‘Death Wish’ Review: A Boring Exercise in Futility
Death Wish (2018) is going to be a difficult film for many viewers. Trying to separate this film from all the real world events and political issues is tough. But, let’s do that. Let’s put aside all the horrible gun violence and parallels to our own world. Heck, let’s pretend that the world is full of nothing but fluffy pancakes and teddy bears. Imagine we live in a world where all disputes are solved with friendly matches of Street Fighter II and every day ends with ice cream and hugs.
Even if that was our reality, Death Wish (2018) would still be a bummer.
Unworthy of the Series
If you’re a fan of the Death Wish series, you’re probably familiar with its clear exploitation roots. The original film was a misinterpreted adaptation of Brian Garfield’s novel, but it gained a large amount of success as it was a response to the current atmosphere of crime and delinquency in 1970s New York City. As the series progressed, it descended into amazing cartoon territory, peaking with the must-see schlock classic Death Wish 3.
Basically, the best Death Wish films embrace their trashy nature and make no apologies for such a decision. Death Wish (2018) doesn’t. Even though director Eli Roth is infamous for his grindhouse fan status, he doesn’t inject any of that necessary scumminess or gleeful over-the-top tone to the proceedings. If you’re going to make a hot-button topical film, dive into the deep end. Death Wish (2018) is so boilerplate with its plot and approach that it feels like an algorithm directed it.
That’s doubly disappointing when it comes to the script. Credited to the admittedly talented Joe Carnahan, the twists on this version of the tale don’t amount to much. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is now a surgeon instead of a wimpy architect like he was in the original movie. That’s a unique twist that should draw some interesting conflict out of the story — how does someone who swore to protect life struggle with a desire to kill — but nothing as potentially interesting is ever mined.
A Tired Movie
It doesn’t help that the entirety of the cast seems to be on auto-pilot. Bruce Willis has garnered a reputation for being more off than on in the latter part of his acting career. Death Wish (2018) is not going to change those opinions. His soft-spoken demeanor comes off as sleepy instead of badass. That kind of attitude infects the rest of the movie.
Especially when it comes to pacing. This is a flick that feels twice as long due to its meandering nature. There is no good sense of time to Death Wish (2018) in regards to how it presents itself. That gives the movie such a lackadaisical feel regardless of what action is actually happening on screen.
And by the time the flick finally starts to find itself, it ends. There are a few brief seconds during an interrogation scene at an auto garage and the final action set piece in which the movie comes to life. A juvenile love of violence and a genuine sense of action staging burst through, but it’s too little and way too late by that point.
Is Death Wish Good?
It’s not even as good as Death Wish V: The Face of Death, in which a henchman who suffers from excessive dandruff is blown up by a remote control soccer ball. If Death Wish (2018) had that kind of knowing gonzo attitude, this could have been a fun little revenge flick. Instead, it’s a morose and uneventful by-the-numbers remake that doesn’t go nearly as far as it needs to.
If you want a much better version of this story, check out James Wan’s Death Sentence, an adaptation of Brian Garfield’s sequel to his own Death Wish novel. It does a darker version of the tale in an excellent way and definitely feels like the kind of movie Death Wish (2018) wants to be.
Or, just watch Death Wish 3 because it is GLORIOUS.
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast at his website, The Drew Reviews. He’ll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him.