Oscar winner Washington, 68, had never taken on a sequel for any of his films before starring in “The Equalizer,” loosely based on the original 1980s CBS TV series of the same name.
As the former intelligence agent who helps people in need of his deadly skills, McCall was pulled from his humble hardware superstore job into a bloody fight against the Russian Mafia in the 2014 film, and returned as an avenging Lyft driver in 2018’s “The Equalizer 2.”
With nearly $400 million at the box office worldwide for the fan-beloved films, Washington, director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk came back with “The Equalizer 3” (in theaters Friday), billed in the trailer as the franchise’s “final chapter.”
Here’s what to expect from the R-rated finale.
Why is Robert McCall in Italy in ‘The Equalizer 3’?
Boston-based McCall shows up in Italy for the last film, a twist that is not fully explained until the end. But the location does allow McCall to battle the local Mafia who menace his adopted town.
Having lost his best friend and former intelligence colleague Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) to assassins in the second film, McCall is in “a different mental space,” Fuqua tells USA TODAY. After gruesomely killing his first set of Italian evildoers in the third movie’s opening scenes, McCall speaks out loud to his long-deceased wife.
“He’s cleaning the blood off his wedding ring, and actually talking to his wife, telling her, ‘They shouldn’t have let me in,’“ says Fuqua. “He’s dealing with the guilt of the violence now. And he’s darker because he’s now alone after the death of his friend.”
“It’s a good place to end” the trilogy, says Fuqua.
However, there was never a discussion of having McCall die in his final outing, and the director does not rule out a possible return.
“If Denzel called me with a great script he was passionate about, then I’m not going to say ‘no’ to Denzel Washington,” says Fuqua.
Washington shows quick moves onscreen and kept up with an arduous boxing regiment to stay in shape. “But we design the moves to be believable, because McCall is a certain age,” says Fuqua. “He’s not doing anything that he really couldn’t do.”
When McCall walks hundreds of steps as he recovers from an injury, the winded look on Washington’s face is “very genuine,” Fuqua adds.
“Those steps killed me when I scouted the location” in Southern Italy, says Fuqua. “They had ice packs and Advil ready for me at the bottom.”
Is Denzel Washington’s median nerve move in ‘Equalizer 3’ really lethal?
“The Equalizer 3” red-band trailer features McCall suddenly grabbing Marco (Andrea Dodero), who is bullying his town, and compressing the thug’s median nerve with his thumb.
“On a scale from one to 10, that’s a three,” McCall warns in the scene, graphically pointing out that Marco will not be able to endure Level 4.
Is this move legit?
Dimitri Logothetis, a double martial arts black belt who directed and wrote Nicolas Cage’s 2020 “Jiu Jitsu” action film, says McCall’s pressure move is real and will “make you cry.”
“You have to be very well-trained and extremely strong to maintain that death grip,” says Logothetis. “It’s very well-staged. If McCall can get to that hand, and can dig down on the nerve, that really hurts. But I would do anything to get out of that, flip the table. So there is a little Hollywood, too.”
Martial artist and combat training expert Nick Drossos says grabbing that pressure point “can immobilize movement. It does take precision and force. But (the move) works for sure.”
Fuqua says a Navy SEAL friend demonstrated the maneuver on him “and it brought me to my knees. It is very painful.”
The scene instantly goes down in “Equalizer” lore as one of the franchise’s great takedowns. Fuqua still loves when McCall was attacked in his kitchen in the first film and used a corkscrew uppercut to the chin to finish off his assailant.
“That’s my favorite,” says Fuqua. “It got the guy really close to him, so McCall could watch as his eyes went dead.”
Who stars in ‘Equalizer 3’ with Denzel Washington?
The action movie reunites Washington and Dakota Fanning, who was 9 when she starred with him in 2004’s “Man on Fire,” in which Washington played a former CIA agent. The 29-year-old actress has remained close with Washington’s family, and now plays CIA agent Emma Collins in “Equalizer 3,” assisting McCall’s efforts.
Andrea Scarduzio plays menacing crime boss Vincent, but the Italian actor relished working with Washington, who kindly gave Scarduzio’s Denzel-loving mother a video call before filming.
“Denzel Washington is the GOAT, so this was like being part of a master class for me,” says Scarduzio, who says Washington never broke character. “When that guy is staring at you from his chair on the set, you can feel his presence and his eyes on you. You really feel the tension.”
What is the release date of ‘The Equalizer 3’?
The movie officially arrives in theaters Friday. Screenings start Thursday afternoon.