Four years ago, architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) turned vigilante after his wife was killed and daughter sent into a near-catatonic state by an attack from muggers in New York City. Now, he has moved to Los Angeles and made a new life for himself, putting violence behind him - or so he thinks. He has a new girlfriend, Geri (Jill Ireland), and is hoping his daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood) is gradually getting better. Today he takes them both out to a fun park, but when he goes to get ice cream for them he is confronted by some punks who steal his wallet. And that is just the beginning of another nighmare...
While the first Death Wish film was a huge hit, for some reason it took the best part of a decade for any sequel to arrive, and when it did it was the first in a string of thrillers made by star Bronson for what would be the producing team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, then leaders of Cannon. They pretty much all made decent profits, showing that eighties audiences were all too happy to watch this by now ageing action hero show the young pretenders how to kick the asses of the crime fraternity. Some would argue that it was this film which cemented that view in the public's eyes.
For Death Wish II was a hit as well, reuniting Bronson with director Michael Winner who by this time had frittered away any goodwill his stylish sixties films had awarded him and whose name was now a byword for trashy entertainment that in many cases was not especially entertaining. But what the star's fans wanted to see was him getting his own back on some vile hoodlums, who naturally have to commit such a heinous crime that there's no excusing them, with the result that we're meant to cheer on their subsequent execution at the hands of Kersey who in real life would be classed as a raging psychopath.
Funnily enough, this attitude that the best way to deal with serious lawbreakers was to blow them away with a handgun was far better suited to the eighties than to the previous decade it originated in, what with the gung-ho Presidency of Ronald Reagan in full flight on the world's stage. Therefore, after the ludicrously over the top opening half hour which sees Kersey's housekeeper (Silvana Gallardo) gang raped and murdered by the same thugs who stole his wallet and then Carol kidnapped, raped, then dying on escaping through a closed window, Kersey is eager to get back to his old ways, if not quite as eager as the fans of this were for the rough, tough justice to begin.
Leaving aside the fact that Winner films the two rapes with suspiciously titillating intention (rumour had it he considered sexual assault sequences a highlight of his thrillers), he and the rest of the filmmakers, writer David Englebach included, appear oblivious to the fact that now Kersey is in effect a serial killer we're intended to praise, but he has our goodwill on his side because of the horrendous acts he is avenging. There's a hypocrisy to this, that murder is improving to the individual and society as long as you really despise the victim, and even the detective from the first film (Vincent Gardenia) returns here to endorse Kersey's spree. This would be fine if we were to see the hero having mixed feelings about his actions, but he positively relishes them, as if having the deaths of those close to him has liberated him to do whatever he wants. It's probably not wise to take Death Wish II very seriously, it is ridiculous after all, but neither was it wise to take its protagonist at face value. Music by Jimmy Page, believe it or not.