Thursday, December 3, 2015

Death Wish II

  It donned on me in the first ten minutes or so while watching Death Wish II, that I was getting impatient waiting for whatever tragedy that would prompt Paul Kersey (Bronson) to pick up his old... 'hobby'. I realized this from a completely detached perspective and I had a horrible knee-jerk reaction to it. I was literally getting impatient, waiting for some innocent people to get maimed- likely raped and killed, so that the movie could finally get underway. It puts the viewer in a weird predicament. We want to see movies where the bad guys get what's coming to them- which is in this case, murder, but that means innocent people have to get seriously hurt first. Otherwise we can't justify enjoying the subsequent revenge/violence.

  Is this a bad thing? I think it's an interesting conversation prompted by a not-so-interesting movie. It's controversy bait. Rape and murder are not used as anything but filmmaking tools in this movie, their only function is to happen so that the hero has a reason to kill the bad guys. The things the bad guys do have to be so bad, that we're okay with them being killed.  It's a weird angle to see it from. Where does the entertainment start? When he goes after the bad guys? Or is it the catalyst event? If the movie dealt with the subjects of rape, crime, vigilantism, or violence in any mature or constructive way- this wouldn't be an issue. Instead, they're just there for exploitative shock. The movie handles it all with kid gloves and the seriousness of a 10 cent pulp novel.

  Kersey's crusade of vengeance isn't once obstructed by an opposing view. Is this wrong? Not according to Death Wish II. The police are painted as woefully inept, and Kersey is little more than an abstract of a character. He never once wrestles with his decisions in the movie. It's like clockwork to him. He blows the police off immediately, grabs his gun, and goes hunting- so to speak. There are moments when you can see a real human character in there, and Bronson brings a lot of humanity to the role, when he can. Otherwise it's a by-the-numbers revenge thriller with your average helpings of bloodshed and violence. There's moments where you can see glimpses of consequence and where Kersey's actions seem to weigh heavily on him.

  This was especially evidence in one of the last scenes in the movie, a brilliant scene to be honest- one worth watching the whole movie for in my opinion. Kersey is caught by someone, after he kills the last of the men who tormented his daughter. "He raped and killed my daughter." he says. The person understands Kersey's actions and silently sympathizes with him before giving him a head start before he calls the cops. We instantly like this person, because we too sympathize with Kersey and we want his daughter's death to be avenged. But, why then are the rape/murder scenes so long and explicit? The effect and impact can be captured with a fraction of the graphic-ness. These scenes aren't entertaining. They're uncomfortable.

  What's even more uncomfortable is that the movie wouldn't happen without them. Without the rape and murder, there's no crusade of vengeance. We want to see that, but we don't want to see, think about, or even accept the rape/murder parts- because that's not entertaining. But, in a way- by being an audience to this movie, we're readily condoning the existence of the rape and murder just so we can get to the revenge bits. Again... an interesting conversation prompted by a not-so-interesting movie. Death Wish II isn't a smart enough flick to warrant such a discussion because it was made by people just trying to replicate the success of the first movie. Part of my problem with this movie is that it is in fact a sequel. One that blatantly repeats the atrocity of the first movie without even stopping to address how grotesquely absurd or coincidental it is.

  Did it have to be a rape/murder that prompts Kersey to pick up his old 'hobby'? And if so, did our faces have to be shoved in it? Even while I'm tearing this apart- I'm not denying that the movie works like a charm. It's effective as hell. The bad guys are vile and you want them dead. Kersey makes that happen. I'm picking at a scab here that's covering a very large and unsightly gash on the surface of this entire genre. This conversation has massive implications and that's not something I'm prepared to tackle just yet- especially not in a review of a movie a few decades old by now. Most rape/revenge movies are collecting dust out there in film land. A movie like this is so un-PC you won't find them making many like it these days, if at all.

  But, why is it so frickin entertaining? I think it's cathartic, at least the revenge part is- of course. We're aware that things like this happen for real in life, every day. Probably constantly across the country at any given time. I think as a society, as a culture, we feel a bit helpless given that most of the times we hear about horrible things after the fact. We're also witnesses to a broken legal system that has more loopholes than a block of swiss cheese. One faulty technicality and a proven rapist and/or murderer can get off, scot free. Death Wish II knows all this. It's answer is Paul Kersey. He is up there with Dirty Harry, and The Punisher, and every other cliche loose cannon cop and/or vigilante who takes the law into his own hands. It's entertaining because for once we get to see the bad guys get the fate we can see they so obviously deserve.

  The sweet part of it is that when all this is over, it's over. It's not real. It's celluloid. A slick assemblage of actors, practical effects, editing, and a creative music score. It's just a movie folks. Whether or not beating that drum is part of a bigger problem is... well... not my problem. I really enjoyed Death Wish II. It might be a brainless movie, dicking around with topics that beg for a more thoughtful touch- but when the bullets start flying, and the bodies start dropping, it's not hard to root for Kersey. Though in Cannon's 'canon' of films- this one sticks out against a sea of ninjas, mercenaries, superheroes and mutants. There's a time and place for movies like Death Wish II, but it's rarely ever here and now. Like I said, I enjoyed this slick and violent revenge thriller- or at least, I enjoyed the parts I was supposed to.

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