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‘The Equalizer 3-Movie Collection’ 4K Blu-ray (review)

Sony

The Equalizer series has been one of the most interesting and dramatically fruitful adaptations of a classic television series in recent memory.

The property began life as television show that ran from 1985 until 1989, and starred the terrific British actor Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man) as Robert McCall, a former British Secret Service agent who has taken up residence in New York City and acts as a private investigator and mercenary to ordinary people who are in danger of being crushed underfoot by organized crime or impersonal forces of society.

The series is fondly remembered and in 2014 a motion picture adaptation debuted starring Denzel Washington, who had been trying to get the property revived for three years at that point.

The Equalizer (2014) reteams Washington with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) who remains one of the most stylish directors of thrillers currently working in Hollywood today. Washington’s casting necessitated a series of changes both in the backstory and in the main action of the film, from the original television premise.

For one, the character is far more American.

He feels less like a worldly, sophisticated, secret agent and more like an older version of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character. He’s still a former secret agent, but definitely more in the mold of a Tom Clancy type special forces operator. Also, the change from Woodward, who was not physically imposing, to Washington, who even in advanced age is still a physical presence, mark this version of McCall as less of a threat you don’t see coming, and also more of a hands on fighter than a cerebral operative who caused villains to fall into complex traps, though that element is not completely discarded.

So, it’s dramatically different from the source material but does it work on its own terms?

Oh yes.

Washington plays McCall as a man who has accepted a reduced station in life but maintains a great affection for the people around him. He draws the attention of the Russian mafia by befriending an indentured prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) and begins killing his way up the leadership structure until he comes to the attention of the mob’s “fixer” Teddy (Marton Csokas) and his band of mercenaries. The film ends with McCall establishing his “Equalizer” persona, making it a kind of stealth origin story.

At the time, The Equalizer was most striking for both its “timed fight” gimmick (Wherein McCall will hit a stopwatch before a big melee because he’s so unconcerned with the possibility of defeat he looks at the action as more of a physical exertion) and the single minded brutality of its hero. Washington recalls his part in Tony Scott’s Man on Fire as a stoic badass who is capable of doing the most horrible things imaginable to the worst people on Earth and still having you like him at the end for it.

If there’s a weakness to the film it’s the villains, who are very much in the mold of antagonists from films like Taken rather than the more flamboyant and memorable villains of something like John Wick. The Euro-trash feels anonymous and one dimensional and even Teddy, who is positioned as a foil for McCall as a kind of investigator for the mob, is never really given much texture as a character. Without really strong villains, McCall’s brutality is fun, but not cathartic. Thus, this is a good, but not great action film.

Thankfully, this lone complaint is addressed in the follow up.

The Equalizer 2 is the best film in the series, full stop.

After an opening that plays like a low key version of the classic Bond cold open, McCall is drawn into a conspiracy headed up by his former squad mates (led by the brilliant Pedro Pascal) who have expertly murdered a friend of his (Melissa Leo) who was on the verge of ID’ing them for an off-the-books hit. McCall goes on a personal mission of vengeance to avenge his friend and wipe out his former comrades.

The Equalizer 2 has something of the attitude Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has where the writers seemingly remembered that their main character was supposed to be a spy and a detective and began writing him that way. Whereas in the first film, he feels almost like a community vigilante, the globe trotting and legwork he engages in here makes him feel equally at home in the worlds of Jack Bauer or Spenser and that was always the core appeal of the character.

The Equalizer 2 is an example of the timeless art of making a good sequel: keep everything good from the first entry (Denzel’s performance, the action, the assured direction), beef up the elements that were lacking (in this case, the bad guys and the detective work), and raise the stakes accordingly. There’s no flaws in this film from a structural perspective and I like howo.

After two films made for streaming services, Emancipation and The Guilty, director Antoine Fuqua decided to reteam with Denzel Washington for a third outing as Robert McCall. This time, the hook for the film in press discussions was the exotic, international, setting. This third film in the series drops American locations almost entirely for southern Italy, which gives the whole picture a fresh look and feel. Unfortunately it also signals an almost complete break with the identity of the franchise: no longer is McCall an older former spy working as a detective, now he’s just an older spy. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but it does take away much of what made the films thus far feel like The Equalizer.

In this outing, McCall goes up against the Camorra family of the Sicilian Mafia after an incursion to one of their drug fronts goes awry and he’s saved by an Italian policeman. Dakota Fanning makes a welcome return to the big screen as his CIA contact, Eugenio Mastrandrea is really solid as the Italian policeman who saves McCall, and Andrea Scarduzio is the capo of the Camorra family who is the principal antagonist.

There’s a fun irony at the center of this third film that not many critics have discussed: whereas the Italian setting would suggest leaning harder into the espionage elements of the first two films and the opening action sequence seems to back that up this is really much more tonally similar to the first film where McCall acts as a kind of community enforcer. His issue with the Camorra family is ultimately that they’re awful to the locals who cannot defend themselves. And so, McCall enjoys an espresso instead of black coffee as he snaps bones and bleeds out a new cadre of Eurotrash baddies.

The film however, also inherits the first film’s problems: there is almost no meaningful detective work, and the villains are once more swarthy phantoms with bad accents who exist to be brutally killed. I want to stress that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with either thing in and of itself but it feels like a step backwards after the narrative discipline of The Equalizer 2.

One thing that is unique to this film is the visual power of the Italian setting, which clearly is what inspired Fuqua as a filmmaker to really want to do this film. He gets shots of the Amalfi Cast that are just breathtaking and really do feel like something special. Equalizer 3 possesses a quality many of the best spy films do where the location becomes a character unto itself.

Extras include deleted and extended scenes, featurettes, trailers, tv promos, and music video.

Two good films and one great one, and all of them were financially successful. It’s an open question of whether we’ll see Washington’s version of Robert McCall again, but the question of whether they’re worth watching is a resounding “Yes!”

 

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