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The New DEATH WISH Gets Everything About DEATH WISH Wrong

The New DEATH WISH Gets Everything About DEATH WISH Wrong

You should never judge a book by its cover and by the same wisdom you shouldn’t judge a movie by its trailer, but it’s hard to watch the trailer for the Death Wish reboot and not think they have missed the point of the original film entirely. From the rippin’ AC/DC soundtrack to the quirky humor, everything about 2017’s Death Wish looks way off base. It looks like an action-revenge flick, and while popular culture seems to have categorized the original Death Wish the same way, the 1974 film is not about action or revenge. Not by a long shot.

Now, to be clear, I’m in no way commenting on the quality of 2017’s Death Wish. Obviously, none of us have seen the movie yet. It has a great cast, including a returned-from-Redbox-Hell Bruce Willis and the always awesome Vincent D’Onofrio. It’s directed by the very talented Eli Roth and the screenplay was written by the utterly superb Joe Carnahan (go watch Stretch right now). This movie seems to have a lot going for it and it has a real shot at being great.

 

 

That said, when you watch the trailer you can’t help but notice it jettisons nearly everything about the original film Death Wish other than the fact that the main character’s name is Paul. The trailer is rambunctious, funny, action-packed, and thrilling. It’s big, with that aforementioned AC/DC tune cutting in at about the halfway mark just as Bruce Willis finishes torturing a guy who has information about who killed his wife. We then get a smattering of gun play as Willis mows down every bad guy in sight.

It’s standard practice for Hollywood reboots these days to completely reshape and redirect properties. Clearly, Eli Roth and company are not interested in remaking Death Wish and that is fine, but it is a little strange that they appear to have made a film that represents everything the original novel (and original film, to some degree) stood against. If you watch the 1974 Death Wish today, it’s startling how anti-vigilante it reads.

The 1974 Death Wish is a bleak and brutal film. Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, an architect living with his wife and daughter in New York City. When his wife is murdered and his daughter is violently raped in a random home invasion, Paul goes on a killing spree targeting the criminals of the violent and grimy 1970’s New York. It’s important to note, he is not hunting down the guys who hurt his family. It’s not about revenge. Later entries in the franchise would become more revenge driven – nearly every female character who interacts with Paul is sexually assaulted or killed. It’s problematic, to say the least – but the first film and the novel it is based on are not in anyway about justice or revenge.

 

Death Wish 1974 from Paramount Pictures

 

In fact, Kersey is a man slowly becoming obsessed with violence. He goes from shock and horror when he commits his first killing to exhilaration and unbridled-pleasure at the notion of murder by the end of the film. He’s not a hero, patrolling the streets, catching violent criminals, and saving the innocent. Instead, he wanders about NYC, purposely putting himself in situations where he’ll draw out a mugger or a thief and then he guns them down. He eats at a restaurant in poor neighborhoods and flashes tons of cash and then murders the guys who follow him afterward. He strolls through dangerous parts of Central Park and kills the men who attempt to mug him. He’s not hunting down his wife’s killer, he’s baiting the city’s low-level criminals and then bathing in their blood.

Brian Garland, the author of the Death Wish novel, was vocally critical of the film, feeling that it didn’t go far enough with its anti-vigilante message. Sure, Bronson is a little too cool throughout the film and he only seems to ever encounter the worst of the worst when it comes to muggers and carjackers, but the film’s violence is not romanticized. In the crime-riddled America of the 1970s, the film may have been viewed differently, but watching it today is not a pleasant experience. It’s not an action movie or an out-for-justice tale. The fact that the police just let Paul go after he murders tons of people is not exactly a positive message, either. It’s ugly and dark. Charles Bronson seems to have utterly lost his mind by the film’s end, grinning like a madman at the idea of gunning down some new punks in a new town.

The less said about the Death Wish sequels the better. Having rewatched them recently I struggled to find anything redeemable in Death Wish II through Death Wish V: The Face of Death. They’re filled poorly-structured plots, bad action, and the pathetic trope of using sexual violence against the women close a male character in order to drive the narrative. As an avid action movie junkie and a fan of Charles Bronson, I can safely tell you that these movies are largely terrible.

 

 

This brings us to the trailer for the new Death Wish. Curiously, when the credits splash across the screen at the end it says “Based on the 1974 motion picture by Wendell Mayes. From the novel by Brian Garland.” Wendall Mayes was the screen writer for the original Death Wish. Brian Garland openly stated his distaste for the pro-vigilante stance of the 1974 film. I’m not sure who Joe Carnahan was channeling in his screenplay, but it sure as hell doesn’t seem to be Wendell Mayes or Brian Garland. All this makes you think, why even call this movie Death Wish? Why slap a title on something that is the polar opposite of the original product. Death Wish is supposed to be about a guy who wants to die. He’s putting himself into harm’s way over and over again, drenching himself in violence and death in hopes that it’ll end his suffering. Not exactly the sort of things that you play the kickass riffs of “Back in Black” over.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Images: MGM, Paramount Pictures

Gif: Death Wish from Paramount Pictures


Benjamin Bailey writes for the Nerdist and can be found on Twitter talking about Godzilla, comic books, and hardcore music. He has strong opinons about action movies. 

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