On the campaign trail, Donald Trump hawked a vision of American cities as crime-riddled nightmare that seemed drawn more from vintage action movies than actual reality. So it’s fitting—if, frankly, a little on the nose—that there’s a remake of 1974’s Death Wish coming down the pike, with Bruce Willis taking the place of Charles Bronson’s angel of urban vengeance and torture porn maestro Eli Roth subbing in for British journeyman Michael Winner.
The trailer treads carefully for a little while, establishing Willis’ character as a grieving man out to avenge his apparently murdered wife and brutalized daughter. While the movies that created the genre—the ones Trump is so fond of—unabashedly present a vision of law-abiding white citizens menaced by black and brown lowlifes, the trailer only allows Willis to start shooting up black drug dealers once he’s got a hospitalized black child to defend, and it winks at the angry-white-man cliché when a witness can only identify him to the police by saying he “looked like a white dude.”
Any shred of caution, however, goes out the window in the trailer’s second half, as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” obliterates any tinge of ambivalence and Willis starts shooting out quips along with bullets. In a city—Chicago, no less, that favorite race-coded target of Trump’s dishonest rhetoric—where the cops can’t or won’t do their job, it falls to Willis to keep the peace, with increasingly small reservations and increasingly large guns.
One might imagine that a thriller released in 2017 would be at least a little ambivalent about the spectacle of a man wading into the brackish waters of urban crime with his guns blazing, and maybe Death Wish is at least a little more subtle than its rah-rah trailer suggests. (As a filmmaker, Roth is something of a moral idiot, which could work in either direction.) But studio marketing departments are experts at knowing their audiences, and it’s not hard to imagine that there’s a substantial constituency out there for people who want law-enforcement, civilian or otherwise, to shoot first and ask questions later. Or, better yet, never.