Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon at a Chicago hospital who recognises the irony of what he is assigned to every night as the victims of violence on the streets are brought in and he has to at least try and save their lives or allow them to die. This no matter what they have done: they could be a heroic cop gunned down in the line of duty, or the criminal who gunned them down and was injured in the attack, it's all supposed to be the same to Kersey and he is not allowed to complain. He does have a happy home life to return to, a pillar of stability away from his chaotic working life, his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and soon-to-be in college daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone), thank goodness.
But oh, what if they were taken away from Kersey, what would he do then? How would he grieve? Would he take this tragedy with sad acceptance, or would he want to do something about it? What would Charles Bronson do? What does he have to do with it? Well, Chuck cast a very long shadow over action movies, not only thanks to starring in the original Death Wish, but also because of his other works in the field, and for some reason director Eli Roth chose Bruce Willis to step into his shoes for a remake that had the misfortune to be released at a time in America when gun control had never been a hotter button topic, and that it didn't help in any way hobbled it at the box office.
Whichever way it had landed on the gun debate was never going to satisfy everyone, but the way this wavered between the security of defending yourself and the dangerous thinking that led so many to be murdered and injured by firearms in America looked as if Roth and his team of writers (only Joe Carnahan was credited) were weak-minded when it came to making a clear statement. Not that they needed to, they could have gone the Death Wish 3 route and created a modern day Western where the white-hatted good guy blew away all the black-hatted bad guys and left it at that, yet such was the controversial climate that this felt the need to address the matter.
And failed completely in that address, as once Kersey has lost his wife and sees his daughter in a coma thanks to a bungled robbery at their home, he still doesn't come across as the type who would take up arms and go out on the streets to bring a reckoning to the villains blighting society. The fact that they threw in so many scenes of him suffering misgivings about his vigilantism merely served to have you wondering why he bothered to put himself through the trauma when he should have been there to nurse his daughter back to health, yet there were other scenes where he positively relished his lawbreaking as if he were an avenging angel on Chicago's crime problem, turning their gun problems back on themselves. All the while the media, official and social, debate the rights and wrongs endlessly.
With no real conclusion. This had the effect of rendering Paul Kersey as two different characters in one body, each as one-dimensional as their counterpart, which was frustrating to watch no matter how much you enjoyed seeing scumbags in pain and being murdered by the hero of an action flick. Something different in this redo, not so much an adaptation of Brian Garfield's novel as a reimagining of Michael Winner's version, was that Kersey hunts down the perpetrators of the crime that drove him to violence, which made a far bigger difference than you might expect. In the first film, the fact that he never gets his revenge on them left him in an existential, urban hell, doomed to murder in the name of justice when it never satisfied the ache he had in his soul. Here, he would be fine because he knew what he had to do, and once he had done it he could get back to his life as long as the cops - including Dean Norris, a lawman so useless he can't even eat a cereal bar - didn't work out he was the "Grim Reaper". Maybe Roth should have been let loose on a Punisher movie instead; his Death Wish was a limp thriller with no backbone, propped up by its fearful gun reliance. Music by Ludwig Göransson.