Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer trilogy concludes this weekend, which means now is the perfect time to look back on the series and rank them from best to worst. Personally, none of them are awful, but one of the films definitely stands out amongst the other two. Where does this latest entry rank among the franchise? Read on to find out.
3. The Equalizer 3 (2023)
Well, that was weird. After two solid action-driven films, Antoine Fuqua and Washington decided to subvert expectations and deliver a dark, meandering, somber character drama as the big sendoff. The Equalizer 3 has a handful of standout moments — that restaurant scene bristles with tension — but is so scatterbrained that it’s often hard to follow. Or maybe I didn’t care.
If the first two functioned as schlocky, violent, vigilante thrillers, Part 3 borrows its cues from the Ip Man franchise and mostly follows Washington’s world-weary assassin as he mingles with the local townsfolk. That’s completely fine. In fact, there were times I wished the movie wouldn’t resort to bloodshed and instead linger on Robert McCall’s relationship with his kindly doctor or that beautiful waitress. Hell, I enjoyed watching the man traverse a John Wick: Chapter 4-esque series of stairs to get himself back in shape.
Washington’s charisma carries the film through its slower moments, while Fuqua makes the most of his gorgeous Southern Italy landscape. Where the pic falters is in its clunky script and lackluster villains. Here, Robert combats a ruthless drug dealer who uses farms to transport his product… ah, who cares? The bad guys exist so Robert can kick ass between his tea and coffee breaks. Except, this time around, the action is largely hidden in shadows and presented with an ominous score that feels more appropriate for Michael Myers than Robert McCall. We still cheer on his quest for justice, but there’s an eerie, almost unhinged level of depravity to his actions—he’s borderline psychotic, though the film never explores his lust for blood.
In actuality, The Equalizer 3 doesn’t explore much or say anything. Fuqua presents ideas but never follows through with them. Washington’s Man On Fire co-star Dakota Fanning pops up for a subplot that goes nowhere, and the big payoff is so easily executed that it lacks any genuine thrills.
As always, it’s fun to watch Washington strut his stuff on the big screen. As a fan of the first two Equalizer films, however, I was disappointed to see his exceptional talents go to waste. Perhaps a second viewing is in order now that I know what to expect.
2. The Equalizer 2 (2018)
Despite lacking the freshness of its predecessor, The Equalizer 2 delivers everything you want and then some. The action pops, Washington is engaging as ever, and the human drama carries enough weight to keep you invested during the slower parts. The main plot isn’t all that memorable, but Pedro Pascal portrays the villain well, and the finale’s action sequence set in a tropical storm packs a wallop!
1. The Equalizer (2014)
It’s hard to believe nearly a decade has passed since Washington first appeared onscreen as the mysterious Robert McCall, a kindly, quiet Home Depot worker possessing a wicked set of skills and a disdain for bad guys. Alas, time has been kind to The Equalizer, mostly because it feels like something out of a simpler time. There is no overarching social commentary, no blunt political statements, and no one ever questions McCall’s resolve. Here, our hero sees bad things happen, puts down his book, and exacts bloody justice. Simple and effective.
Fuqua adorns this vigilante fantasy in dark shadows and ratchets the violence to squeamish levels. Yet, he takes the time to introduce characters and build tension so that when the big moments arrive, they hit like a nuclear bomb.
The Equalizer never rises above its B-movie trappings, but there’s plenty here to enjoy, from Washington’s commanding performance to the handful of expertly presented set pieces. This is the movie Taken wanted to be — The Equalizer rocks!