To enjoy the (allegedly) final entry in Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer” trilogy, it’s not at all crucial to understand the particulars of how former Marine and intelligence operative Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) lands in Italy for this latest outing. It’s safe to assume the vigilante is there to kick some bad-dude butt, with more convoluted revelations to come. Wherever Robert McCall lands, even a luxurious private winery, there are villains afoot for him to kill off in the most gruesome manners, details be damned.
And “The Equalizer 3” opens with Robert skulking around said winery, offing dark-clad mercenary types, and apparently setting right some sort of horrible injustice. As we might expect, he gets much more than he bargained for — and so will fans of Fuqua’s brutal action series, which closes out in fine style.
His foray into Italy begins with snappy, bloody vignettes, putting both Robert and the audience on an awkward foot, all in service to jetting him to Europe. And that’s before Robert gets shot by the most unlikely of aggressors, yet still manages to get away (not just on foot, but also by car and then even a ferry). When he comes to, a kind-hearted Italian cop is there to assist, shuffling the dazed (and bleeding out) Robert to a kind-hearted Italian doctor, who happily volunteers to take the injured stranger into his care (and his life in, you guessed it, a stunning Italian village primarily populated by kind-hearted people).
In the two previous films, Fuqua and Washington (plus series screenwriter Richard Wenk) imagined the mysterious Robert as a self-styled vigilante, a former operative who opted to spend his “retirement” getting into all kinds of scrapes to help out good people with no other hope. Russian mobsters, evil mercenaries, hellbent terrorists, even unthinking graffiti artists — all have fallen to Robert and his special brand of brutal violence. (This is the sort of franchise in which the star ripped a man’s hand in two — what does he do for an encore?) Robert is aging, but he’s not stopping. It just takes a him a little longer to get there.
Holed up in a delightful village on the Amalfi Coast under the care of both the kind-hearted doc (Remo Girone) and his kind-hearted cop friend (Eugenio Mastrandrea), Robert grows a little soft. He spends his days hobbling up and down the many stairs of the picturesque village or stopping for tea at an outdoor cafe. The village takes him in without question — when a resident says, “They see you as one of us now,” the audience came to the same conclusion long before — and Robert spends his days with the doc, the cop, the pretty cafe owner, even the local fishmonger and his wife.
As you might imagine, traditional retirement doesn’t suit Robert. So it’s exceedingly fortunate that his European idyll attracted the very kind of people he’s spent so long trying to exterminate. We’re talking, of course, about the mafia. The actual, real-deal Italian mafia, the Camorra, the dudes who have done this sort of thing for decades. And these dudes are not your typical mafia bad guys; they’re also drug pushers in bed with terrorist groups, literally selling a “jihad drug” (as it’s repeatedly referred to in the film, take that as you will) to fund all sorts of horrible acts.
Led by the comically evil Vincent Quaranta (Andrea Scarduzio) and his bumbling brother Marco (Andrea Dodero), this particular group has their eyes on Robert’s new village for their next big score — they want to turn it into a tourist trap, obviously the most nefarious scheme possible — and they’re willing to do whatever’s necessary in their quest to, uh, build a casino?
As ever, the details don’t matter. What matters is that Robert McCall is going to murder a bunch of bad guys in increasingly chaotic ways (one final death is so outrageous this critic laughed aloud, and I don’t think that was the intention), all set against stunning Italian locales.
And that’s before Fuqua adds an unexpected treat in the form of Dakota Fanning, Washington’s “Man on Fire” co-star, who pops up as a junior analyst Robert cold-calls (spin-off set-up, ahoy!) when he realizes things are going topside in the village and he might want to wrangle some outside support. Fanning’s turn as straitlaced intelligence wonk Emma Collins isn’t necessary, but it gives Robert new dimensions, eases come creaky exposition, and allows the film to be tied into a nifty bow. You could do far worse for the third film in a franchise.
And does it feel like a final film? While all of Fuqua’s previous “Equalizer” joints ended in a place of relative peace for Robert, this third entry leans even harder on the sense that things have wrapped up, albeit with buckets of blood spilled in service to another hand-ripping good time. If this is the end of “The Equalizer,” it’s a good one, a high note that overcomes confusion, complications, and convolutions to give everyone — Robert, Emma, kind-hearted Italians, the audience — a lavish adventure to remember.
A Sony release, “The Equalizer 3” will hit theaters on Friday, September 1.