Bronson, on a rare day-off.

Bronson, enjoying a rare day-off

I often thought Michael Winner was the answer to the question: “who’s the most annoying, rotund tosser on TV?” (For context, this was before Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night). Well having watched Death Wish on TV recently I can tell you that I wasn’t exactly incorrect in my response but the question should maybe have been changed to: “who’s the most annoying, rotund tosser on TV, who actually used to be a half decent film director?” Hint: it’s not Chris Moyles.

Death Wish trailer – Voiceover man struggles to hide his contempt for the world. Incidentally, this infomercial approach made New York tourism drop by 725% in the 1970s.

Death Wish is a well made slice of 70s urban Americana. It’s a bit like Rocky, but with nightmares instead of dreams, and rape scenes instead of fights, and fights instead of…err.

It’s not exactly a feel-good film, but nor is it as brainless and overtly guilty of pushing a simplistic agenda as the sequels may have led you to believe (hello again Rocky). Charles Bronson’s descent into vigilantism, after the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter, is a slow burn that leads the audience to not only question the lead’s sanity, but the myth of the Wild West and even the validity of the American constitution.

This may seem a little overblown (and actually, reading it back I should change that to ‘is definitely overblown’) so you may prefer to simplify it as: Charles Bronson shoots loads of people after a pre-fame Jeff Goldblum breaks into his house. That’s what Michael Winner did when he practically remade it on the West Coast with Death Wish 2. Although to his credit he did change Jeff Goldblum to Laurence Fishburne.

Part 2 is the definition of a lazy sequel. Everything is perfunctory: from the dialogue, to the action, acting and the script. There are a couple of throwaway lines about capital punishment but you can tell Winner’s just angling for the scenes when Bronson, dressed like Benny from Crossroads, walks around scowling at young people before shooting them.

Death Wish 2 trailer – now with MORE!!!

Following the climax of part 1 when there’s a valid question regarding Charlie’s sanity. Part 2 makes no such bones: young people are evil and most of them should be shot. Bronson’s not mad, just doing what needs to be done. It fully embraces the myths that part 1 questioned. But in its defence it does offer possibly the most unintentionally funny series of fast cuts as we move from a murdered housemaid, to an unconscious Bronson, before finishing on a close up of a crystal cat, all accompanied by Jimmy Page’s ADHD electro score – which sounds like a blind man trying to escape from a Bontempi organ showroom.

The divide between old and young becomes clearer in part 3, when an even more seasoned Charlie (now cleverly calling himself Paul Kimble, instead of Paul Kersey – which kind of works when you see the levels of police intelligence on display) goes to visit his aged friend. Bronson’s new (at least in Death Wish terms) pal is a veteran of war, although from his age it could either be the American Civil or the Napoleonic.

Death Wish 3 – the only way they could have made it more realistic is by using James Cameron’s 3D motion capture technology.

It speaks volumes for the character of Paul Kersey that by the time we get to the third film the friend who means the most to him is probably senile but not so far gone that he wouldn’t move thousands of miles away to avoid the inevitable rape and murder at the hands of a young actor chasing at the coattails of fame (in this case, Alex Winter from Bill and Ted). Sadly, even that isn’t enough to save him, as minutes into the film he’s killed by youngsters (though mercifully unraped). In response, Bronson packs his things and goes home…Only kidding. He decides to kill loads of people, but not content to do it alone, this time he recruits what appears to be the New York via London SAGA mailing list and encourages them to join his murder spree.

Winner was obviously aware that this old v young was at the forefront of Death Wish 3 so, in an amazingly patronising way, has Bronson develop (sorry, develop would indicate that this relationship has somewhere to go), he starts seeing this young kid who he winks at and throws ice creams too. This child is obviously too young to be shot (Patience, Charles, patience). And as this child doesn’t appear to interact with any other character, I can only assume that he’s a figment of Bronson’s imagination, from an imaginary place where young people are not rapist/murderer/thieves.

If the Death Wish series was to follow the natural order then by rights the next one should show Bronson working as a back street abortionist before uploading himself to the internet to erase Bebo profiles. However, Winner was not invited back to the party for part 4, and the war of the ages theme is bypassed in favour of the now-crowded ‘ hero as mentalist’ subgenre.

If you’re looking for evidence that Bronson’s Paul Kersey is a raging mentalist, then you’ll have a lot of evidence from Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. For one, it opens with a scene of Bronson wearing a slick leather waistcoat laying waste to a group of creeps. He walks over to the last one only to see that…he has the face of Bronson! But it was all a dream. Huh?

Deathwish 4 – more like ‘The Crapdown’ – amirite?

After this interesting opening it becomes another game of killing baddies, with the odd twist or two. For one, Bronson has a mysterious sponsor who gives him all the equipment he needs (and doesn’t appear to bat an eyelid when he asks for ‘a bottle of exploding wine’). There are no trips to the post office to pick up a rocket launcher in 4. Also the early appearance from a Hollywood hopeful has now fallen to Danny Trejo, who looks about the same as he does now.

The villains this time are a mob of Italian gangsters so stereotypical that they could be reeling off the Pizza Express menu instead of dialogue. But the aim is clear: Bronson is moving up the food chain and the reverse Logan’s Run activities of the previous 3 are a thing of the past. It’s not the young people we have to worry about, it’s the ethnic minorities!

Basically part 4 boils down to a series of sketches about death. It’s like Itchy and Scratchy, but with psychotic architects killing guidos. And after part 4 I couldn’t bring myself to ensure any more of Bronson’s death rampages. It just didn’t seem right putting an old man through that. By part 4 he was already looking like a grizzled dancing bear, with guns practically taped to his hands, wheeled out to go through the motions for the entertainment of baying morons (and cultured gentlemen with ironic detachment, natch).

Although I do recall a scene in part 5 where he killed someone with an exploding radio controlled ball, which is almost enough to make me reconsider.

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