One of the more original aspects of the iconic vigilante movie “Death Wish” was that the revenge-motivated Paul Kersey never actually went after the people responsible for murdering his wife and rendering his daughter catatonic. They kick-started his transformation from the soft liberal to the stone cold killer, but they never paid for their crimes. This is the most obvious change of the sequel Death Wish 2 in which Kersey goes directly after the men responsible for raping and murdering his housekeeper and daughter.
While both star Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner return for this second installment, the tone couldn’t be more different. Shifting the setting from the gritty cold streets of New York in the winter to sunny L.A. the brightly colored tones are the first element that quickly sets the two movies apart. Being produced by the notorious low-budget studio Cannon the movie has a far more exploitation approach than the first movie. The original Death Wish had a beating and short rape sequence triggering Kersey’s descent into vigilantism. In Death Wish 2 the street punks responsible for making Kersey pick up the gun again group-rape his house keeper in a lengthy scene filled with full frontal nudity, then kidnap his mute daughter who is then also raped in an abandoned location. Later on his quest to track them down Kersey intervenes as two of them are raping a random woman in a parking lot in a scene which also contains gratuitous nudity. There are more scenes like this, making it seem like rape is this gang’s prime occupation. Death Wish 2 is in a way a more sleazy remake of the original.
Death Wish 2 is also a more straight revenge movie rather than just a movie about vigilantism. While it’s mentioned numerous times that the streets of L.A. are filled with crime, never does the movie create a link between Kersey’s actions and plummeting crime ratings like in the previous movie. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a political message in Death Wish 2. The central irony and conflict is that the woman he’s dating is anti-death-penalty radio host Geri Nichols, played by his real-life wife Jill Ireland. While she’s advocating against the death penalty on her show, her boyfriend is playing judge, jury and executioner in the back streets of L.A. In the finale he actually uses her to gain access to the final perpetrator responsible for the deaths of his daughter and house keeper who is locked up in a psychiatric hospital after a soft liberal judge has sentenced him there because he was under the influence of a mind altering drug during his arrest. Another right winged message firmly in touch with the Reagan-era the movie is set in.
In Death Wish the motivations of Kersey becoming a vigilante were due to the ineptitude of the police. In Death Wish 2 Kersey has given up every hope in the judicial system from the start. He refuses to give the police a description of the perpetrators and when the police are closing in on the remaining last perpetrator he tries to get to him first. Of course the movie presents us with a valid reason for Kersey’s actions as the perp’s lawyer and the judge are subsequently responsible for sending him to a psychiatric hospital rather than jail.
Despite the slick look, Death Wish 2 seems to be much more the work of less talented people and which is surprising considering a couple of people involved in the original return here. One of the more painful expositions is the wooden dialogue which is especially evident during the happy moments between Kersey, his daughter and girlfriend in the beginning of the movie. The cheaper feel is also caused by the more exploitative approach to the material. I don’t mind female nudity on the screen, but when it’s in scenes full of violence directed against a women it just feels foul.
The exploitation approach to the material also results in Kersey becoming more of a cartoon character, rather than a man of flesh and blood, even though he bleeds a lot. Several action movie tropes are on display here for the first time in the Death Wish series. These tropes include the pre-mortem one-liners, the exploding car after crashing in a ravine, creative novelty deaths and Kersey actually dressing up every time he goes on the prowl looking forhis daughter’s killers.
The result is a very violent, but also entertaining exploitation movie filled with novelty (mostly gun shot) deaths and gratuitous nudity. It’s by the numbers movie making working on a script that on occasion feels all over the place, but is consistent enough to keep someone’s attention. Fans of the original won’t necessarily like this movie but found it to be amusing, albeit sleazy at times, entertainment.