Much of the hype surrounding ‘The Equalizer’ hinges on the fact that it reunites director Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington for the first time since ‘Training Day‘. The trouble is that Fuqua hasn’t made anything resembling a good movie since that, and this is no exception. So, it’s best to put ‘Training Day’ out of your mind while watching this deeply stupid movie. It’ll only make the film seem worse than it already is.
Any of the realism or relevance from ‘Training Day’ is completely lost in ‘The Equalizer’, in favor of cramming as many killings into an over two-hour running time as possible. The movie is based on an ’80s TV series about an ex-secret agent who doles out his own brand of justice in the street, ‘Death Wish’-style. Fuqua’s movie follows that formula to the letter. Unfortunately, it’s also the exact same formula as the ‘Taken’ franchise, and the villains chosen are even the same Russian sex slavery mobsters, making the movie feel like an inferior knock-off.
Washington opens the movie playing normal guy Robert McCall, who works in a big box home improvement store. He trains a friend to be a security guard for grating foreshadowing, reads novels and pontificates about ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ for a nauseating attempt at subtext, and makes friends with a horribly miscast Chloe Grace Moretz as a teen prostitute. When Moretz is beaten practically to death by her evil Russian bosses, McCall sets out to buy her freedom. When the evil Russians refuse his offer, he kills a handful of them in less than 30 seconds, making it clear that he was always a killing machine in disguise. From there, McCall doles out violence to anyone that somewhat deserves it and single handedly takes out the entire Russian mob organization in Boston. In response, the Russian mobsters bring in a super villain hit man of their own (Marton Csokas), setting up a last boss battle finale – in the aisles of a Home Depot, no less!.
Essentially, ‘The Equalizer’ is just a rote revenge action movie with Denzel Washington in the lead. There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s made plenty of those, but unlike the infinitely superior ‘Taken’, Fuqua and Washington take the material waaaaaay too seriously. Washington pontificates about literature and zen philosophy in a manner that always feels dull and hopelessly clichéd. Lines like “I like the city at night. It feels like there are so many possibilities” pass without a hint of irony and are completely laughable. Then when the character turns into a remorseless killing machine, he piles up a bigger body count that Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers (even using power tools for most of the kills to make him feel like a classic slasher) in a manner that feels silly, yet is played for unearned drama.
Had Fuqua and Washington embraced the big, dumb pulp of the material, their movie could have at least been fun. As it stands, it’s dullsville with extreme violence that feels morally questionable in such an overly dramatic context. To make matters worse, the pacing is off, with long subplots added for needless backstory and character sympathy that do nothing but drag things down and add needless sentimentality. As a result, when the big boss battle finally arrives, all of the plot threads have been closed and the running time has already crossed the two-hour mark. It feels exhaustingly unnecessary rather than thrillingly cathartic.
Worst of all, the whole mess of a movie concludes on a note that suggests this is but an origin story for a planned ‘Equalizer’ franchise. Don’t skip this movie just because it’s horrible. Skip it to prevent sequels from ever happening. No good will come of that.