Film Face-off: 'Death Wish' vs. 'John Wick'

Film Face-off: 'Death Wish' vs. 'John Wick'

Oct 27, 2014

Revenge is a dish best served on the big screen with bad people getting what they've got coming to them. Forty years ago, Death Wish starring Charles Bronson came out, and it's definitely considered one of the definitive revenge flicks of all time. Some of us at hadn't seen the film (such as the author of this post).

With John Wick out this past weekend, it's the perfect time for a revenge-off with this week's Film Face-off. With Death Wish being directed by Michael Winner, you might be thinking his name says it all. But John Wick is directed by Chad Stahelski, a stunt coordinator involved in The Matrix franchise, so Wick has a puncher's chance. Literally.


Reason for Revenge

Death Wish

Three men break into Paul Kersey's (Bronson) house. He isn't home, but his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) is there with their daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). Since they don't have any cash in the house, the thugs sexually assault Carol and beat Joanna, who eventually dies. Paul is kind of upset.

John Wick

Three men break into John Wick's house. He is home with his puppy Daisy. The thugs beat up John, kill Daisy and steal his 1969 Boss Mustang. Before any of this happened, John's wife (Bridget Moynahan) died from natural causes, and gifted him Daisy as a hope that it would help John continue on.

WinnerDeath Wish. The problem here is the word "reason." Yes, Paul definitely has a better reason to go after bad guys, since an attacker actually killed his wife and tortured his daughter. That's why Death Wish wins, but the way that they showcase this event is awful. Paul barely seems to grieve. You don't feel his pain. You feel a tremendous amount of pain for John. Not only have you already seen him bury his wife, but Daisy's death is amazingly effective motivation.


The Lead Character/Star

Death Wish

Paul is an architect who has liberal beliefs that are tested once his wife is dead. He's inspired by a Wild West show he sees on a business trip, and sees himself as a bit of a cowboy hero, getting revenge on the evil that has taken over New York City. Bronson had dozens of TV appearances, and been in films like The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen, but Paul would become his most iconic character.

John Wick

John was one of the lucky ones who actually got out of the gangster world, but once you see his talents, you'll be thrilled he found his way back into the business. He's going after the men who killed his dog, and mainly Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of Russian gangster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). Reeves is best known for Bill & Ted's Excellent AdventurePoint Break, Speed, and his most iconic role is Neo from the The Matrix franchise.

WinnerJohn Wick. Paul is OK at killing guys with his gun; John makes it look like a work of art. John is a man on a specific mission, and Paul is wandering the streets, accidentally/happily finding trouble. Also, while some people might not like the way Reeves delivers some lines, the middle gap in Bronson's mustache is much more annoying.


The Bad Guys

Death Wish

Jeff Goldblum plays Freak #3, who is one of the men responsible for killing Joanna. The vast majority of the other bag guys could simply be given a number as well. They are a dime a dozen, with almost no distinguishing characteristics, and definitely no clever dialogue. They do have knives though, sometimes in switchblade form.

John Wick

Viggo is a big-time gangster who realizes his son Iosef is a bit of an idiot, but doesn't want to see him die because of it. The problem is, John helped create Viggo, so Viggo is nervous. Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) is a hit woman looking out for herself, and willing to break some "hit man code of conduct rules" to get paid.

WinnerJohn Wick. Both Viggo and Iosef say, "Oh," at different points in the movie. Normally that's not memorable, but it is with John Wick. It's a little cliche to have an idiot son, but Allen does a great job with it, just like he's done in Game of Thrones. Viggo is properly freaked out by John, referring to him as the guy you send to kill the boogeyman. Plus, he says boogeyman in Russian with fancy subtitles. In fact, this movie might have the highest separation of bad guys being terrified of our good guy. Also, it's bonus points anytime you have a former Friday Night Lights actor in your film, especially when Perkins can fight like that. Sadly, Freak #3 is only in Death Wish for a few minutes. They didn't know what they had in Goldblum, but thankfully we do.


The Other Guys

Death Wish

NYPD Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) eventually catches up with Paul thanks to police officer Jackson Reilly (Christopher Guest). Unfortunately, some politicians don't want justice, they just want Paul to move away. Deznel Washington is one of the many muggers, but we had to look that up to discover it.

John Wick

Marcus (Willem Dafoe) is a hit man for hire, Winston (Ian McShane) is the proprietor of the Continental (a hotel for bad people), Auerilo (John Leguizamo) runs a "second-hand" car shop, and Harry (Clarke Peters) is also a hit man for hire. Plus, Avi (Dean Winters) is Viggo's sidekick.

WinnerJohn Wick. The supporting cast is out-of-control amazing in John Wick. We desperately want to check into the Continental, mainly because of its underground club, but we also appreciate its "no violence" policy, because hit men need a place to relax too. Also, it's bonus points anytime you have a former The Wire actor in your film, especially when they are in a scene with a former Friday Night Lights actor.


The Best Killing

Death Wish

Paul is on the subway reading a newspaper (because those still existed in 1974). Two thugs make their way toward him. One uses a knife to slice the paper. Paul disapproves and shoots him. The other thug tries to run, and Paul shoots him too, then gets off at the next stop.

John Wick

John finds out that Iosef is at a club called Red Circle. Once upstairs at the club, John needs to fight through many men. There are an insane amount of head shots from close range, as well as some great punches thrown.

WinnerJohn Wick. This one is an unfair fight. The subway scene in Death Wish is not clever, it's just slightly more memorable than the others. John Wick allows you to revel in the movie violence, and there is no better depiction of that than upstairs at the club. The music is pounding, the action can be seen, and you actually believe John could be mowing these guys down.


OVERALL WINNERJohn Wish beats Death Wish, 4-1.

With everything that happened to John, we were hoping a clean sweep against Death Wish would cheer him up. Sadly, Death Wish won a category just because bad guys killed Paul's wife, who we didn't like nearly as much as John's dog. It's just not fair. With John Wick, you're allowed to enjoy the revenge. The characters you meet, plus the larger world that is hinted at, brings a level of amusement not normally involved with a "revenge flick."




Categories: Features, In Theaters
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