‘The Equalizer 3’: Bloodbath Under the Sicilian Sun 

Denzel Washington returns with that stare that can turn into an easy-going smile, ready to inflict brutal justice. “The Equalizer 3” promises more of the Oscar-winner showing us all the different ways you can kill armies of thugs with home accessories. The rule here should be that every additional sequel should up the cheerful absurdity. In 2014’s “The Equalizer,” the titular hero took down a squad of Russian gangsters inside a home improvement store, using a nail gun to memorable effect. For the sequel, 2018’s “The Equalizer 2,” the villains were forced to chase Denzel into a hurricane. For this threequel, director Antoine Fuqua seems very keen on capturing Italian life, with a plot that needs a pulse.

Robert McCall (Washington), who is the Equalizer even if the name is never used in the movies, is now in Sicily, doing one of those random good deeds he apparently has endless funding and resources for. This brings him into contact with Italian gangsters who are apparently smuggling drugs from the Middle East produced by ISIS. He also gets badly wounded in a shootout but is saved by a kind doctor, Enzo (Remo Girone). After alerting a CIA operative, Emma Collins (Dakota Fanning), about the whole “Jihad drugs” situation, McCall then focuses on being the brooding mystery man processing the demons of his violent past. His search for peace is interrupted by a ruthless local thug, Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio), who muscles the locals of a small community. Vincent’s big plans are to push everyone out to make way for lavish resorts and casinos he will control. But once he messes with McCall’s friends, rest assured the angel of vengeance is coming to show his outfit no mercy.

Because Fuqua has always been a great director of stylish action, going back to those early movies like “The Replacement Killers” and “Training Day,” his eye is always confident. Here he’s working with master cinematographer Robert Richardson to deliver what is the best-looking “Equalizer” movie. The Sicilian vistas are rich. Picturesque waves lap against shores and restaurants are lit with a warm glow. The series’ typically bloody violence has a bit more elegance, even when someone’s hand gets chopped off or McCall breaks a thug’s arm to then make him stab himself. On the level of bone-crunching action, fans of the franchise will get what they’re hoping for. The Equalizer (for it is he) is given even more hilariously bad one-liners by writer Richard Wenk, like telling a tattooed Italian gangster “you’re making it hard for me” when he’s told to mind his own business. We’re also reminded that if you lack a knife or gun, a sturdy wine bottle can do a lot of damage. Marcelo Zarvos’s music score decorates the carnage with the extra edge of scratchy electric guitars.

What’s missing are some of the better story details of the last two movies. As ridiculous as they were, there was still some kind of cohesiveness. The recurring theme of McCall always reading a book (for “Equalizer 2,” it was Proust) is absent here (no Dante?). He seemed pretty content helping his neighbors paint their vandalized walls and guide young talents towards school and discipline. In the first “Equalizer” he takes down Russian traffickers to help one of their victims. Fuqua and Wenk don’t seem to know where else to take the character. The movie can meander in getting to the action, taking too much time to establish empty clichés. There’s the nice cop, Gio (Eugenio Mastrandrea), with a young wife and daughter threatened by Vincent’s horrid men. Enzo is the kind doctor who knows everyone and dispenses sage advice. Gaia Scodellaro plays the potential love interest, Aminah, who disappears from the story in the third act. The Equalizer has no time for matters of the heart, because there are too many bad guys to demolish. Andrea Scarduzio was tasked with one of those gigs where he looks like he could tour with Depeche Mode while strutting around, cackling and barking at his goons.

Much has been made about how “The Equalizer 3” also marks a reunion of Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning 19 years after they both starred in Tony Scott’s wilder and more memorable “Man on Fire,” when Fanning was just 10. They don’t spend too much time together on screen here and Fanning’s character doesn’t have a real purpose in the plot. She’s just there to receive information on the Italians and Jihadis, which is a plotline that also feels like extra fluff. The character is later bedridden, because there’s not much the CIA operative can do since McCall will take care of everything. It is in the final moments where we are revealed the true purpose of her presence, which is cute but could have been used to better effect in the story itself. Fanning is an excellent actor and gives her lines heft before dissipating. “Equalizer 2” threw Pedro Pascal at Washington as one of those former colleagues who goes rogue. That was also cliché, but more engaging.

There is the temptation to shrug and say “The Equalizer 3” doesn’t aim higher because it’s delivering just what we expect. This is a broader franchise after all, first based on a 1980s TV series. While waiting for the latest movie, viewers have been getting their fix with the “Equalizer” TV series, starring Queen Latifah. Washington is so used to this role that he could be suspected of phoning it in during those scenes where he emerges from behind a wall, delivers his lines about leaving good people alone and then turns on his stopwatch before getting down to business. Yet, it also feels tired. Little effort is put into giving the villain a memorable death, and we know the locals will band together because the Equalizer showed them the way. There is talk of an upcoming prequel with Denzel’s son, John David Washington, taking on the role of a younger McCall. It would be a good move to hopefully give this character some more background and detail, as “The Equalizer 3” is simply a more stylish repeat of the following pattern: He came, he killed, he kept on going.

The Equalizer 3” releases Sept. 1 in theaters nationwide.