Dir: Michael Winner, 1982
This review is of the uncut version
Maligned by critics but lapped up by the paying cinema going public, Michael Winner’s revenge classic is the ultimate vigilante film.
Charles Bronson returns as architect Paul Kersey; cleaning up the streets and striking fear into the heart of muggers and rapists, the length and breadth of Los Angeles.
Death Wish II is a change in direction from its 1974 predecessor. Death Wish was a social commentary on rising crime in New York, the ineffectiveness of the police to control the situation and the public’s helplessness in tackling the endemic. This sequel isn’t really concerned about making any sort of statement, or voicing an opinion. It’s all about exciting the audience, and fulfilling the vengeful desires of victims the world over.
There is absolutely no doubt that Winner is sensationalist in his approach, and seems to revel in the extended scene of gang rape. Taking delight in exposing copious amounts of flesh in the sexual assault scenes, it could (and has been) successfully argued that Winner undermines the true horror of rape. To be fair, if the rape scenes were all to take place off screen, you would still have a cracking film. But, ever the exploitational, Michael Winner chooses to make the audience sit up and take notice of Death Wish II by being gratuitous.
It’s very unfortunate that the English director chose to take the film down that particular path, as it serves to damage the film instead of enhance it. In short, he shot himself in the foot.
However, it’s grossly unfair to condemn an entire movie for one, shall we say, “misguided” scene. Death Wish II deserves much more credit than it is given. The film ticks all the right boxes for the genre, and does EXACTLY what it’s supposed to.
As Kersey, Bronson is likeable and has us firmly on his side. It’s a character that we can root for. He’s like a guardian angel; righting the wrongs for anybody who has been dealt an injustice. Sadly, that is lost on critics who are simply hell bent on pushing a political agenda. Far too often, you’ll hear smug and self-satisfied reviewers bleat on about the film glorifying vigilantism or some such cobblers.
If you think about it, the Death Wish series are fantasy films. They allow us to let go and feel a sense of retribution. Winner has deliberately directed this film, in a comic book-like fashion. The characters are over the top, and carry ridiculous monikers like Stomper, Nirvana and Punkcutter.
Clearly, this is not a film to be taken seriously. The heavy rock score (supplied by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page) supports the unrealistic element of it all. Page has, intentionally, composed a soundtrack to get our blood pumping and instill excited thrills.
There is plenty of action, with shell casings littering the floors of subways, parks and dingy abandoned basements. Bodies are strewn around Los Angeles, the result of Kersey and some badly acted death scenes. It’s everything you should want from a film like this.
Great entertainment and endlessly rewatchable, Death Wish II has all the high end camp of stage theatrics.
Over the top fun.