The Equalizer was adapted from a 1980s television series, and it’s pretty easy to tell.
The movie stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a retired special forces agent living the quiet life in. McCall is struggling with a case of superheroism, which he succumbs to over the course of the movie, at least partially because he chose to live in the poorest, most crime-ridden area of Boston he could find. Early in the film, McCall draws the attention of the Russian mafia when he takes down a sex trafficking ring that was its main hub in the city.
The only real problem with The Equalizer is, unfortunately, a big one. It’s very episodic. It doesn’t feel like watching a movie, it feels like watching a full season of a television show. Early on they establish McCall and the primary arc with the Russian mob, then they show him in a couple of side adventures where he’s training a coworker to be a security guard and then he’s beating up some seemingly unrelated corrupt cops and then he’s beating up this random thief oh, and then, eventually, we’ll get back to the main arc. It doesn’t help that his side adventures are intercut with the bizarrely shot and oddly erotic escapades of Teddy (Marton Csonkas), the mob’s enforcer.
The best comparable for this structure is BBC’s Sherlock. In the first episode of each series, they have an adventure that alludes to the last episode’s villain, then they have an adventure that doesn’t, then, finally, they have an adventure that actually involves said villain. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this structure for a show — though it does get old after a while — but in a movie it starts to feel like wasting time. And at 131 minutes, The Equalizer can’t afford to feel like it’s wasting time.
Writer Richard Wenk should have looked to 2011’s Drive for structure — after a short sequence establishing the main character, the film follows one storyline to the end, wasting no time on side-arcs the character is obviously set up for or following around the enforcer with no real character traits and never losing track of characters once they are established. Chloe Grace Moretz is the second most recognizable actor in The Equalizer, and she sort of vanishes for the main body of the film.
After that, the movie is pretty much exactly what the audience wants to see, for better or worse. The Equalizer is a very mid-10s movie, featuring a lot of common problems and conceits with contemporary action movies that can’t really be called problems because almost every movie these days deals with them to some extent.
Washington seems to have caught whatever Liam Neeson has. He’s a terrific actor with almost 40 years of movies under his belt. He’s been Malcolm X, he’s been Frank Lucas, he’s been Marcus Brutus on Broadway, but apparently he’d rather be Steven Segal. Anyone can deliver a line and then exit stage left for his stunt double — The Expendibles series proves that. Action isn’t hard. Acting talent is essentially wasted in these movies.
The action sequences are helter-skelter affairs that don’t really let you see the action. This was a really clever device when it debuted in Batman Begins, which wasn’t really an action movie and didn’t do this in all of its sequences, because it gave the audience a sense of what it was like to be in a fight with Batman, but 10 years later it’s something every action movie does to be hip and it’s stupid and annoying and really negates the point of seeing an action movie.
The continual switching back to Teddy is another thing viewers just have to deal with these days. Too often, movies will try to set up a parallel duo when it just isn’t warranted. In this, the audience simply ends up spending half the movie wondering where Denzel Washington is, while spending the other half wondering when what he’s doing will start to have anything to do with the Russian guy again.
The Equalizer is a by-the-numbers action movie with a highly talented lead actor. It’s an OK watch and definitely could have been worse. It’s the kind of movie you watch to waste time.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. Nicholls isn’t a state. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.