When I tell you that I had zero expectations for “Wanted,” let me emphasize it. I had zero expectations for “Wanted.” None. Nada. Bottom of the barrel, ground zero expectations. So again, let me explain how surprising it was to sit through “Wanted” and realize it is one of the better action movies I’ve seen in years. Is it over the top? Yes, but so was the comic book. Is it absurd? Yes, but so was the comic book. And director Timur Bekmambetov manages to take the source material and turn it in to a slick action thriller that mixes gore and dark comedy with a respective ensemble cast that give absolutely fantastic performances in what could be described as a vicious hybrid of “The Matrix,” and “La Femme Nikita” with a dash of “Fight Club.”
While not as anarchic as Mark Millar’s mini-series, “Wanted” is a stylized action epic that tries to rise above typical comic book movies “Wanted” doesn’t aim at being anything else than a pure work of fantasy, a cartoon that takes a repressed male in a repressive world and places him smack dab in to something bigger than himself. When Wesley is given the task of finding who killed his father, the fun starts with some raucous training scenes, and smooth character exposition that makes the world of Bekmambetov alive with possibilities so incredible, you almost forget how ridiculous the movie can be. Bekmambetov and co. thankfully never truly shy away from the horrific violence and mean spirited cruelty creator Mark Millar injected in to his original series.
There’s still the firing range with hanging dead bodies fresh out of the freezer, there’s still the training consisting of Wesley being beaten senseless, and there’s also the added knife training which makes for some truly exciting montages. The lure of this universe is that it’s relatively enticing to any man. Be trained by a beautiful woman in to and unstoppable killing machine and do whatever your skills allow and it’s still such a seductive concept even in the face of exploding mice. James McAvoy is strong as the whiny, obnoxious, and truly grating Wesley Gibson who is so limited by his fears, he allows everyone to walk all over him. He even allows his girlfriend to have an affair with his “best friend” placing a sheet of denial over his eyes. McAvoy is powerful in this starring role able to convince us he’s this limp emasculated young man, who slowly transforms in to a confident assassin willing to shed blood if he has to.
Angelina Jolie is an interesting choice for The Fox, and pulls off her performance with tongue in cheek humor and her usual charisma, while folks like Morgan Freeman, Common, and Terrence Stamp are wonderful as the Fraternity’s members. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic direction by Timur Bekmambetov who takes his surrealist world from “Night Watch” introduces it to this adaptation allowing its own distinct voice that will stand out from typical action fare and comic book doldrums. “Wanted” will be a love or hate movie even for action buffs as it takes “Shoot ‘Em Up” heights of sheer defiance of logic and physics. But it’s always reminding us not to take it too seriously, because part of the experience is based on if you’re willing to believe two bullets can be fired and smack in to each other. I was, and had a ball.
There’s a moment after the “loom of fate” is introduced that “Wanted” just peters out and runs on steam until it finally decides to stop being a cool action picture and takes great lengths at being utterly stupid. The loom of fate? An organization of assassins who operate on whether a thread of fabric will go vertical or horizontal? A bullet that doesn’t curve so much as flies around the room when it’s convenient to the resolution? And did anyone even understand why this group of assassins operated on “fate” and had all the resources in the world, only to discover that they were never really killing people for money? How did that happen? Damn it there’s only so much you can suspend disbelief on, and Bekmambetov really manages to test our logic bone with scenes of pure idiocy that I had difficulty overcoming in order to enjoy the film.
And what’s worse is that the finale is so rushed that it fails to try at any of the social commentary Mark Millar did in which explained how his universe was so cartoonish, but at least someone was doing something with their lives. Though the screenwriters do manage to chastise us for watching a movie about people doing things in Millar’s exact hypocrisy, the social commentary is almost nowhere to be found, and that’s a shame. If anything, this movie had the ability to leave audiences with something to think about. “Wanted” surprised me with its entertaining gun fights and great car chases, it’s just a shame it misses some times with cheesy dialogue, and a second half that runs out of steam. Like the comic, it’s not perfect, but it does the trick as a damn good over the top action thriller, and it’s definitely one of the better guilty pleasures of 2008.