Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, and Thomas Kretschmann
Runtime: 110 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
Wanted asks you to wake up from the triviality of your daily life and see the world as it “really” exists. Blah, blah, blah—you’ve heard this tune from Hollywood before, I’m sure. But has the message been punctuated with a cavalcade of gun battles? Yes, almost certainly. What about exploding rats? Probably haven’t seen that before, have you? If you’ve ever been concerned that movies today don’t contain enough bomb-wired vermin, you’re in luck; this one offers them by the truck-full.
The film’s hero is Wesley (James McAvoy), a lowly office nobody who quickly finds he’s destined for greater things, namely plugging dastardly types for The Fraternity, an outfit of assassins protecting the world from evildoers (apparently they overlooked that Hitler guy). Cinema’s venerable mentor Morgan Freeman plays Sloan, the leader of this syndicate who uses his distinctive voiceover abilities to convince Wesley to join their cause. No doubt the batting eyelashes of bendy hitwoman Fox (Angelina Jolie) contribute to Wesley’s decision to join.
Subject to brutal training, including daily beatings and the occasional stabbing, Wesley endures his rough hazing period to get revenge on the assassin, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), who killed his father (David O’Hara). But before his mission ensues, there’s plenty of talk about lions and lambs, and which one he is. To prove himself a lion, he must curve a bullet. Using a power only he and a few others on earth possess, Wesley flails his arm in an awkward fashion to send a bullet winding around a corner into its target. You can be sure anytime anyone in the film does this, slow-motion captures the event.
Based on the comic book miniseries written by Mark Millar and published by Top Cow, the movie replaces what were originally superheroes and villains clad in leather costumes with more traditional, realist characterizations thanks to director Timur Bekmambetov’s revisualization. According to Millar himself, he always intended to depict The Fraternity’s members as non-fantastical types (he claims he simply forgot to inform his artist J. G. Jones of this decision—oops), making the movie, in this regard, closer to his intended vision. And yet, reality-bending bullets move in The Matrix-style slow-mo; we watch as a bullet leaves the gun, maneuvers through obstacles galore, and enters its target in a spray of blood. Meanwhile, we’re scratching our heads as to how exactly they do that. Who needs physics, anyway?
But even though Bekmambetov attempts to ground the superhero undercurrents of Millar’s book, his spastic direction counteracts those attempts. You might have seen the director’s pseudo-vampire yarns Night Watch and Day Watch, movies so busy with nonsensical activity you need a Valium to understand them. His visual momentum, I think, is misunderstood as ambitious filmmaking, whereas I see nothing but organized chaos. “Overdose” isn’t in this guy’s vocabulary. He piles on the filmic caffeine, guarana, speed, cocaine, and methamphetamines, throws in some cola and Pop Rocks for good measure, shakes, and serves. The result is… stimulating, if a little stupid.
There was a point somewhere between the car acrobatics and the dangling monorail where I became aware that I was no longer really watching, just gawking blankly. An empty stare had overtaken me. Does this mean I was entertained? I’m not sure. I was lost in unintelligible violence, bloody and occasionally thrilling.
Periodically, Fight Club-esque narration chimes in to break the current of gunplay—and so, I’m forced to wonder why in movies, when the humdrum middle class man awakens from the banality of his dull life, does he often become a terrorist or assassin? What’s more, why does he then feel obligated to narrate about it?
Anyway, said narrator James McAvoy is an unlikely performer for an action movie. You’ve seen him tackle romantic tragedy in Atonement, play Idi Amin’s monkey-boy in The Last King of Scotland, and creep us out as the overly friendly faun Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He has incredible capacity that hasn’t really been universally recognized yet. And because of his onscreen charisma, Wanted is a better movie than it should be. McAvoy can transform from everyday loser to ripped ultra-killer and make it believable. Without him, this movie is nothing more than Freeman and Jolie scowling, some CGI tricks we’ve seen before, and more brain-splattering bullet-in-the-head shots than any one movie needs.