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Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Culture Pick: ‘The Equalizer 3’ is enjoyable and irritating

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

“Take it slow,” advises a well-meaning elderly woman as she passes Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall slowly trekking up one of the dauntingly steep flights of stairs in the seaside town of Altamonte, Italy. It’s an endearing scene that encapsulates the theme of growing old and feeling out of place in the modern world. 

At least, that could be one’s interpretation were “The Equalizer 3” to maintain such a theme, or any theme for that matter, for the entirety of its runtime. 

Unfortunately, the movie is highly frenetic, operating with the breakneck tone of the action genre while taking a breakneck approach to its ideas. It has opened to solid reviews, receiving a  75% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.1/10 on IMDb, and 3.1/5 on Letterboxd. The apparent consensus is that it maintains the gleefully gratuitous atmosphere of its predecessors; this, however, is a generous appraisal. 

The opening scene, taking place in an Italian mafia member’s countryside manor that has been ransacked by McCall, seems to reassure the audience that McCall is the same unstoppable hero he’s been for two movies running. It then proceeds to bring him through an intense brush with death that leaves him almost immobilized in the scenic Altamonte.  

From there the film could have run with the theme of a fighter past his glory days, a theme that has created emotional and enthralling character finales such as “Shane” or, more recently, “Logan.” Instead, it uses McCall’s vulnerability as a brief and ultimately insignificant roadblock along a story path that seldom lives up to its stakes. 

Amid a wide-spreading web of conflict involving international drug trade, acts of terrorism and the elusive Italian mob, the protagonist never feels truly at risk. This isn’t to say that these narrative aspects aren’t interesting, but rather that they never give the movie any lasting significance. 

The first two films of the franchise satisfied a clear set of desires from the audience. In sourcing its success from enthralling, unabashed action, “The Equalizer” slid perfectly into the overpowered action hero genre, a niche with recent examples like “John Wick” or “Nobody.” The 2018 sequel sustained this glorious brutality while grounding its story a tad, making Robert McCall more human and more appealing as a main character. 

In “The Equalizer 3,” it’s unclear what target is being aimed at. There are moments where McCall is just as charming as in previous outings and the element of vulnerability on occasion adds an intriguing new layer to his character. For every lovable toothy grin, however, there’s an instance of off-putting ruthlessness or apparent immortality. 

The film’s biggest problem is that it never decides whether it wants Robert McCall to remain the unstoppable titan, lean more into being the protective people-lover, face inner conflict for the violence he takes part in, or grapple with his inevitable age-induced decline.  

None of these is inherently better or worse than another. The issues arise when they’re all piled into one bloated final product. 


Denzel Washington as Robert McCall in “The Equalizer 3.” At times he is endearing and vulnerable, and at others he’s vicious and invincible.

Not much help is provided from the technical side of things. While the use of Italian language and culture frequently livens up the writing, the international crime thriller part of the story is hard to take seriously, feeling as if it were penned by a high schooler convinced he “knows dialogue.” The camerawork is also often awkward and aimless, with clumsy movement and little stylistic continuity. 

Also, there are 10 fades to black across the entire movie. None bears the thematic significance that alone can justify a technique otherwise lost to Hollywood antiquity. 

Even with all this negativity, there’s still fun to be had. Though it is part of a larger thematic disarray, the action is reasonably thrilling. As mentioned before, the setting of Italy adds a unique cultural angle not present in the first or second film. For how conflicting the script might be, Denzel Washington is still as delightful as always. 

The unfortunate truth, however, is that “The Equalizer 3” tries to load its plate full, but most of its items are a tad undercooked. In the end, it winds up being as frustrating as it is fun.

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