The Equalizer 3

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At the beginning of The Equalizer 3 we appear to be in familiar “action hero in retirement” territory. A sunny place. Beautiful scenery. The camera drinking it all in. Surely, any minute we’ll be meeting Denzel Washington in a Hawaiian shirt, a cocktail in one hand, a pretty young woman on his arm, in much the same way Matt Damon or Jason Statham were introduced in follow-ups The Bourne Supremacy and Mechanic: Resurrection.

Instead director Antoine Fuqua gives us mayhem, horror, lakes of blood, a man with a machete buried in his face, and, sitting coolly in the middle of it all, one-man vigilante machine Robert McCall (Washington). He’s clearly laid waste to a vast army of thugs, in the most unpleasant way possible, but is now surrounded by a couple of henches with their weapons drawn.

McCall is at bay, outnumbered, defeated. But, in a scene reminiscent of that one in the last Equalizer movie – the one in the train carriage – he has soon evened up the odds by killing everyone around him in the most brutal way possible. There’s even some comedy carnage done with a straight face. This, after all, is what we expect from an Equalizer movie.

And then, in a way, we actually do slip into action-hero-in-retirement mode, as McCall, injured in the fray and in need of recuperation, settles for a while in a picture-postcard Italian village on the coast, full of charming squares and narrow winding alleyways. Where he licks his wounds, gathers his strength and makes friends with the locals. The locals become such friends, in fact, that when kindly, hobbling McCall learns that the good townspeople are being menaced by the camorra/’ndragheta/mafia (all terms are used), he is forced to pause the R and R, reapply the “getting too old for this shit” expression and go back to work, in what’s a loose variation on the A Fistful of Dollars plot.

Warning: there is quite a lot of Denzel Washington being engagingly charming in this movie, as Robert McCall drinks in the scenery, takes tea in cute cafés, makes eyes at a local beauty (Gaia Scodellaro) and generally behaves like a man on vacation. After lunch and a nap he might go for a swim. There’s an elegiac tone, the soundtrack is wistful, mournful even, and the suspicion starts to build that Antoine Fuqua has, to borrow a line from Withnail and I, gone on holiday by mistake, confusing an action movie with an advertising gig for an upmarket travel company.

McCall takes on one of the local mobsters
Crunch time for a local mobster

McCall’s detour into holidayland means there isn’t a lot Equalizing with extreme prejudice going on in this movie. But for its first half Fuqua skilfully delivers cinematic dramatics without plot fireworks. Not much happens but it feels like plenty is going on, so fluid is the camera, so smart the edits, so well judged the pace. New-to-the-franchise music guy is Marcelo Zarvos, who conjures an atmosphere of warm scented evenings. New camera guy is Robert Richardson, who’s been Tarantino’s go-to cinematographer since Kill Bill: Vol. 1. New editor is Conrad Buff (the fourth, if you’re counting), of James Cameron fame. Together they work up quite a mood.

As an actual story eventually starts to intrude – enter Dakota Fanning’s CIA agent in a subplot so flyaway you wonder why they are bothering (Fanning barely is) – things start to flatten out. The holiday atmosphere starts to dissipate, Robert McCall recovers his strength and soon Fuqua is herding his technical team towards a neo-noir-tinged all-action finale intercutting violence with fireworks and Catholicism.

As a blend of the familiarly brutal and the almost horizontally laid back, it works. As a coda to the whole series, it works too. As an action movie, maybe a bit less so. Remove the grisly stuff at the beginning and the end and it’s a very nice advertisement for Italy, in particular the town of Atrani in Campania, if you really want to know. I bet all the hotels and Airbnbs are booked well into the foreseeable.

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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