‘The Equalizer’ Review: Some Movies Are Less Equal Than Others

'The Equalizer'

Movie Rating:

1.5

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.

24 comments

  1. Chris B

    That’s too bad, this one really piqued my interest when I saw the trailer . It’s funny how you point out that the same Russian type mobsters were the bad guys in Taken. Come to think of it, they were the big bad guys in Training Day too! Not to mention they’re also the villains in The Drop, released a few weeks ago. I guess they’re now the go to villain for any and all crime flicks nowadays. Hollywood needs to switch it up.

  2. Training Day was actually a GREAT movie! Not only that, but also one of the best performances in the whole career of an amazing actor. I actually enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen, so… maybe I’ll enjoy this one.

    • Chris B

      Agreed, Training Day was fucking awesome, the scene where Ethan Hawke is laying in that tub with a shotgun pressed to his face trying to talk his way out of getting greased is incredibly tense. I’m not sure why Josh thinks it sucks so bad, care to elaborate?

        • Chris B

          I just liked how Denzel’s character is introduced as cop who’s rough around the edges but still supposedly on the right side of the law.. Then ever so gradually is revealed to be completely corrupt, I though it was really interesting to watch the degeneration of his charcter’s morality. To each their own though…

  3. I used to watch The Equalizer when I was a kid, and I don’t remember it being that action oriented. I thought Edward Woodward used his wits more than anything to help people out. I don’t remember him being such a bruiser. Am I mistaken? I remember one particular episode where he did kill a guy, but it seemed like a big deal, as if there was no other alternative. Anybody else remember the show? I guess I’ll do me a little googling to see if I can refresh my memory.

  4. I just watched an episode of the Equalizer, (I skimmed some parts). From what I read above, it doesn’t seem very much like the show I just watched. I’m sure it will make a great rental. What I found funny when watching that episode is that they used the chloroform trope that I mentioned a few weeks back in the tv show tropes poll.

  5. Chris B

    Fuqua directed a great documentary/concert film on The Blues called “Lightning in a Bottle” several years back. Personally, I thought it was really enjoyable, although I suppose it really depends on your affinity for that particular style of music.

  6. Phil Brown

    I gotta jump in on the Fuqua talk. I think that the first 3/4 of Training Day is pretty fantastic. After that, it falls apart in a big bad way. I also got a huge kick out of Olympus Has Fallen as a hilariously stupid movie. The Equalizer is not that. It’s dull in it’s stupidity and ultra violence. That’s bad. Real bad.

    • Elizabeth

      Olympus Has Fallen was terrible. It’s biggest flaw was that it failed to realize how stupid it was. Which sounds an awful lot like this movie. Lots of subplots that went nowhere (the president’s kid, the codes that they could apparently crack in less a minute if they tried). And lousy CGI fire. How hard is it to have real fire? And the rooftop sequence copied practically verbatim from Die Hard; if you’re going to steal the plot of a better film, don’t make if from one of the most iconic movies ever filmed.

      So much stupid. So much awfulness.

  7. I’ve got to say – I thought that The Equalizer was one of the most badass movies I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s got a great ’80s vendetta action movie vibe. Sure, it gets a little outrageous, but it’s absolutely entertaining. I walked away 100 percent satisfied. The action stuff was perfect. The tension was tangible. And the directing took it from being an average action flick to one with solid filmmaking characteristics and style.

    • cardpetree

      Well, it’s currently 59% on Rotten Tomatoes which is not indicative of an absolute horrible movie. I’m looking forward to seeing it and like I said before, the way Phil was describing it in the review, all I was thinking was how cool it sounded.

    • Chapz Kilud

      Once again I totally agree with Luke Hickman. I think we like the same type of movies. For me, the outrageous part of the movie got me (and some audience who were there with me) laughing. I’m not sure why but the part where Robert McCall moved around the skull thing on the desk, and the part where he banged the door several times before turning to wipe out Slavi’s man were really funny to me. Aside from that, the film had various human element especially with the girl Elena. I didn’t think the zen philosophy was dull given how it was put together with the movie.

      I wouldn’t consider Taken to be infinitely superior. Both Neeson and Washington are great actors. Coincidentally they both did movie about air travel recently, Neeson’s Non Stop and Washington’s Flight. Washington just needs a role in the new Star Wars and their similarity will be complete.

  8. When I saw the reference to Training Day I thought of it in a negative way. Although that movie had a surprise ending, overall I was not impressed with it. So I sort of figured this one is nothing to write home about.

  9. This is why i love Denzel Washington, probably one of the best Denzel movies ive seen in a while. (To me) The Equalizer can be summed up as a modern day black superhero, who rights the wrongs of those in need, lives a good guy life by day and becomes a covert ops stealthy type crime fighter by night. The movie had alot of great action & close combat scenes, just overall badassery in the last half of the movie that makes it a must see.

  10. By the time this movie ends one wonders, wtf just happened. I mean it seemed to be building up to something but then as if director, producer and everyone lost complete interest in the movie and decided to just be done with it. But why waste an extra hour of our lives ? Why ? What started as a great promise fizzzled out with such splendid patheticity ” New Word Just made Up for this one ; boy they deserve it ” that everyone was thankful it was over. Anti Climax personified. Last 1 hour is utterly un-necessary and is nothing but an exercise in self promotion for denzel washington who while trying to look bad ass just made an ass of himself. And The Villain , wait there was a villain in this movie who promised so much that i foolishly thought i am in for a treat of a performance. And in the end he died. Really, just like that, he died. First 1 hour lots of promise with some breathtaking scenes. Last 1 hour CRAP. Total CRAP

  11. I like this movie. Although Robert, the main character, is already a retired agent but he cannot stand on the wickedness brought around on his place by the russian mafia. And when he realized that Alina and other whore was forced against their will and badly beaten, he decided to end this wickedness. It is really a good story for a heroic act. I highly recommend this movie. I give 5 star on this. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.