An overlong, ultra-violent and utterly humourless update of the 1980s TV series starring Edward Woodward, The Equalizer finds Denzel Washington’s righteous righter of wrongs cracking open a giant can of whup-ass on a bunch of bad’uns.
To begin with, though, his unassuming loner, Robert McCall, more closely resembles an OCD saddo than an awesome warrior. He lives alone in a spookily neat flat, works at a humble job in a Boston home-depot store and eats in his local diner, where he reads his way through his late wife’s book list of 100 classics and offers paternal advice to Chloë Grace Moretz’s troubled prostitute, Teri.
Yet his constant wristwatch checking and all those other odd tics aren’t signs of compulsive disorder but clues that he is actually a former black ops agent living in self-imposed retirement. And when Teri ends up in hospital following a savage beating by her Russian pimp and his thugs, he brushes off his commando skills to mete out retribution.
Denzel’s noble vigilante couldn’t be a more absurd fantasy figure if he were clad in a comic-book superhero’s cape and tights. He is preternaturally cool, uses household objects and power tools – but no firearms – to dispatch his foes, and walks away from explosions without flinching.
The film briefly suggests that there may be an affinity between him and his chief adversary, Marton Csokas’s heartless Russian enforcer, Teddy, but we’re never meant to entertain the idea that the violence he inflicts so sadistically is anything but just.
When he watches his latest victim’s final blood-choked gurgles and gasps, having perhaps stabbed this nameless goon in the throat with a corkscrew, we’re supposed to admire his unblinking resolve.
He’s the perfect embodiment of American exceptionalism, the notion that ‘we can go around wreaking carnage, leaving havoc in our wake because, hey, we’re the good guys’.
Certificate 15. Runtime 132 mins. Director Antoine Fuqua.