‘Death Wish’ Remake Is The Filmic Equivalent A Dud Round

by Ben Martin

In modern action cinema, an interesting trend has occurred in that many of the genre’s stars have aged-up. All of the muscle-bound, gun-toting action heroes can now snag a senior-citizens discount and have an AARP subscription if they so choose. But, getting old isn’t what it used to be; at least not for these genre stars. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, etc. all still work in the genre that made them famous. Why wouldn’t they? After all, action films are how these gentlemen made their bones. Alternatively, actors who hadn’t previously touched action flicks with a ten-foot pole find themselves having a career renaissance, thanks to the genre. Liam Neeson (Taken, The Commuter) is the premier example of this phenomenon. However, Neeson was not the first actor to do so. No, that honor belongs to Mr. Charles Bronson (Chato’s Land).

By the ‘70s, Charles Bronson had done more than his fair share of work. He was a star in his own right, having starred in dozens and dozens of high-profile films. At this time, the actor was in his mid-50s and had not had a hit in quite awhile. Bronson’s career changed in 1974 when the then 53-year-old actor starred in Death Wish. Based on Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel of the same name, the film told the story of a family man whose life is turned upside down. Following the sexual assault and murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of thugs, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) takes matters into his own hands; becoming a vigilante armed with a gun patrolling the streets of New York City. Death Wish was the first action-drama of its kind. That being a revenge/vigilante based film. The timing was right for the flick as it proved to be a hit. In its wake, Death Wish spawned four sequels, a spin-off, and films in the same genre vein that probably number in the hundreds by now. Beyond that, the movie also inspired the creation of The Punisher’s first solo book in the 80s.

Having inspired so many other films, it only makes sense that the original Death Wish would eventually be remade. The idea of remaking the movie that created a whole subgenre began back in the mid-2000s. At that time, writer/director Joe Carnahan (The Grey) had penned a screenplay with intentions to direct, and his star would be none other than Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2). However, due to creative differences, Sly eventually dropped out. After that, Carnahan was going to fast-track the remake and cast his frequent collaborating leading man, Liam Neeson. Alas, these plans also fell through after the director clashed with the studio and ultimately chose to depart as director. The next couple of years proved to be a search for the studio, as they had to replace just about everything except Carnahan’s screenplay, which was retained. Eventually, the studio decided to have horror director Eli Roth (The Green Inferno) helm the film with action vet Bruce Willis (Die Hard) fill the leading role.
The woes that plagued the production didn’t stop, though. Despite being completed nearly two years ago,  the release of Death Wish has been delayed twice. These delays were not due to quality; but the tragic fact that America has a rash of mass shootings every year; almost every month. As you might imagine, the delicate issues of gun violence and control, make it harder for a studio to release a gun-heavy, mainstream action flick. The sad fact, however, is that if the studio kept delaying the release of this remake every time the country suffered a mass shooting, the film would never see the light of day. Thus, it was finally released to theaters this month.
Despite risking redundancy, here is a brief synopsis of the film. Paul Kersey (this time played by Willis) is a successful surgeon in Chicago. Beyond a good career, he has an ideal home life. Paul and his wife, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) are getting ready to send their only daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone) off to college. Alas, this family’s happy life will be destroyed. One night after Paul’s called in to operate; his home is invaded by a group of thieves. These criminals end up stealing more than just valuables. They take the life of Lucy and brutally assault Jordan. After trying to do things by the book doesn’t work, Paul attains a Glock and hits the streets of the city to exact vengeance.
The problem with remaking something that’s been done a million times over is undeniable. You’ve seen it all before; sometimes done better than others. This Death Wish remake obviously suffers because of this fact. As a remake of a classic, it brings us nothing new; resulting in a flick that’s uninspired and by the numbers. Such can’t be blamed entirely on the remake itself, though. After all, numerous imitations of the original film on which this remake is based came before it, and many were done better. Frankly, the only good thing I can say about this movie is that it looks decent and is well-made. Say what you will about Eli Roth as a persona and writer, but I feel he’s a competent director and visual stylist. That remains the case with this film.

Unfortunately, Death Wish’s biggest problem, lies in its star. Don’t get me wrong; I used to be a big fan of  Bruce Willis. Die Hard is one of my favorite movies and for a long time, Mr. Willis was one of my favorite actors. The man could mix macho with charm and light up the screen. Sadly, in the last decade or so, it seems the actor has just stopped caring, and it shows. No longer is there any charm or even that signature smirk to the star whose seen better days. Watching Death Wish was yet another occasion where I wondered why Willis even bothered taking the part. Aside from being able to pretend to shoot guns proficiently, he brings nothing to the movie. In turn, this remake proves to be dull and uninspired. The filmic equivalent of a dud round, if you will.

If the gun-centric nature of Death Wish turns you off in the current, unfortunate climate, I can understand that. Rest assured though; this remake presents itself as strictly a revenge-fantasy, albeit, an unentertaining one. This movie doesn’t take a stance on gun violence and control in a pro or anti-fashion. It just doesn’t take a position at all, which is probably for the better, considering its a subgenre piece. Politics aside, the real reason you shouldn’t bother with this remake is that it’s just boring, plain and simple. If you want to see a movie of the same nature, just watch the 1974 original.


%d bloggers like this: