[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
For the majority of its running time, The Equalizer 3—the (allegedly) final chapter of Antoine Fuqua’s cinematic adaptation of the 1980s television series—is a rather generic, conventional thriller. Which is, of course, perfectly fine; indeed, there’s a certain elegance in its simplicity. The lean, economical story dispenses with extraneous fat and bloat, keeping the pace brisk and breezy. The screenplay utilizes familiar tropes and clichés as a sort of narrative shorthand—the setup is reminiscent of such classic westerns as Shane and A Fistful of Dollars, the climax is a slasher flick that feels slightly less guilty about rooting for the killer, the antagonists could have been plucked straight out of any modern crime drama—allowing the filmmakers to emphasize what truly matters: spectacular stunts, grotesque gore effects, and the faux-philosophical musings of a warrior poet that is, at the very least, more articulate than John Rambo.
There is, however, a single transcendent moment that elevates the entire experience. It isn’t an action sequence—heck, it isn’t even particularly suspenseful or exciting. There’s no fancy fight choreography, no bloodshed, no explosions—just a character exploring his environment. Protagonist Robert McCall (Denzel Washington, personifying a cold, calculating professionalism evocative of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï) wanders the quaint streets and narrow alleyways of the picturesque seaside community where he has been convalescing while recovering from a near fatal gunshot wound. He has no concrete goal, nor does he encounter any immediate danger; the only significant obstacle is a steep stone staircase. Naturally, ascending these steps is an arduous process considering his hobbled condition. Without the support of his cane, the climb would be impossible; with it, it’s still laborious. An elderly woman passing in the opposite direction advises him to take it slow; eventually, though, he succumbs to fatigue and sits down to catch his breath.
This scene is not, strictly speaking, “necessary”—it neither advances the plot nor ties into the central conflict. Nevertheless, its presence enriches the movie, illuminating our otherwise invulnerable antihero’s seldom-glimpsed humanity. In this current era of “lean-back content,” that glimmer of empathy is a rare gem worth treasuring.