Summary: The remake of Death Wish is a fascinating example of how we see the world and how we have changed since the original in 1974. This is the second review in Film Week at the FM website.
This contains some spoilers. These will not deter those who like such films, as Death Wish has the predictability of Noh opera, down to the climatic man-to-man fight with the big baddie at the end. DW is a well-executed film, essentially another in the Die Hard series (although vengeance instead of rescue). The 1974 original (based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield) is different kind of film — and a much greater film. The difference shows how we have changed.
Then and now: vigilantism vs. racism and gun phobia
“You’d think such a morally repugnant gun-nut masturbation fantasy ….” (Sean Burns.)
The original was condemned because it glorified vigilantes. With crime rates in the early stage of their long ascent, that was a reasonable fear (although it proved false). The critics, almost all bien pensant liberals, hate the remake: Rotten Tomato score 15%. They complain about the film’s “racism” (i.e., it reflects the racial composition of crimes in America, mostly white with many minorities) — and it shows use of guns!
“The new release date is now unfortunately close to the events of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where teen survivors have pushed gun control to the forefront of the national conversation. It says so much about the epidemic of gun violence in this country that there is simply no weekend far enough away from a gun massacre to comfortably open a film about a lone vigilante gunman. …
“But it’s increasingly clear, as many of these films push the envelope on violence, that glorifying lone gunmen as heroes who are morally above the law is not only in bad taste: It’s simply irresponsible.
Guns are evil to the Left, no matter if they are used to commit crimes, stop crimes, rescue people, or avenge the victims. The film is, of course, called “fascist” by critics who do not know that fascism is a real thing, not a fun synonym for “conservative.”
What is the point of this criticism of “lone gunman heroes as above the law”? Does Walsh believe, as was feared in 1974, that this will spark a rash of vigilante crime-fighters? Did she worry about this when watching the endless series of Batman films and cartoons? Or does she worry that someone will watch the deeds of a vigilante crime fighter who kills murderers — and decide to become a murderer?
The reviewers display the usual hypocrisy that poisons most politics in America today. Many films with graphic violence are praised as artistic; violence is condemned only when convenient. To name a few: 300 (60%), Watchmen (64%), Kick-ass (75%) – with bonus points for violence by an 11- year-old girl, Kill Bill 1 (85%) & Kill Bill 2 (84%) – with lots of vigilante killing and torture, John Wick 1 (86%) & John Wick 2 (89%) – with lots of vigilante killing, and Django Unchained (87%) – jam-packed with righteous gunfire.
It is this obtuseness of thought which dooms their efforts at social reform (unlike the Right, whose tireless work for the 1% is often successful, although unrewarded).
The almost-hysterical reviews might boost the box office. Few liberals would go, but some conservatives will go to spite the Left.
About the film
Many critics have increasingly focused on political rather than artistic aspects of films (soon they’ll give PC ratings). For DW they have taken this to an extreme, providing only a political critique of the film (e.g., Matthew Rozsa at Salon).
The film is well-crafted. Good writing, good acting. Especially by Bruce Willis, who nicely fills the shoes of Charles Bronson. Unlike so many action films these days, in Death Wish I always understood the setting and movements of the fights. The scenes were always adequately lite. The violence is graphic, as if the director got off on it. Or expects the audience to do so.
About the politics of Death Wish, both new and old
The strength of the wolf is not in his teeth or claws, but in his pack.
— Ancient wisdom.
Both new and old versions of Death Wish are American empowerment fantasies. Guns, a lone vigilante, echos of Batman — it puts our fantasies on the big screen. The Death Wish films, like the Die Hard films and a thousand stories of the individual’s power are entertainment for proles — people unable to organize for self-protection and to achieve common goals.
Difference between 1974 and now
“… the song remains the same. Guy gets pushed too far. People think he’s a fascist or a folk hero. Blood gets spilled.” (David Fear at Rolling Stone.)
In their rage, critics failed to see that the films provide opposite reactions by the hero (or protagonist) to his personal tragedy. In the original, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) reacts like Bruce Wayne. He patrols the streets to protect the community from predators. He offers himself as bait, then kills the attacker. It is a political response. The film skillfully explores it, with an unexpected conclusion.
In the remake, Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) primarily works for personal vengeance. We have seen this plot in a hundred B-movies and TV shows. It is mind-numbingly predictable.
The film has one realistic note: grrl power. The home invaders in the remake are professionals — taking the goods then leaving, without hurting anyone. It then takes a logical but dark turn. After growing up watching women kick the butts of big men, Jordan Kersey (the daughter) takes Krav Maga lessons attacks the four large armed men holding her prisoner. Inexplicably, it does not end well. I do not recall ever seeing this situation on the big screen. It is the most un-PC moment in the film.
The ending to Death Wish (1974), bringing the story to a climate
The new version comes to a slow and dull ending, unlike the powerful ending to the original. I will not reveal it, excerpt to show the very last scene.
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Trailers for the new Death Wish 1974 and 2018
Death Wish (1974).
Death Wish (2018).