MGM Pictures released the first trailer for its remake of the 1974 vigilante classic Death Wish on Thursday, featuring Bruce Willis taking over the lead role — but some critics and commentators have already branded the unreleased film “racist,” “alt-right,” and “nakedly fascist” over the short clip’s content.
Willis stars as Paul Kersey, a surgeon on a brutal quest for revenge after his wife is murdered and his daughter is raped (Charles Bronson’s Kersey was an architect in the original five-film series).
The remake also trades out the original film’s gritty New York City environment for contemporary Chicago.
The trailer for the Eli Roth-directed film plays like most revenge films, promising plenty of gunfighting and shots of star Willis looking tough. In a twist on the original character, Willis’ Dr. Kersey wears a hoodie, an item of clothing associated in recent years with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The trailer for the film came under fire on social media shortly after its release Thursday, with at least one critic contending that the original series was “always racist.”
Yes Death Wish was always racist…but that's the fucking point. Are we not going to point out something is racist because it's always been?
— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) August 3, 2017
Film critic Alan Zilberman called the clip “so nakedly fascist that alt-righters will have an erection before the trailer ends.”
Eli Roth's Death Wish remake is so nakedly fascist that alt-righters will have an erection before the trailer ends https://t.co/sDY5fQXR9W
— Alan Zilberman (@alanzilberman) August 3, 2017
Some critics wrote that the film’s release appeared ill-timed for today’s charged political environment, while Forbes film critic Scott Mendelson called the film’s message “tone-deaf” coming from a white filmmaking team.
Fair or not, I can't think of a more tone-deaf idea in this political/social environment than white filmmakers remaking #DEATHWISH…
— Scott Mendelson (@ScottMendelson) August 3, 2017
Maybe it's the marketing, but seems a strange time to give a high-five to an older angry white dude going vigilante with lots of guns.
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) August 3, 2017
Angry, old white man becomes an armed vigilante against Chicago civilians. That's a dangerous message. Is Death Wish alt-right fan fiction? pic.twitter.com/7VIrMbLWXv
— Adam Best (@adamcbest) August 3, 2017
The location change of the film’s action also rankled some, including the Chicago Tribune‘s Nina Metz, who wrote that the trailer paints the city as a “hellscape only one man can fix.”
The change in location, Metz wrote, “follows a well-worn path of people who understand little about the city’s problems but exploit them for gain anyway.”
Director Eli Roth, perhaps best known for his early, bloody horror films Cabin Fever and Hostel, has not yet commented on the backlash to his film’s new trailer. One of Roth’s most recent films, the cannibal horror film Green Inferno, took considerable pleasure in skewering political correctness (read this writer’s review of Green Inferno here).
In addition to Willis, the updated Death Wish also stars Dean Norris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, and Mike Epps. The film is set to hit theaters November 22.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum