The genre best described as “older actor who did big action movies a couple decades ago but is still kicking butt today even though he’s an AARP member” shows no sign of slowing down.
This year alone we’ve had Keanu Reeves in “John Wick: Chapter 4,” Vin Diesel in “Fast X,” Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1” and just a couple weeks ago we saw Liam Neeson in “Retribution.” And while some of these movies are much better than others, they generally make money, even if it’s not necessarily the thought-provoking, awards-worthy work these actors used to do.
Which is why it was so surprising to see “The Equalizer 3” seemingly come out of nowhere. I’m sure the continuing writers and actors strikes meant that little to no publicity could be done for the film, but it was also surprising to see the series’ star returning to the role.
That star, of course, is Denzel Washington, arguably the greatest actor of the past 30 years along with Meryl Streep. Because while the aforementioned action stars generally stick to the shoot-em-ups with an occasional serious or independent film thrown in, between the first “Equalizer” film and this latest installment, Washington racked up four Oscar nominations.
The point is this: you can always count on Denzel, and to the surprise of no one, he delivers the goods once again.
Since giving up his life as a government assassin, Robert McCall (played by Washington) has struggled to reconcile the horrific things he’s done in the past and finds a strange solace in serving individualized justice on behalf of the oppressed.
After a mission ending not as he planned, McCall finds himself healing at the home of an old doctor in a village in Southern Italy. Although he has unfinished business, he is learning to enjoy his new life and becoming part of a community again.
But when he discovers his new friends are under the control of local crime bosses, McCall knows he can’t sit idly by while injustice is happening. As events turn deadly, he again comes out of retirement to become his found family’s protectors by taking on the mafia.
The film is the fifth collaboration between Washington and director Antoine Fuqua, and even though it doesn’t reach the heights of “Training Day” or even McCall’s first outing, the pair are consummate professionals who bring their A game every time.
Unlike the previous two installments in the trilogy, this supposedly final chapter looks and feels more reminiscent of the films of its setting — an older, slower Italy. Sure, there’s the fair share of action, but rather than a continuous progression of mystery and suspense, a big chunk of scenes are McCall sipping tea at a cafe, leisurely strolling down the street saying “Ciao” to all the kids kicking a ball around and sitting in a church contemplating his life.
Of course, when the tension is high and this does turn back into a genuine “Equalizer” adventure, there is no holding back. What I’ve always appreciated about these films is the violence isn’t stylized or over-the-top like an Arnold Schwartzeneger or Quentin Tarantino film, but that also somehow makes it that more brutal. The cold, calculated way McCall takes the bad guys out is designed to feel realistic rather than exciting for the movie audience, and it works.
The only downside is Washington really isn’t in the film as much as he should, because this really doesn’t feel like a true sequel or next chapter in the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if 75% of the script was actually another film but was reworked with a new 25% including McCall’s story that bookends this one that he accidentally stumbled into.
Nevertheless, being different doesn’t make it a bad thing. Washington is so good, and his character’s struggles with morality are so meaningful — especially as we see him interacting with and growing to love this found family — that this slow burn of an action film is worth waiting for the action to happen. There are currently no plans for a fourth film, but if both the director and star are up for it, I’ll be in line for “The Equalizer 4” opening weekend, just as I was for this one.