Those expecting non-stop balls-to-the-wall action will be disappointed. After a gory prologue, we spend the best part of an hour recovering with a wounded McCall (Washington) as he begins trying to live a simple life in a small coastal town in Italy. But when the Mafia’s hold on McCall’s new home becomes evident and more violent, our hero embarks on one last fight for peace and redemption. It’s pretty standard Equalizer fare in that regard – McCall gives his new enemies a chance to do the right thing, and when that is ignored, he makes them regret their decision.
Washington is fantastic as ever – truly intimidating and frightening in his quiet, threatening intensity with his foes, but warm and loveable with those he cares about. He’s incredible. Give Denzel Washington a script for The Equalizer 3 and he’ll perform it like he’s doing Hamlet. The guy’s a pro. A supporting cast includes Dakota Fanning (reuniting with Denzel after 2004’s modern classic Man on Fire) as a young CIA agent and Remo Girone as the small town doctor who takes McCall in and brings him back to health.
Much like the first two films – and indeed Fuqua’s filmography – The Equalizer 3 is super-slick. Visually stunning, Robert Richardson’s cinematography (surprisingly, his first work on the trilogy) gives the film some truly memorable moments, with McCall’s final rampage playing out like a dark, shadowy slasher. The film does incredible things with darkness, especially evident in the ultraviolent prologue in an Italian villa’s basement. Editing is a little odd in places – questionable slow fades to black at the end of some scenes feel weirdly clunky. But on the whole, the film looks, sounds and most importantly feels like a prestige production, which is refreshing for an action sequel.
While it remains to be seen whether this is truly the end, The Equalizer 3 is a fitting send-off for the excellent trilogy. Building upon everything that made the first two films so good, this finale excels at quiet character moments and bombastic blood-soaked action alike – and ends on a genuinely poignant and heartfelt note. Let’s hope that Washington and Fuqua find another project they can collaborate on in the near future, because these guys know what they’re doing.