The movies of The Death Wish franchise are always lambasted for fueling vigilantism. None other than Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the original “propaganda for private gun ownership.” But is it really? As the series progresses, the message gets downright ambivalent. In Death Wish 3, the spirit of revenge, while applauded, appears equally dangerous to your health. For most of this flick, any good citizen who takes matters into his or her own hands ends up biting the bullet or being beaten to a pulp.
1. Charley, our hero’s friend from the Korean War, attacks gang members with a crowbar then ends up at the receiving end of the blows.
2. Miss Davis, the aspiring girlfriend, rants about how people should fight back. Shortly thereafter, she’s slugged in the face then the car’s rolled into traffic. Crash. Explosion. Death.
3. Benny, a spunky geriatric, decides to dig out an old machine gun circa World War II but is tossed off the fire escape by young hoods before he can figure out how to work the trigger.
Throughout, the movie’s message is pretty clear: Leave the gunplay to Charles Bronson or suffer the consequences. That is, until the finale…
As the cops face off the gangs, the locals inspired by the fireworks begin to arm themselves. What follows is an exhilarating paean to violence as machine guns, zip guns, Molotov cocktails, booby traps and a well-aimed broom turn East New York into a turf war worthy of the Apocalypse. Yes, Bronson’s character blows away the gang leader, but it’s the masses finally getting involved that is ultimately the point. Or is it?
Watch as one oddly dressed female hoodlum bends over her leader’s burning corpse then signals to the troops to retreat. The war isn’t over. Only this battle is. Bronson may be leaving with his suitcases but you sense that this victory is shortlived; you know that the roustabouts will return soon enough like cockroaches. As Bronson’s character says meaningfully of the insects, “You have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” And with roaches in a Brooklyn apartment, no sane person would try to fight off an infestation alone. When you’ve got a problem of that magnitude, you don’t do it yourself. You call a professional.
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