Kevin: If you didn’t check out Bruce Willis’ remake of “Death Wish” this past March, it’s likely because you were dissuaded by its lousy 17 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the fact that it came out a couple of weeks after the Parkland High School shooting. Well its score would have been at least 18 percent if Tough Guy Digest’s reviews were counted on Rotten Tomatoes (someday!), because CJ and I were pleasantly surprised when we saw it in the theater, and a recent re-watch confirmed that – current events aside – it is a pretty solid revenge thriller that, fairly or not, had to deal with the expectations and baggage of being a “Death Wish” film in today’s politicized climate.
Either way, you can judge for yourself now that the remake is available to purchase or rent on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming. It’s unlikely we’ll get further murderous adventures for Bruce’s version of Paul Kersey, but fortunately, original vigilante Charles Bronson gifted us with several sequels back when a movie could make $16 million total and be considered a huge hit. Since we covered Bronson’s original vs. Bruce’s remake in our review from earlier this year, I figured this week I’d recap how the rest of his sequels stacked up (not including 1994’s “Death Wish V,” mainly because Bronson was really, really old by the time he agreed to do it and the movie is depressingly bad).
So first, let’s all cross our fingers and hope that Paul Kersey finally finds the peace and happiness that he so richly deserves, in 1982’s “Death Wish II”:
Where is Paul Kersey now? After leaving New York for Chicago at the end of the original, Kersey has apparently moved his architecture business to Los Angeles, I guess because living in every city in the top-five crime rankings is on his bucket list.
How long does he get to enjoy some happiness and normalcy in his life before it is all ripped away? As with the original, about nine minutes.
Which family members and/or friends does he have to avenge? I’ll defer to the movie’s synopsis on iTunes, which is as blunt and clinical in its description of this scene as “Death Wish II” is in its nauseatingly long depiction: “His Mexican cook is sexually assaulted and then murdered, and his daughter, still suffering from a catatonic stupor after her brutal rape in the first film, finds herself raped yet again.” It neglected to add that Kersey’s daughter eventually impales herself on a metal fence after jumping out of a window. As we noted in our review of the remake, who would have thought that Eli Roth of all people would be considered the most “tasteful” director in this series?
Which scum of the earth find themselves on the receiving end of Kersey’s vigilante justice, and is a future recognizable actor among their ranks? A group of punks which, yes, includes a young Laurence Fishburne, here billed as “Laurence Fishburne III”:
Actually “Death Wish II” is a lot closer in spirit to the Willis remake, in that Kersey spends most of the film tracking down his daughter’s killers rather than gunning down random muggers. Although Bronson’s version of following leads in this mainly involves randomly wandering around seedy areas of L.A. and hoping he’ll run into one or more of his attackers, and surprisingly in a city of 11 million people, he does it every single night! Even when he intervenes in a completely unrelated assault, one of the attackers just happens to be one of the guys Kersey is after.
What is Kersey’s weapon of choice? As with the original, mainly just a basic pistol. In many ways though, you could call Kersey the first urban superhero, except that his secret lair is a rundown East L.A. apartment, and his nighttime disguise is a wool cap and … actually that’s about it. I honestly don’t know what the deal was with the cap, it’s not like it hides his face or anything, and I can’t imagine someone looking at Charles Bronson in a lineup and going, “Well that looks exactly like the old guy who shot me, but he’s not wearing a wool cap, so I guess it was someone else.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a shithole is the city Kersey is currently residing in? Probably about a 6. We hear a lot of statistics about how bad the crime rate in L.A. is, but outside of what happens to Kersey we don’t really see that many examples. We’re mainly supposed to infer what a godless hellscape the city is based on glimpses of people like this:
Although at one point we do get a shot of a movie marquee which is showing a double feature of Clint Eastwood’s orangutan pictures “Any Which Way You Can” and “Every Which Way but Loose,” so obviously things aren’t all bad:
Does he have a love interest, and does she survive until the end of the film? Yes, and surprisingly, yes. In this case it’s a reporter played by Bronson’s real-life wife Jill Ireland, and even though she survives she still leaves Kersey at the end because she feels like his is emotionally not ready to commit (also he keeps going out at night and killing people). Before that though we get some good “Three’s Company”-style comedy where Kersey is constantly having to hide guns or bleeding wounds from his unaware girlfriend.
How worthless are the cops and justice system? As in the original, the cops here say they will do everything they can, which turns out to be not much. Actually once again, they seem way more concerned with catching this vigilante rather than stopping criminals, because they are worried he will start inspiring regular citizens to “knock off anyone with long hair or tacky clothes” (and they say this as if that would be a bad thing!). I’m guessing the guy whose wife Kersey saves from being raped speaks for most of the citizens in L.A. when he calls Kersey a “very good citizen,” while asking the cops at the scene “Where the hell where you guys, giving out parking tickets?”
Also a liberal judge shows leniency toward one of men Kersey is after by sentencing him to a temporary stay at a mental hospital, although this actually turns out to be a death sentence since Kersey impersonates a doctor at the hospital and electrocutes him.
Does Kersey still have zero problem living in a house/apartment where someone close to him was murdered and/or raped? Yes, as with the original and the Bruce Willis version, Kersey again is either totally not precious about the whole “being reminded of the brutalizing of a loved one every time you enter a room” thing, or he has never heard of Zillow. I go with the former, as at one point some romantic music starts playing as Kersey and his girlfriend go to make love in the bedroom where his maid was gang-raped a few days earlier.
Does Kersey let his extracurricular activities affect his work? Hell no. Another recurring theme in the “Death Wish” series is that after every tragedy he suffers, Kersey is still back at his architecture practice within a few weeks, and after that no matter how many people he’s killed the night before or how much injury he’s sustained, he shows up every morning and never misses a deadline. In fact, outside of the whole “getting revenge for his maid and daughter” focus, a major plot point of “Death Wish II” is whether the owner of a Los Angeles radio station will approve of Kersey’s proposal for his new office, and whether he will cheap out on building materials or go with the clearly superior steel-frame-with-reflective-glass option:
Best kill: Fishburne for some reason thinks a boombox can stop a bullet. He chose poorly:
Best one-liner: Probably when he asks a cross-wearing killer if he believes in Jesus, and when the creep says yes, Kersey responds “Well you’re gonna meet him” before plugging him in the chest. Although when you think about it that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because if he is meeting Jesus in the afterlife, wouldn’t that mean he’s going to Heaven? And would you want this guy meeting Jesus anyway, since based on the J-man’s track record, he’ll just forgive the scumbag faster than a liberal California judge?
So technically when the guy said he believed in Jesus, Kersey should have been like, “Well too bad, because you are definitely NOT gonna be meeting him, because you will be in Hell, where I may or may not see you someday depending on how my actions are judged.”
Overall consensus: Want a cinematic experience as sleazy and depressing as “Death Wish,” but without the artistry or social commentary? Then “Death Wish II” is for you! This is basically a remake of the original, including the surviving daughter getting raped again but this time dying (I’m surprised they didn’t dig up the corpse of Kersey’s wife and rape her again for good measure), but it’s hard to take much pleasure in the fact that Bronson actually gets his revenge against these guys since they all deserve much worse punishments than the usual single gunshots he gives them. If nothing else, this will be the last time the “Death Wish” series takes place in something close to what we consider reality, as mild-mannered architect Paul Kersey will soon have easy availability to rocket launchers and WWII-era machine guns in our next installment: “Death Wish 3.”