MGM just released the trailer for Eli Roth’s “reimagining” of the Charles Bronson franchise-starter Death Wish. I haven’t seen the original films, so I can’t comment directly on their, uh, quality, but the basic premise seems to carry through to the 2017 remake mostly intact. A man becomes a murderous vigilante after his wife and daughter are viciously attacked in their home. He hits the streets hunting for their assailants and killing other criminals along the way. I have been told that Jeff Goldblum shows up in the first film, in what was his first acting performance… as a rapist/murderer. So there’s that?
Before we go any further, here’s the trailer for the new one starring Bruce Willis:
When I first watched it, I didn’t realize it was a remake. I didn’t even realize it was directed by Eli Roth until his name popped up. All I could see was a white man in a hoodie being hailed as a folk hero for killing people (in Chicago of all places). Now, I’m not stupid. That is clearly a conscious choice to push buttons. And maybe the film will succeed in making some nuanced social commentary of some sort. But right now it just feels unnecessarily inflammatory at best, and at worst it sends the message that an armed white man in a hoodie is a savior, while we know that unarmed black men in hoodies are being killed IN REAL LIFE for no crimes whatsoever.
Even if there is a point to this, and even if the film does have some semblance of social commentary baked in — do we trust Eli Roth to convey it? I know he has fans, and I know that generally I am just not the right audience for his stuff, but from what I can tell, the man is about as subtle as a brick in the head. Feel free to explain to me why I’m wrong. I can take it.
The film clearly is aware of the racial buttons it’s jabbing, because it makes a point to show that the home invaders (who apparently murder Willis’ wife and rape his daughter, if this film follows the original in that regard) are white men. And a lot of the people Willis goes after are white men. But not all of them. Sure, he goes after a group of black guys to avenge an injured black boy he met in the hospital, but that leads us into some icky “white savior” territory (there is also that pointed shot of a black woman in the back of an ambulance claiming that he saved her life). That’s a whole lot to pack into a single 2-minute trailer. And there’s still room for a ha ha funny at the end as Willis talks to his therapist, who tells him to keep doing whatever he’s doing because it seems to be working. Hahaha. Ha. Ha. Vigilantism is great for mental health!
And I’m not even going to touch the whole “dead wife and maybe raped daughter” bit as motivation. It was in the original, and I’m sure they could have changed it, but they didn’t. That’s a whole other rant about using women as props to propel heroes, but I’m just not surprised. I’m… tired.
And even setting aside the issue of social commentary, the fact that Bruce Willis is playing a vigilante hero recalls another film of his: Unbreakable. But whereas that was playing with the tropes of the superhero genre, this is a whole other bag. It’s probably not fair to compare them, but it’s almost impossible not to simply because it’s Bruce Willis.
So I dunno. Maybe it’s silly to get so worked up over a trailer without being able to see the full film (which comes out in November). But it feels like, in this case at least, they are TRYING to get people worked up. I hope I’m wrong. I hope it surprises us.
The film also stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Elizabeth Shue, Dean Norris, and Mike Epps.