The original Death Wish (1974) with Charles Bronson is one of my favorite actions films. It’s the prototype of the vigilante film genre; and though the later ones in the saga get a bit “over the top” [read: ridiculous], the first one is a great film. I love action movies, I won’t deny it. In fact, I will go as far as saying that I love the TERRIBLE ones. I tell you this, so you know that when I tell you the new Death Wish (2018) was bad, you know that I mean it was very, very, very bad.
I always question remakes. I think that is natural. Why are we remaking this film? How can it be different than the original? Will it be better than the original? Eli Roth had no business remaking the original.
For one, this film is shot like an Eli Roth film. It feels like a horror film, masquerading as an action film. The color pallet, the editing, the shot selection all are call backs to Roth’s favorite genre – horror films. This is evident in Roth’s pacing, which feels slightly slower than that “typical” action film. The other major difference is while most action films seem to focus on the action, Roth seems to focus on the aftermath (the gore). Yes, this film might be one of the goriest action films I have ever seen. In many ways, the film is more in line with Roth’s “classic [read: crappy] Hostel (2005) than what I personally was “expecting” [read: any good action movie].
The story is unimaginative. Bruce Willis is a doctor in Chicago, and he is kind of a wimp. After his wife is murdered, and his daughter put into a coma during a breaking-and-entering, he decides to take revenge. Unlike the first Death Wish, where we can’t help feel like – to some extent – Charles Bronson is totally justified in taking up vigilante justice to bring the rapist/ murders who attacked his family, to justice; Bruce Willis seems more motivated by that sole fact that vigilante justice in Chicago is the remedy for his grief inspire insomnia. After stealing a Glock off a gunshot victim in the hospital he works, he spends some time shooting at road signs. And despite having never previously fired a fire arm, he seemingly becomes an expert marksman before the clip is finished. The character just does not seem real or sympathetic at all. The reason why we LOVE Die Hard (1988) and consider it the greatest action movie of all time, is the character of John McClain. He is real, he is genuine, he is relatable, and he is sympathetic. I felt no attachment to any of the characters in this film.
Bruce Willis – and I am not intentionally ripping Willis – delivers a performance somewhere between a fence post and taxidermized corpse. It is lifeless, unimaginative, and you can tell his heart is not in it. Don’t get me wrong, his portrayal of John McClain is one of my favorite characters in cinema. Bruce can act, but his heart was not in this one at all.
Also – just a cautionary tale to moviegoers out there Roth does use this film as platform to discuss gun violence (specifically in Chicago), and greater issues of gun control. Great, good for him. But if you don’t want to hear his political positions, don’t watch the film.
Finally, if you want to watch a good action film, something akin to First Blood (1982), Commando (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987), Air Force One (1997), Hostage (2005), The Expendables (2010) – this is not the movie for you. If you like good action movies, you will not like this film. If you like fun outrageous action movies, like Robocop (1987) or XXX 3: The Return of Xander Cage (2017) – this is not the movie for you.
However, if you like bad, uninspired action movies – you will love this film and should go spend $11+ to see it.