Saturday, October 10, 2015

Movie review - "Death Wish II" (1981) **

An early success for the Cannon Group, who would go on to make many more vigilante films starring Charles Bronson. This is a genuine sequel to the original, in that it takes pleasing notice to series continuity - Bronson's character is still an architect, only living in Los Angeles; his daughter is still in shell shock from the attack in the first film; we get a return performance from Victor Gardenia as the detective.

The structure is similar too - hoodlums get a hold of Bronson's address and decide to attack his house, when two women are home, including his daughter. Bronson has a new girlfriend, Jill Ireland, but she's not the other woman - the role of first-person-killed-by-hoodlums is given to Bronson's maid, who is raped and dies, but not before showing some nudity. Then Bronson's daughter is kidnapped, taken away to a warehouse, is raped, then escapes but trips over and is impaled - but again not before director Michael Winner gives the audience a shot of full frontal nudity of the daughter after being raped. I was surprised they didn't bring back the character of Bronson's son in law - he strikes me as someone who would have been useful in terms of drama, either to be killed or to push some liberal viewpoint.

I kept expecting Jill Ireland's character to be threatened, but she never is - maybe because she was Bronson's wife in real life and Bronson didn't want her have to go through the ordeal that the actresses playing rape/murder victims had too. She does have a function in that she is anti death penalty, which is a good idea, but its hampered by poor character development and Ireland's terrible performance.

Bronson's character has changed - there's no point where he has doubts about what he's doing, not really, or considers another mode of action. When his daughter is found raped and impaled, Bronson doesn't seem that sad - he sort of shrugs and goes "well I guess I'd better go back to killing people again". This time he doesn't kill random muggers/criminals - he goes after the people responsible for his maid's and daughter's deaths (they include Laurence Fishburne). And in doing so Bronson becomes more superheroic before and pretty much a psycho - in the final sequence he disguises himself as a doctor to get into a mental hospital to kill an attacker; he shoves the guy's hand in a shock machine too (the influence of slasher movies?)

It would have been better drama had maybe he held back at Ireland's insistence and let the courts do their thing, then seen them get off. The courts do let one person off - well, send him to a mental hospital - but only because the cops get him before Bronson does.

Another flaw is that Los Angeles never feels as scary as New York does in the first time. I'm sure it is a lot more dangerous, it just doesn't feel so in this movie - too sunny and spacious, people are in their cars more and thus able to drive away easier, there's less walking past dark alleys and on subways. Also the baddies are so, so cartoonish here. (I will say that the actors playing them completely commit.)

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