The first thing I noticed about ‘The Equalizer 3’ is its shorter duration, clocking less than two hours long. By comparison, the first two movies released in 2014 and 2018 ran longer than they should, with a protracted runtime. As much as I enjoyed watching Denzel Washington’s engrossing performance and some of the unapologetically violent action moments, I always have issues with the movies’ erratic pacing and drawn-out storylines (for instance, ‘The Equalizer 2’ spent too much time pivoting on its main plot to make way for some tedious subplots).
With its trimmed-down 109-minute length this time, I hoped that Antoine Fuqua and returning screenwriter Richard Wenk would finally iron out these flaws with leaner storytelling. After all, ‘The Equalizer 3’ has been widely promoted as “the final chapter” of the movie series. So, it’s natural for me to expect Fuqua to go all out with a bang.
Well, for a while there, the movie opens promisingly with an elaborate pre-credits Sicily-set sequence as Fuqua incorporates some tracking shots, which helps build anticipation for what’s coming next. I love how Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) enters the picture here. Then comes his subsequent don’t-mess-with-me warning that we have grown accustomed to his character since the first two movies, leading to a brief but thrillingly staged brutal action set piece.
It was a good start before the movie slowed down considerably as Robert (he calls himself Roberto) lay low in the idyllic small town in Italy after suffering from a serious injury. A kind doctor named Enzo (Remo Girone) saves his life and as Robert is slowly recuperating, he finds himself enjoying the warmth of the lovely neighborhood around the town (among them includes Aminah, played by Gaia Scodellaro, who works at a local café).
The calm-before-the-storm moments allow Robert Richardson to flex his gorgeous cinematography, capturing the old-world charm of the on-location shoot in Atrani, Italy – the cobblestone lanes, the quaint shops, and the picturesque view of the multi-tier houses. It almost makes me feel like I’m watching a travelogue.
But a beautiful setting like this can only go so far as to immerse the audience. This is especially true with Fuqua’s frequently stop-start direction as he navigates Richard Wenk’s tired screenplay in the same old storytelling approach. Bad guys are introduced, and this time, Robert is facing an Italian mafia family led by Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio) and his brother, Marco (Andrea Dodero). The mafia family has been harassing the townspeople and forcing them to cough up some protection money.
Likewise, Robert tries his best to mind his own business. But as with the tradition of ‘The Equalizer’ franchise, he eventually steps in to help the hapless folks. And that is, reverting to his old ways of solving problems by getting his hands dirty. Too bad Fuqua takes his sweet time to get to the point. The introduction of a ruthless mafia family is a nice move. They are uncompromising people who won’t hesitate to hurt or kill anyone trying to defy them.
And yet, the movie depicts them as nothing more than shallow big bullies who barely stand a chance upon facing Robert’s wrath. I get that Robert is a retired CIA operative with special sets of skills and such. He doesn’t bat an eye when he needs to inflict pain on someone, and he’s an expert in that. We have seen him doing that for the past two movies. But would it kill Fuqua to at least not showcase these Italian mafia characters like a walk in the park for Robert?
Don’t get me wrong, the usual violent action set pieces are there, with Robert bringing down the Italian mafia using whatever items are in his possession. But the stakes are disappointingly low since Vincent and his men are hardly a threat.
And speaking of Vincent, Andrea Scarduzio turns out to be the weakest antagonist I’ve ever seen in ‘The Equalizer’ franchise, particularly when compared to Marton Csokas and Pedro Pascal in the first two movies or even on its own merits. I hate to say this, but at least the previous two actors who played the respective antagonists have better personalities than Andrea Scarduzio’s standard-issue, garden-variety turn of an Italian mafia boss.
As for Denzel himself, he remains the reason to watch this otherwise flimsy third installment. He still has the magnetic charm and personality for a 68-year-old actor and knows how to command the screen.
‘The Equalizer 3’ also reunites the veteran actor with Dakota Fanning, where they last collaborated in ‘Man on Fire’ back in 2004; how time flies when Dakota was only ten years old when that movie was released. And now, she’s all grown up, and here, she plays Emma Collins, a deskbound intelligence officer on her field duty dealing with Robert. It’s nice seeing them sharing the same screen again. But Dakota’s overall supporting turn in ‘The Equalizer 3’ is rather a perfunctory addition to the franchise that I wish Fuqua could do better when pairing her with Denzel.
So much for the so-called final chapter of ‘The Equalizer’ that could have been a solid conclusion (never mind with the recent talks on a potential prequel), given Denzel’s acting caliber, he certainly deserves better than this.