Wanted (2008) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief nudity
Running time: 110 min.
Cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Chris Pratt, Common, Kristen Hager, David O'Hara, Marc Warren, Konstantin Khabensky, Dato Bakhtadze, Lorna Scott
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Chris Morgan (based on the comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones)Z
Review published June 28, 2008
Timur Bekmambetov, the director of the visually splendid Nightwatch and Daywatch (aka Nighwatch 2), makes his first English-language movie, this time featuring some very good actors and a high budget, to mostly successful results. The source material, like so many of today's blockbusters, comes from a comic book, Mark Millar's homage-filled "Wanted", which wasn't a major sensation in print form in 2003, but it was written as if it were meant to be a movie, including having J.G. Jones' artistic depiction of the characters resembling famous actors themselves (notably Eminem, Halle Berry, Tommy Lee Jones, etc.) None of the actors whose resemblances made the comic would appear in 2008's feature film, but the movie does retain elements of the core storyline (though stripped away from much of the costumed superhero mythos), visual appeal, and sense of dark humor that made it's print counterpart an entertaining read.
The story borrows a bit from The Matrix, as it features a lowly office worker, Wesley Gibson (McAvoy, Atonement), who has spent his life doing little he dreamt of doing, while his ineffectiveness has pervaded every part of his life. Every day at work, he is ridiculed by his overbearing boss (Scott), while his coworker and best friend (Pratt, "The O.C.") is nailing his girlfriend (Hager, AVP2), and there's absolutely nothing he does about it save to pop a few more pills to try to control his anxiety attacks. Things suddenly change when he is approached and practically forced to join a secret society of assassins known as The Fraternity, whose leader, Sloan (Freeman, The Bucket List), informs Wesley of his father's death and their plan for him to exact revenge on the culprits using his latent abilities, most notably in the form of using guns with skill beyond most mortal men. However, do be ready, Wesley has to undergo vigorous training sessions with their most skilled assassin, the sexy but deadly Fox (Jolie, Kung Fu Panda), who literally has him beat within an inch of his life until he learns to stop his submissive inclinations and learn to fight back. As Wesley undergoes his conversion, he learns more about the workings of his organization, as he's never quite able to resolve whether they are good or bad, killing people that have the potential to kill many others.
If you've read the comic book, you'd know that there's little in the characters or storyline that is truly original, as it is written toward comic book fans, with references to many other comic book characters, mostly from DC comics, that would be readily understood and appreciated by those who typically read such fare. Hardcore fans of the comic may not like the film for deviating so much from the original work, but it's doubtful that most audiences would have recognized the allusions, so it's understandable that they'd strip most of it away. Just as the comic borrowed heavily from other comics, so does this movie to other movies, including Fight Club, The Matrix, and even Bekmambetov's own Nightwatch series. The distinction is that Millar's work is a knowing homage while Bekmambetov's is borrowing without giving the suggestion that he meant to lift idea, so one can't quite call Wanted an homage film.
The Matrix comparisons continue through the excessive use of "bullet time" special effects, as we watch plenty of ammo discharged in slow motion ultimately entering and leaving bodies in bloody displays that gore-lovers will find euphoric. This is the kind of movie where all sense of physics or realism gets tossed out early, as gunmen can not only shoot the wings off of flies, but they can "curve" the bullet's trajectory using their minds and can even make bullets collide to thwart incoming bullets from their enemies. Then there are impossible car flips, pedestrian jumps, and other feats that not only would take split-second timing, they couldn't be done in any time without the absolute stopping of it. If the first instance of idiocy for the sake of metaphor upsets you -- Wesley Gibson googles his own name and it comes up with zero results -- you should just stop watching immediately. You'll either go with the flow or you won't, but if you don't, you're going to be in for one long movie, as things are so over the top that the bottom never comes back into sight.
While I may occasionally give action flicks short shrift for being nothing but eye candy and noise for two hours, Wanted succeeds where others fail by being clever in its nonsense. Although there is barely an explanation as to who all of these people how, how they got their powers, and how these powers can actually work, Bekmambetov keeps the action moving so briskly, and with such visual panache, that he never gives audiences the time to sit and contemplate the many egregious story short cuts in order to get to the next stunningly-rendered action sequence or tantalizing story development. Like a night of partying hard, you may have a hangover from the stupidity once it's over, but that's only after the fun has been had.
With solid thespians and a director with a real eye for virtuoso camera work, Wanted is only a dynamite script away from being the kind of must-see action classic that The Matrix became in theaters and on home video. Nevertheless, the goods are delivered with a bang for action-heads, and there are enough interesting elements for others to keep the mind occupied, even if there isn't much logic into anything that's going on. If you're into high-octane, low-brain activity, visually kinetic action films, there are few examples that entertain as well.
©2008 Vince Leo