The Death Wish series is one of the most watchable and expendable franchises of action films that have inspired countless copies and atleast one certified remake. One of my favorite Bollywood films of all times, Mohra, starring Sunil Shetty, Akshay Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah and Raveena Tandon was a remake of Death Wish 4 and I realized this only yesterday night when I was watching the 4th installment of this series for the first time. I love the first two Death Wish Films and have seen them multiple times. The 3rd Installment was however too much to fathom and it kind of put me off from watching the 4th Installment and the 5th one. But for the purpose of this write-up, I decided to give the 4th Installment a try last night and was pleasantly surprised. I am yet to watch the 5th installment and I don’t think, I will but atleast 3 films of this franchise is enormously entertaining.
Death Wish (1974): A New York City architect, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has his life torn apart when some random muggers kill his wife and psychologically destroy his daughter. Unable to withstand the loss, Kersey takes up arms against all muggers that he comes across.
Death Wish 2 (1982): Paul Kersey once again becomes a vigilante when he tries to find the five street punks who murdered his daughter and housekeeper, this time on the dark streets of Los Angeles.
Death Wish 3 (1985): Paul Kersey arrives back in New York City and is forcibly recruited by a crooked police chief to fight street crime caused by a large gang terrorizing the neighborhoods. What starts off as certain hand-picked ambushes by Kersey soon turns into an all-out war.
Death Wish 4 (1987): Paul Kersey takes on the members of a vicious Los Angeles drug cartel to stop the flow of drugs after his girlfriend’s daughter dies from an overdose. This was probably the most panned out film of the lot.
All the films of this franchise follow a simple 3 act structure. In the first act, the protagonist is wronged (in the first 2 films) or recruited at the behest of doing some house cleaning (the 3rd and 4th installment). The next act builds upon the conflict with both the protagonist delivering some serious payloads on the villains and the villains also learning of his existence and making their own plans. The final act is always one long climatic battle involving the protagonist killing off all the villains and generally a truckload of others. Atleast that’s what the case is with 3 out of the 5 films.
What works for me in these films is the overtly simple layout and the sheer charm with which the leading man delivers the goods. Charles Bronson was a charismatic hero and it’s evident nowhere as much as it is here. The Death Wish films literally take a piggyback ride of his performance. He is astounding in a straight-faced role that many would point out as bland and mechanical. I somehow have to disagree as I felt that it was practically for the manner in which he reacts to the situations and his mannerisms that make his act memorable.
All the Death Wish Films are buoyed by some sensational action. The action keeps getting bigger and crazier with each progressive film. While it’s the most believable in the first two installments, it’s at its bombastic best in the 4th installment (that’s how many I have seen of this franchise). There is a raw physicality to the action here and it is bound to get to you. Yes! It has to be agreed that Bronson doesn’t get hit no matter how many Kgs of bullets the villains’ spray him with. It is nevertheless enterprising to watch.
Apart from Bronson, Vincent Gardenia plays an important role in the first 2 installments. What I liked about his character of a cop was the fact that he was intelligent enough to track down Kersey even though he stayed out of his path for reasons of his own. He was not only intelligent and foxy but also very funny. Jill Ireland plays Kersey’s love interest in the 2nd installment and she looks very pretty. She was the only noticeable heroine in the series thus far. John P. Ryan plays the only noticeable villain of the series. It must be noted that most villains of the series are muggers and are picked off like insects by Kersey. Hence they never get enough screen time to make any considerable impact. Ryan, on the other hand, plays the brainy baddie who is dedicated, ruthless and really bad. He is also the one who gives Kersey a real run for his money.
The Death Wish Franchise is easily one of the most watchable, entertaining and disposable pieces of entertainment. Apart from the appeal of a charismatic star, it also has pulsating action, simmering drama and a larger than life feel on its side. Just make it a point to not think too much about the proceedings and enjoy the film for what it is. The moment you try to think too much into it, chances are you will lose the fun of it. It’s evidently clear that the makers never cared to think too much about it.
Death Wish: 3.5/5 Stars
Death Wish 2: 3/5 Stars
Death Wish 3: 2.5/5 Stars
Death Wish 4: 3/5 Stars
The upcoming Death Wish remake: