Mucking with Movies: ‘Equalizer 3’ — A big movie that forgets the little things

Jack Simon
Mucking with Movies
Jack Simon
Jack Simon

A corrupt police department, a burgeoning new criminal ruthlessly rampaging through a small town, and one hero who was ready to leave it all behind him so that he could finally enjoy his spaghetti and tea. A template laid forth dozens of times in action movie history, a wheel doomed to be reinvented.

There are very few geniuses, much less than we give credit for, and they’re usually off somewhere busy inventing entirely different art strains too weird for mass consumption. I talked a couple of weeks ago about Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” and the influence of the French New Wave. If you’ve seen those, you’ve seen the source for almost every Martin Scorsese great idea. Most art, even the best of the best like Scorsese, is a retread of previous ideas.

My favorite action flicks are either slick with quick, polychrome shots of guns reloading, kicks landing, and bad guys in Armani suits (“John Wick,” “Road House,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier”), or gaudy monstrosities that stretch mankind’s already ludicrous perception of Earth’s possibilities (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Assassination Nation”). They, too, are new ideas presented with fresh, unique perspectives.

“Equalizer 3” never is able to find its lane, as it neglects the little things.

“John Wick” has the deftness with which Keanu Reeves can execute his attacks, coupled with the camera’s crispness. “Road House” has dogged dedication to creating a world where bouncers are celebrities on the same level as ballplayers. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has a masked man playing a flaming guitar on the back of a two-story-high speaker tower attached to a semi-truck.

It’s these small but important twists that establish the rules of the film, and “Equalizer 3” loses this chance at greatness in the first fifteen minutes when a character born and bred in the Sicilian countryside speaks English without a trace of an accent. Two main characters in fact — the cop trying to do good and buck the trend of turning the other cheek and the main, big bad — don’t have accents. It’s established rules of this world building, how close to real life a movie wants to be or how far away, that determines the amount of suspension of disbelief an audience is willing to go through to properly enjoy an action film.

But, when characters are not authentic to that world, there are no rules. There is only unproductive chaos. A character can be cartoonish but must be genuine; a character can be borderline satirical, but it must be honest in this choice of representation; and as a director, if you forget to ensure an introductory character doesn’t sound like they’re from Connecticut, then you don’t deserve your explosions.

Denzel Washington as Robert McCall has always been a solid pick for the role of the Equalizer. It was destiny for him to be a pseudo-superhero government secret agent one day; his highly-intensive charismatic style plays into that pocket nicely. At this point, he can play that character in his sleep. Once he flips that switch, the floor of his performances is still higher than 98% of actors working today, and he won’t be exerting himself in the slightest. Drop him into any enchanting setting, in this case, the beautiful rolling hills of Palermo, Sicily, and he can make it happen.

Director Antoine Fuqua — whom if you look at his filmography, you will realize is criminally underrated — knows that if he just points the camera at Denzel and has him say some cool smoldering stuff like “Lord knows I’m allergic to bad things,” your film will be at the very least entertaining.

But, his counterpart Dakota Fanning as CIA agent Emma Collins lacks all the traits that make a character interesting. Dredging up boredom whenever she and Washington undergo a grizzled, veteran-green rookie repartee, it would be less bland than if they had just had McCall have a conversation with solidifying concrete. The movie teases a mysterious relationship between them, but boy, I wish they had skipped it or at least found a way to drum up some intrigue around it.

Perhaps more than any other genre, action is most susceptible to being forgettable. “Equalizer 3” does not find a light to relish in, and that is the difference between being rewatched for decades amongst friends on a Friday night and being relegated to the bottom of the DVD bin at Target.

I’ll probably never think about “Equalizer 3” again.

Critic Score: 5.1/10

Jack Simon is a mogul coach and writer/director who enjoys eating food he can’t afford, traveling to places out of his budget, and creating art about skiing, eating, and traveling while broke. Check out his website to see his Jack’s Jitney travelogue series. You can email him at for inquiries of any type.

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