Review of the new “Death Wish”. It is all about us!

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.

"Death Wish" - 2018

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.

— Katie Walsh for the Tribune News Service.

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.

"Death Wish" - 1974
Available at Amazon.

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.

 

For More Information

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Trailers for the new Death Wish 1974 and 2018

Death Wish (1974).

 

Death Wish (2018).

 

27 thoughts on “Review of the new “Death Wish”. It is all about us!

  1. Intriguing review. I actually liked the original Death Wish movie(s). If they had been made in Japanese, I bet they would have been praised by the critics. Bruce Willis is a good Bronson replacement.

    When you mentioned Parkland, it reminded me of the conversation I had last week with our Chief of Police. I sought him out at a local Selcectmen’s meeting to ask him for his take on the performance of the police and for his SoP for an active shooter in a school. He was appalled at the unprofessional and apparently cowardly behavior of Broward County sheriff and deputies and his standing order in such situations was to attack/engage the shooter immediately. He was pretty pissed at the entire scenario. He obviously saw that a “Die Hard” strategy was the only viable approach. I found it comforting but hope we never have to find out whether action will follow policy.

    1. Bernie,

      That’s an interesting conversation!

      Of course, the resources being allocated to “active shooter strategies” in schools is insane. There are scores of far more serious dangers that are ignored or underfunded. But we love guns! Using them. Fantasizing about them. Talking about them. It’s entertainment for proles. It’s a demonstration of why the 1% believe they are better suited to rule American than we are.

  2. 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.

    I understand you and I to have different views on guns, but I do not understand why you see echoes of Batman. Batman doesn’t use guns precisely because he is meant to be a progressive answer to an actual American fantasy: The Western.

    You got me thinking…maybe I should hate Batman. I already hate Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC properties.

    Maybe I’m just done with comics. A friend and I watched Thor: Ragnarok last night. What a mess, in my opinion.

    1. Cane,

      (1) “but I do not understand why you see echoes of Batman.”

      Guns are an expression of American empowerment fantasies, but not an essential element. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are other examples of this fantasy. None use guns (Batman did in the early Silver Age comics, but was changed to follow the model of Superman and WW).

      (2) “I already hate Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC properties.”

      These things are subjective tastes. Batman is unlike the others, having no superpowers. He is a rich talented person who applies himself to helping the community. Like Jesus, he is a model we can all emulate in some way. That’s less so with Superman and WW.

      (2) “Maybe I’m just done with comics.”

      Heroes are a magnified vision of ourselves. The better the society, the better its mythical heroes. Look at those of classical Athens! Our heroes were simple tales of nobelity. But the DC and Marvel films show our difficulty appreciating these as anything but self-referential (post-modern) comedy. They are still worth watching if only to better understand ourselves.

      See my posts about our heroes, attempting to understand their significance.

    2. Larry,

      Guns are an expression of American empowerment fantasies, but not an essential element.

      Gotcha. I utterly and profoundly disagree, but I believe I now understand why you referenced Batman instead of guns.

      I think that, were we wizards able to change history, if Batman were erased then America and her empowerment fantasies would still be fundamentally the same. If we erased The Western, or guns, they would not.

      GunnerQ,

      Yes, early Batman was inspired by The Shadow and used guns. Then he was brought into the “light”.

      It’s not a mistake that the old 60s TV show was laden with subversive Camp.

    3. Cane,

      (1) “If we erased The Western, or guns, they would not.”

      That’s a powerful thought! “The good Lord made all men, but Colonel Colt make them equal.” I see myself in most Westerns. They usually open with a scene in a bar or store in which some guy tries to do a good deed, but the bad guy shoots faster. I’m the dead good guy. In smart western novels (there are a few), the townspeople band together to keep the peace in their town. Even four fast-drawing bad guys reform after blasts from a dozen shotguns. That’s what happened to the James gang in 1876 in Norfield MN. Bravery and solidarity by the townspeople.

      (2) But I wonder. The current most popular empowerment fantasy is Libertarianism (aka glibertarianism). Would we have this affliction if the opening of our west had been better managed? I’ve read that Canada learned from our experience, and spent some money to see that the law was ahead of the settlers in their west — so it was not so wild.

      For more about Libertarianism see this by John and Bella, one of the greatest blog posts every. Also see these posts (attempts to debunk libertarianism with logic and facts is like pissing on a forest fire).

    4. Cane,

      Follow-up re empowered individualism.

      The more I think about it, the smaller the role of guns — even guns in the Wild West — in the creation and support of this myth.

      (1) Lots of stories about individuals triumphing by their own effort. Frontier individualism

      (a) For example, the books and TV show Little House on the Prairie. Propaganda for individualism, based on lies. See these two articles by Christine Woodside, based on her book.

      Little Libertarians on the prairie” in the Boston Globe — “Was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved children’s series written as an anti-New Deal fable? The Wilder family papers suggest yes.”

      How ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Built Modern Conservatism” in Politico — “Think literature can’t change society? With catchy stories and a lucrative royalty stream, Rose Wilder Lane helped reshape American politics, from her young readers to the Koch brothers.”

      (b) The definitive rebuttal of this bs: Charles A. Beard’s “The Myth of Rugged American Individualism“ in Harper’s, December 1931).

      (2) Hard work and virtue triumphs: the Horatio Alger stories.

      Again, bs accepted at a model. In most of the stories the boy is lifted from poverty by a wealthy man. This is in effect another variant of the “Batman” myth. See Wikipedia for details.

    5. Larry,

      I’ll check out those links, but I’m about a decade past my Libertarian phase, belief in bootstrapping, and all that stuff. Thank the Lord! My point was narrower than that.

      Specifically: The Western genre and guns’ role in the genre are the truly American Myth from which is drawn stories like Death Wish. I do not think it is drawn from Batman. (I would guess that The Shadow is spun from the Western genre. I can’t be sure; I’ve never read them, but the elements seem to be there.)

      There have been many Batman movies, shows, and comics. There have been thousands of Western movies, tv shows, and novels with many different characters playing just a few archetypes.

    6. Cane,

      “The Western genre and guns’ role in the genre are the truly American Myth from which is drawn stories like Death Wish. I do not think it is drawn from Batman.”

      To repeat, I did not say that. I said that they were some expressions of a our belief in individual empowerment. Some of many, which taking varied forms.

      “Both new and old versions of Death Wish are American empowerment fantasies. …

      “Guns are an expression of American empowerment fantasies, but not an essential element. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are other examples of this fantasy.”

    7. Larry, that was fantastic. Do you have more resources on where/how to understand myths?

      Perhaps unrelated, but a lot of movies today are the hero’s journey played over and over again. A key element imo is that the hero always get rewarded in the end, usually with a woman.

      So for example, would a more realistic movie be: hero goes on his journey to save the village/world, badboy fucks woman, when hero comes back, woman presents herself as chaste individual?

      Is being a hero inherent to mankind (emphasis on man), or is actually propaganda?

    8. Larry,

      I think we’re talking past one another somewhat.

      In the OP you wrote:

      Guns, a lone vigilante, echos of Batman — it puts our fantasies on the big screen

      To me the phrase “echoes of X” means that the phenomenon (which is being compared to sound) is sourced by or from whatever thing is in the place X. It struck me as odd that you chose Batman instead of the many Western genre heroes…especially in a phrase next to “guns” and “lone vigilantes”.

      It could be that’s not what you meant by “echoes of”, and so I misunderstood.

    9. Cane,

      I have explained what I meant at considerable length. Enough said.

  3. Kung-Fu princess got herself killed? No wonder the critics don’t like it.

    I don’t trust a vengeance motivation. A protagonist moping about losing his girlfriend is a poor motivation for a man. She’s gone, dude. Kill the bad guys if you need to but meanwhile, get over her. Bruce Willis has a death wish because his only reason for living was his female? Does he even feel better at the end of the movie for all the killing, or does it end with him weeping over her grave? Even John Wick found more closure in getting another puppy than a killing spree.

    The Bronson motivation of not letting evil happen to the next innocent is much more compelling. Maybe I’ll just watch the original. That reminds me, remakes are something else I don’t trust. Hollywood is obviously rewriting its past and that is unacceptable.

    “Batman doesn’t use guns precisely because he is meant to be a progressive answer to an actual American fantasy: The Western.”

    I thought Batman didn’t use guns because he wanted to be a psychological weapon instead of a physical one. A sniper is frightening but doesn’t really haunt one’s imagination and wouldn’t be capable of handling psychological threats like the Joker and Scarecrow. Vigilantism is a primary theme in Westerns–formal gov’t is either unavailable or unreliable on the frontier–so Batman in Gotham City is what an “urban Western” would look like if you put a Gothic filter on it. Which is probably where “Gotham” came from.

    As an urbanite, Batman resonates with me better than cowboys do.

    1. Gunner,

      (1) I agree that protecting others is a better motivation than killing for personal vengeance. Both are, of course, problematic motives — easily causing damage to society. But these things are scales, not black-white absolutes.

      (2) Who are you quoting about “Batman doesn’t use guns…” It’s not in the post or in this thread.

      Also, it is not true. In the early days (Silver Age) Batman did use guns — and did kill. See this post with details.
      That was commonplace in 1930s pulp comics and stories. This article gives more examples of Batman’s gun use, puts it in a historical context, and explains how the “no guns” policy evolved.

      “Bill Finger openly admitted that his main source of inspiration was [the 1930’s pulp character] The Shadow,” O’Neil said. “And of course, as Jim Steranko once said, The Shadow didn’t believe in the death penalty; The Shadow was the death penalty. Those blazing .45 automatics that he whipped out.”

      Note that the first Batman movie has him shooting at the Joker from the Batplane. He inexplicably misses, then crashes (as usual in superhero stories, superskill alternates with super-screw-ups to advance the plot).

    2. “Kung-Fu princess got herself killed? No wonder the critics don’t like it.

      I don’t trust a vengeance motivation. A protagonist moping about losing his girlfriend is a poor motivation for a man. She’s gone, dude. Kill the bad guys if you need to but meanwhile, get over her. Bruce Willis has a death wish because his only reason for living was his female? Does he even feel better at the end of the movie for all the killing, or does it end with him weeping over her grave? Even John Wick found more closure in getting another puppy than a killing spree.”

      I believe it is his daughter, but that is difference in kind, not youir main point of “get over it.”

      I believe the concept of dane-gold or were-gold is apprirate here. there is something in us that understand a person who lost a family member should seek vengance for it. In our modern post Middle Ages, post dane-gold society through legal means. But on a more visceral level, we need to have it through other means if the legal system fails. That is the point of the modern telling. The original from 1974 is protecting those who need protection.

      Both are laudible goals. They are what a man should do. Protect his community, his group (Bronson) and avenge them when they are killed (Willis) as a means of obtaining a sort of justice and of warning off others who might attack. In ancient times the reason a Motegue didn’t try to kill a man from the Capulets was that the Capulets would protect their own in life, or if needed revenge in death.

      What is wrong with the modern story is that it is so individualized that the reason Goliath is offering to fight is lost becasue we see it as David and Goliath fighting as individuals, not as Isrealites v Philistines. It is the groups at war, and each man represents his group. In this way, 1974 is better because Bronson is protecting the group, he is the hero lifted up (who lifts himself up) to fight for the group. In our individual setting and culture of today, Willis is again the hero but he is not fighting for any group other than himself and the dead.

    3. ACT,

      I generally agree with you, and see this in a historical perspective. The history of the West is harnessing individual drives for “higher” goals. That is, more for the community’s goals than the individuals. This is our solution to social dynamics ruled by the Prisoners’ Dilemma — as so many are.

      The desire for individual vengeance is harnessed by the legal system, with vicarious punishment. That’s a difference between us and Somalia. Bronson in the 1974 version escapes trial because (as you note) he is a community defender, and he becomes difficult to prosecute — so they compromise on exile. It’s a common solution in history.

    4. Larry yes it is. I’m sorry I should have made more clear I was looking at both stories through a frame history and what life is as last me when men had to make justice for their families before a more uniform application of common law. Thank you

    5. ACT,

      That’s SOP. If I didn’t write slapdash comments, I wouldn’t write any at all!

  4. “(2) Who are you quoting about “Batman doesn’t use guns…” It’s not in the post or in this thread.”

    That was Cane Caldo here @ 4 March 2018 at 10:08 am. I could’ve been clearer.

    1. Gunner,

      That was my error. I did a search, but must have typed it in wrong.

  5. I plan on seeing this new film, as I saw the old one, because I like Bruce Willis, but it’s main idea is repugnant to anyone who values living in a stable and civil society.

    Probably the main difference between Americans and the tribesmen of Papua New Guinea is that we agree to let our government enforce justice, rather than taking it into our own hands and living as atomized agents of violence. In a pre-modern culture, this one kills the man who (he believes) wrongs him, so that man’s cousin kills him, so his brother kills the cousin’s brother-in-law, and soon everyone is terrified to leave their own little territory or to meet someone with whom they don’t share blood ties.

    It has nothing to do with guns — the New Guineans effectively created a savage state of affairs with spears and arrows. And the kicker is, if you ask a New Guinean who has lived in both types of society which one they prefer, the modern type wins in a landslide.

    1. PAT,

      All Hollywood wants is for you to pay to see the film. They have no interest in your motives or reactions.

      It’s fun to consider these as real-world instruction. Wonder Woman, slasher films, Frankenstein, Die Hard, Death Wish, Drive Angry. Each has an implicit moral lesson. Do you believe they have an effect on the audience?

      From that belief, which is increasingly common in Hollywood, it is a small step to demanding (as critics increasingly do) that all films be Social Realism. Stirring stories of Leftist heroes, with the desired balance of genders (dozens!), races, religions, and ethnicities — all providing uplifting Leftist moral lessons!

    2. Larry,
      Exactly they want our money. And the stories that sell are the ones that at least in part tie into the old stories and archetypes.

      The leftist stories have to graft the leftist hero on to the old story for it to sell to everyone else

    3. ACT,

      Exactly. Every generation takes its society’s myths and revises them to their needs. The original versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Robin Hood, and King Arthur are radically different than our versions. Even Batman has greatly changed from his original Silver Age stories.

      In our society, myth-making is largely in the hands of the Left. This and their influence in the schools are their most powerful levers to change America.

  6. I saw this yesterday. I have no idea how it’s doing at the box office, but I got one of the last three seats at the theater, and I’m sure the other two sold as well. You pretty much nailed it in your review. The only thing I’d really add is that the Charles Bronson character was already understood to have real skill at arms before the story starts. he was also understood to be a brave man. he was a conscientious objector in a medical unit in the Korean War, but CO in a medical unit doesn’t preclude a man having serious courage under fire.

    So the Bronson character reluctantly abandons his nonviolence and uses the skill and courage he already possesses. The Bruce Willis character just decides to be an urban vigilante and magically transitions from having provably no skill with a gun to blowing away multiple bad guys. Granted, we see him do some target practice and watch some videos, but it really feels like a guy getting his mutant superpowers from being bitten by a radioactive gun nut or whatever. So yeah, they’ve totally updated it.

    I recently rewatched Shaft and The French Connection. New York City in the 70s was almost character in itself in those movies, and it was, on film at least, a seriously hopeless place. The atmosphere and the vibe in this movie just isn’t the same.

    1. Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers

      The Man,

      Death Wish took in only $13 million in the US for its opening weekend (data here). Big bomb territory.

      Re his skills.

      I thought Bruce Willis’ skills were minimal. Shooting at the car was insane. He survived the shoot-outs at the street ice cream stand and in the store due to plot armor. His tactical skills were near zero. Also, he left boatloads of forensic evidence. The police were sure to get him. The ending was goofy. The police don’t let nice guys go after they vengeance murder people.

      Bronson picked situations in which he would have the advantage of surprise. Also, the film established a practical reason for the police to let him go. Killing predators is different than vengeance murder, and made him a public hero.

      “New York City in the 70s was almost character in itself in those movies,”

      Perhaps they thought the current crime rates are too low to make the Bronson-type vigilante plausible, and changed the plot from killing predators to personal vengeance.

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