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'Equalizer 3' Is Proof Denzel Is a Bigger Star than Tom Cruise Could Ever Dream

By Dustin Rowles | Film | September 6, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | September 6, 2023 |


In Equalizer 3, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) finds himself in Southern Italy after being shot in the back by a boy after an otherwise successful mission. He nearly dies, but a local doctor nurses him back to health. While he’s recuperating, McCall befriends many in the small local Italian community. When he learns that the locals are under the brutal thumb of the mafia, McCall does what McCall does: He protects his friends from bullies in violently brutal ways.

It’s a fine movie, another entry from frequent Denzel collaborator Antoine Fuqua working, again, from a script by Richard Wenk. It is not an exceptional film, and that’s exactly why it solidifies Denzel Washington as the biggest box-office draw in America. And before you say Tom Cruise, let me just say this: Go fuck yourself.

Tom Cruise is a perfect counterexample to Denzel. Cruise proves exactly why Denzel is indeed the biggest star in America. Think about it: Tom Cruise is the hardest-working man in the business. He does all his own stunts. People pay to see Tom Cruise put his life in peril by duct-taping himself to the side of an airplane, running up the side of a skyscraper, or launching a motorcycle over a cliff.

Good for him, but you know what? Denzel doesn’t need that shit. People will pay to watch Denzel roll out of the fucking bed. Equalizer 3 has made over $70 million worldwide in its first five days of release, and while that’s short of what Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I made in its first five days, the latter cost $300 million to make. Equalizer 3 cost $70 million. Denzel made his money back in less than a week. Eat shit, Tom Cruise.

Did Denzel bungee jump out of a helicopter? He did not. Denzel’s character, recovering from a bullet wound, spends the first half of Equalizer 3 walking around with a cane. He spends 60 percent of the movie sipping tea at Italian cafes and neatly unfolding napkins. Denzel doesn’t have to do shit. He doesn’t have to put himself through a woodchipper to win the affection of audiences. Denzel just has to be Denzel.

Tom Cruise once broke his leg jumping from one building to the next; in Equalizer 3, Denzel walks up a flight of stairs once, and he’s gassed afterward. And let me remind you again: His movie has already made its budget back over Labor Day weekend, historically one of the slowest box-office weekends of the year. There are about 30 seconds of action in the opening sequence in Equalizer 3 — a sequence we’ve already seen in the trailers — and there’s not another moment of action until an hour and 15 minutes into the film. I kept track. Tom Cruise flies his own jets and jumps out of airplanes! Fuck you. Denzel wears a cool hat.

There is one explosion in all of Equalizer 3. Denzel performs zero stunts. Almost everyone who dies in Equalizer 3 is either killed off-screen or in the shadows. Denzel genuinely looks like he brought a camera crew to film his Italian vacation. Denzel doesn’t do shit in this movie except be Denzel, and it got an A CinemaScore. It deserves it! Why? Because fucking Denzel Washington is in the film. He doesn’t need the bells and whistles or the IMAX screens. He needs to flash that grin once or twice and kill a motherfucker. He doesn’t even necessarily have to do that. There’s a scene in Equalizer 3 where he walks behind a bad guy and watches him slowly die and it is cool as shit! Can you imagine Tom Cruise looking cool walking behind a man while he dies? People would be like, “Why is that sociopath letting a man die?!”

For decades, Denzel was one of the few actors (along with Leo) who had never made a sequel. But you know what? He got tired of working with mid white guys in buddy movies (no offense, Wahlberg, Reynolds, and Pine, et al.). He borrowed the title of an old television series so he could work alone. This is basically his retirement plan, but they may as well have called the franchise Denzel. No one is paying to watch “The Equalizer.” We’re paying to watch Denzel in Denzel 3. If they want to make another in 10-15 years, I’ll watch Denzel choke someone to death with a jar of apple sauce in a nursing home in Denzel 4, and it will fetch an A CinemaScore, too.

There are also no big names in Denzel 3. Dakota Fanning has a small supporting role, which mostly feels like a fun opportunity for Denzel to reunite with his Man on Fire co-star in Italy, but otherwise, the biggest name in the film in Roy from The Office. Nobody cares. People come for Denzel, who didn’t even have to promote this film (and couldn’t because of the strike). It makes us want to see Denzel 3 even more, because otherwise, how are we going to get our Denzel fix?

Again, this movie is in the black after five fucking days. That’s the power of Denzel. Denzel 3 cost $230 million less than Mission Impossible 7 and it’s a full hour and a half shorter, and it’s already made its money back. Mission Impossible 7 probably never will, and Tom Cruise had to scream at people to wear their fucking masks. Denzel just showed up on set one day and said, “Point your camera this way, son,” and they put that shit in a movie theater and we all paid to go see it. Because Denzel Washington. That’s why. Now you know.