Charles Bronson vs. the World

Friday A/V Club: A comedy of violence



So Bruce Willis will star in a remake of Death Wish. I suppose I could use that news to write something serious about the old Death Wish series and the revenge-movie genre, but I already did that back when Charles Bronson died in 2003; I still agree with most of what I wrote back then, and the stuff I'm not as sure about isn't worth belaboring here. And if you want to mull what it means to see Hollywood harkening now to a vigilante vision from the high-crime '70s—well, that'll be a good topic for when the film actually appears.

No, today we're going to talk about something else. Today we're going to talk about Death Wish 3.

Released in 1985, the year we hit Peak Rambo, Death Wish 3 achieves a hallucinatory frenzy that defies such petty aesthetic categories as "good" and "bad." Its storyline is about as realistic as a Max Ernst painting and its body count rivals Vietnam's. As I wrote back in 2003, it's

the installment in which the series started to veer into self-parody but had not yet been reduced entirely to a fistful of boring shoot-em-ups. As [Charles Bronson] sets up one elaborate deathtrap after another, he starts to seem less like Batman and more like Wile E. Coyote—except that his Acme gear actually works. His enemy-cum-ally is a cop with Harry Callahan's ideas about civil liberties; in one priceless scene, as the officer interrogates Bronson, the latter snarls, "Do you always violate people's constitutional rights?" It's not clear whether this movie is supposed to be a comedy, but it succeeds surprisingly well on that level.

Every Death Wish sequel is ludicrous, but Death Wish 3 has hints of self-awareness, as though the filmmakers deliberately set out to make the most ludicrous action movie they could. But for all I know they were completely sincere. Authorial intent is almost beside the point here. Like the best bulldada, it exists in a state beyond earnestness and irony.

If you want to watch the whole movie, it's streaming for three bucks here. But if you just want the giddy highlights, you're in luck: Someone has made a Death Wish 3 in 10 Minutes edit, which I've embedded below. My favorite exchange comes at the 1:27 mark, but the video doesn't get transcendently ridiculous until the urban warfare takes off, circa 4:44.

N.B.: There are a few seconds of nudity about two-thirds of the way through, so you may not want to watch this at the office.

(For previous editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)