‘The Equalizer 3’ review: Finally, one of these things is good

Like many a burnt-out employee, “The Equalizer” desperately needed a vacation.

And so, for its final chapter, “The Equalizer 3,” the Denzel Washington vigilante-justice film series jets off to Italy, and soaks in the sun of the Amalfi Coast while soaking the Amalfi Coast in the blood of irredeemable criminals.

movie review

Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (strong bloody violence and some language). In theaters Sept. 1.

The first two movies in this ultra-violent and gory franchise, directed by Antoine Fuqua, were pathologically unpleasant. Way too dark with a drab Boston setting and far more plot than necessary, the slogs grated on the brain. 

Washington was always good in them, of course, but the lift was too heavy even for the experienced Oscar winner. 

Finally, on the series’ supposedly last outing, one of its films lives up to the ever-deepening talent of its leading man. “Equalizer 3” adds nothing new to the thriller genre, true, but it wisely acknowledges what’s worked well before.

Namely, the mafia.

Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 3
Denzel Washington (right) is back as Robert McCall in “The Equalizer 3.”

The Threequalizer begins with Robert McCall (Washington), a former CIA black ops agent with a skill for killing, at a winery in Sicily surrounded by mangled corpses. The dead — McCall’s victims — are mafiosos who have used the vineyard as a front to smuggle deadly synthetic amphetamines from Syria.   

Often frustratingly unbeatable, this time McCall is shot in the back and wakes up confused in an idyllic town near Naples recovering at a doctor’s home. 

“Are you a good man or a bad man?” the doc asks.

A woozy McCall replies, “I don’t know,” and passes out.

Giorgio Antoninu (left) and Andrea Scarduzio
Giorgio Antoninu (left) and Andrea Scarduzio play members of the vicious Naples Camorra.

Making Washington’s badass bedridden and then hobbled lends the usually impenetrable McCall some vulnerability and a watchable arc that the first two films lacked. For once, an “Equalizer” is more than a murderous walk in the park. 

As the weeks go by, the hardened man calls himself Roberto, begins to love his adopted home, befriends the locals and decides to stay put. He’s determined to protect the tormented citizens from the mafia-like Camorra forces by any means necessary — a k a ruthlessly gruesome death.

Fuqua likes to drain these films of color, nearly to grayscale, but Italy nonetheless looks as beautiful as it does foreboding. The roars of motorcycles outside, ubiquitous in Western Europe, amp up our paranoia about what nefarious forces could be riding in on them.

Dakota Fanning
CIA agent Collins (Dakota Fanning) pursues Italian drug traffickers with McCall’s help.

As he settles in, McCall helps a CIA agent named Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning), who’s both suspicious of and intrigued by the mysterious informant, track down the Sicilian drug traffickers. 

Every fix Fuqua makes this time is for the better. Surprisingly for the end of a trilogy, “3” is the shortest of the “Equalizer” series, clocking in at 30 minutes less than the first one. Belíssimo.

Italian organized crime makes a weightier match for deadly McCall — a Godzilla versus Mothra of the world’s seedy underbelly. Individually, the baddies are static and uninteresting, but their unique personalities are beside the point.  

Denzel Washington
Washington began playing McCall nine years ago, when he was 59.

The reason for this franchise is Washington, who was 59 when he began in this role nine years ago, and who imparts impressive pathos on a man who we watch shove a fireplace poker through a thug’s throat. Sometimes he even wrings a hearty laugh or two out of his killing sprees.

It’s nice to see “The Equalizer,” a series I hated until now, go out with a film so unequal to its rotten predecessors.

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