In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer.
Superhero films may finally be breaking away from the Christopher Nolan sense of seriousness (at least in the Marvel slate of films), but that take on the material is becoming more common in the broader action genre. The Equalizer is the most recent example of this phenomenon. Based on the 1980s series of the same name, The Equalizer follows McCall, a man with a vague past involving killing who feels the need to protect the few people with some semblance of closeness to him, including a young prostitute with a heart of gold and the co-workers who know nothing about the man’s past.
That’s not to say the film is necessarily awful, but it’s certainly dour. There’s more focus on McCall’s methods of exacting vengeance (excuse me, “justice”) than on giving him more than a hint of a back story. We know that he killed for the government, and that he stopped when his wife died. We see his growing interactions with Teri, the aforementioned young prostitute, and his assistance in helping a coworker become a security guard. This may give McCall a few connections, but any connections McCall makes seem to just serve to give him someone else to protect over the course of the film. The connections are all plot contrivances, nothing more.
The film’s ultimate goal seems to be more about creating a figure who can dispense violence in a superhuman capacity than anything else, and to give Washington and director Antoine Fuqua credit, they do manage to achieve that goal rather well. Over the last decade, Washington’s made this sort of character his calling card, while Fuqua knows how to create brutal, unrelenting violence on-screen. With Washington at least, though, he can do this sort of role in his sleep. Sony is already planning for a sequel, assuming this film opens well (and Washington does have the track record to assume it will), and I hope that future films will delve a little more into McCall’s backstory and flesh him out.