Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a creature of habit, he likes to stick to his routine, day in day out. He'll get up in the morning, have a healthy breakfast, then set off for his job at a hardware warehouse where is well-liked for his paternal demeanour and strong work ethic, looking out for his fellow staff members, though they do sometimes wonder what brought him to this place in his life since they know hardly anything about him. One thing they do not know is how he spends his nights, as he has trouble sleeping so heads off to a local diner for a late snack, and to read his books. It so happens that another of the regulars is a teenage girl, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is troubled in that she makes her living as a prostitute - what could Robert do to help her?
The Equalizer was an eighties television show, not because it starred a man in his eighties but it did have Ewar Woowar - sorry, Edward Woodward in the lead role, who by that stage was getting on in years so appealed to the viewer who wanted to watch a more mature man of action with baggage sorting out various problems that were brought to him. Essentially a vigilante, this was ideal for episodic television, but when the series was brought to the movies after around a decade in development hell Woodward was long gone and Washington had taken the McCall part, though aside from the name and the vigilante aspect, this remake could have been any number of action flick throwbacks to the eighties as the connections between the two largely rested on the title.
This was more or less an origin story, so it had that excuse for not featuring even the synth theme tune from the small screen, and the ending left it open for McCall to set up shop as a one-man A-Team, another series from thirty years before which had seen a middling movie version. At least this one started interestingly, as Denzel, rather than try to recapture his youth as a strapping, two-fisted hero preferred to emphasise his advancing years and play McCall as more of a father figure, to the extent that he might as well have been sorting out playground bullies for the kids under his charge, though "kids" took in a variety of ages in this case. With Washington as the big daddy, the rest of it fell into place with ease under Antoine Fuqua's confident, deliberate direction.
But confidence was one thing, originality was another, and once the first half hour was over with, concentrating as it did on the relationship between McCall and Teri, who wants to be a singer but her life as a hooker is holding her back as you can imagine, you had very much the one man army formula played out as it had umpteen times before. No matter how far Fuqua slowed down the pace, either to underline its quality of presentation or because Denzel wasn't getting any younger, the fact remained this was not an especially new reading of some very familiar material, with Russian gangsters the bogeymen now, having the audacity to beat America's sweetheart Moretz into a bloody pulp, therefore giving the audience the required bloodlust to see her avenged.
Really The Equalizer was one of a strain of action efforts casting ageing stars as he-man protectors, blame Taken and Liam Neeson's general ownage for that, but to his credit Washington was very capable and he'd been around in the eighties as well, if not making films that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger routinely appeared in. Pitting the Americans against the Russians was almost a nostalgic move, if rather uneasy in the modern world in a "don't say that!" kind of way when it came to international diplomacy this wasn't interested in. When the lead baddie (Marton Csokas) decides he needs to eliminate McCall if only to save face with his boss (called Pushkin, oddly), it's almost a "my vengeance is better than yours" affair, though we can still entertain the notion that one capable man can go head to heads with a bunch of gunwielding evildoers and come out on top, that lone wolf plot serving action cinema well, slasher cinema too, judging by McCall's invention with his way in the finale with improvising weapons at the hardware store. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.