Monday, July 2, 2012

Vigilante films

On the drive in this morning, I suddenly had a random thought about vigilante films. I’ve seen quite a few, and I definitely have my favorites. I think vigilante films appeal to a large portion of the audience because they are escapist fantasy. I mean, who doesn’t think about taking the law into their own hands on occasion?

So, here’s a list of my favorite vigilante films.

Death Wish
No list of vigilante films would be complete without this one. This is the granddaddy of them all. Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey is an everyman in every sense. A devoted family man, an architect; just a normal Joe. But he is pushed, and when the circumstances are just right, he instinctively pushes back. With a vengeance. I think the fact that he goes from the normal Joe to cold-blooded vigilante is what makes this film so great. It’s a slow transformation, and it is handled very realistically. Some of the sequels touched on this, but really, they were just action movies, without the dramatic nuances of the original.

The Punisher
The 2004 movie with Tom Jane is by far the best iteration of the character on screen. The Dolph Lundgren one was enjoyable as 80’s action schlock, and War Zone (2008) had some good elements, though it was a bit over the top and too much like the comic (I’ve always felt that there are some elements that work well in four-color, but don’t translate well to the screen). The 2004 film captured the essence of Frank Castle, and had a great cast of supporting characters, both good and evil. Jane is excellent as the brooding warrior with nothing to live for, and John Travolta is excellent as the millionaire who wants to be a kingpin, but deep down inside he’s a coward. The action, the score, and the cinematography, were all top-notch. And even though it’s based on a comic book, it never seems like a cartoon the way WZ did. I can watch this movie over and over again.

Boy Wonder
I found this one on NetFlix and decided to give a shot. And I am glad I did. This one is a twist on the genre in that the vigilante in question is a high school kid trying to solve the mystery of his mom’s murder from about nine years earlier. The cast is great, though full of unknowns that I had never seen or heard of. The story is compelling, and keeps you guessing right up to the end. There are some twists and turns that I didn’t expect, and the payoff is pretty grim. All said, I highly recommend this one to fans of the genre.

Four Brothers
I remember when I first heard about this one, a friend and I were in the beginnings of collaborating on a very similar project. When we heard about this movie, it completely took the wind out of our sails, and the idea was dropped. That being said, this film is awesome! The cast and characters are very real, and very relatable. The action is well-done, and the whole premise just grabs you by the balls and the heart at the same time. There were a lot of plot-twists that, had I been watching more closely, I might have seen coming. But they managed to surprise me, because the film moves along at such a fast clip, you don’t have time to stop and think things through. Much like the characters in the film. In the end, the payoff is very satisfying. I had heard that at one time the director, John Singleton, was attached to do a Luke Cage movie for Marvel. After seeing this film, I would have been 100% behind that.

Interestingly, even though they technically qualify as vigilante films by nature, comic book films (particularly the Batman movies) get a pass, as I see these as a separate genre. There are things in them that take them out of the psychological fantasy of a true vigilante movie, and into the realm of urban fantasy with the magic of super powers and techno-gadgets.

I’m sure there are others out there that I am forgetting, or that I haven’t seen. So, if you know of some good ones, let me know!


bowiefan said...

Taken would qualify.

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked four brothers, and Death wish. I've even read the Death Wish novel, which was pretty good. There have been some bad stuff in this genre too. I've heard good things about, I think, bum with a shotgun, which seems to fall into this category.

Tim Shorts said...

Great list. I'm glad you had Death Wish on here because without it makes the list dubious. Boy WOnder, I've seen it on Netflix I'll give that one a try. Thanks for the list.

word verification: creepa...some how appropriate.