Blisteringly stylish action thriller (based upon the graphic miniseries of the same name by Mark Millar) starring Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and a fresh faced James McAvoy, directed by the man who has given us two parts of the Watch Trilogy (Day Watch, and Night Watch), Timur Bekmambetov, Wanted is one of the most outrageous, most insanely crazy films to come out of Hollywood in 2008. Directed like a mad video game, Bebmambetov shows just how cool a visualist he really is, this time to a broad spectrum Western audience market. Still unable to direct a film with logic and character development (like the previously reviewed Day Watch), Bebmambetov makes Wanted a lot better than it’s initial idea would grant on the surface: assassins taking orders from a medieval weaving machine are being killed by a rogue member of their Fraternity, and they train up McAvoy to take him down. The focus of the film is less about personal growth, moral fortitude, or even ethical behaviour: all of these traditional human traits are brushed aside like so much tissue paper by guns, bullets, blood and the sight of Jolie butt-naked in perfect, high-definition focus. More on this later. Wanted is about killing.
McAvoy headlines the film as Wesley Gibson, a stressed, personally stunted loser whose boss rides him all day with incessant yammering and power plays, his best friend ducks off at lunchtime to have illicit sex with Gibson’s girlfriend, and who barely has enough money in his bank account to but a decent meal. While buying his prescription medication for his stress disorder, McAvoy is confronted by the mysterious woman known as Fox (Jolie), who almost immediately engages in a shoot-out with a strange man (Thomas Kretschmann) before kidnapping Wesley and transporting him to a safe, secret, hideout. Wesley, it seems, is the son of a dangerous assassin, who was recently killed by the man in the store (so we are led to believe). In order to give Wesley a better life, he is given the chance to learn the skills of assassination like his father, by the man running the Fraternity, Sloan (Morgan Freeman). In a brutal homage, we see Wesley begin his training, with devastating results. Sloan shows Wesley a mysterious cloth, made from a medieval weaving machine, which has the ability to determine the Fraternity’s next “job” (who do they kill next) and we come to understand that either these people are certifiably insane, or there’s something more mysterious at work here.
It goes without saying that Wesley, trained by the best assassins in the world, soon becomes part of the Fraternity, and is sent on his own missions to kill. What he really wants, however, is the chance to go after Cross, the man who killed his father. When finally given the chance, Wesley is shocked to learn a terrible truth, and his quest for vengeance begins in earnest.
Wanted is the kind of action film that could only be made in the modern era. Using state of the art effects, stunning stunt and driving sequences, a massive train-destruction sequence, and some amazing gunfights, Wanted is ballsy, original and brash, never once pausing for breath, and ensuring you never again look at guns that can fire around corners the same way again. I really dug this film, it’s fair to say. Some would argue that the film begins well, with a fairly cool narrative structure similar to a Tom Tykwer movie. Then the action begins, and the slo-mo, freeze frame, hyperkinetic razzle-dazzle begins, with the camera taking us into extreme close-up, long distance, super-speed, widescreen epic carnage in loving, lascivious detail, until it literally pummels the breath from your body. McAvoy looks exceedingly out of his depth at the beginning, and rightly so, since he’s playing a man so belittled by those around him his existence is simply a bundle of snowballing neuroses. He doesn’t immediately strike you as an “action star” in the traditional mould, and that’s perhaps the point: he could be anybody… you, me, who takes up the weapons and begins the life of an assassin.
There’s an amazingly cool car chase through the streets of Chicago, with Jolie clambering out almost every window of the vehicle to return fire to the pursuing rogue agent. There are moments where the effects perhaps don’t quite click, for me, but they are done so fast, so frenetic, that it’s hardly worth pausing to think about. Jolie looks every inch a screen star, although her character is, oddly, almost monosyllabic and reticent to communicate. When she finally does, however, the moment is brutal. There’s enough “sultry Angelina” in this film to fill a dozen tabloid magazines. And, just for the men in the audience (and that’s probably most of you, I’ll bet!) she even reveals a fine, post baby body complete with tattoos. Like McAvoy, we are captivated. But it remains hardly one of her more defining roles, and is perhaps closer to her Mr & Mrs Smith character than her Oscar winning showing in Girl, Interrupted.
However, the rest of the cast performs admirably, in what is essentially an updated cowboy flick. McAvoy begins the film as an office drone, redundantly performing menial tasks to be paid, so he can support his unfaithful girlfriend. He’s damaged, a seething mess of tension and nerves, anxiously anticipating the next run-in with his overbearing and obnoxious department head. His best friend, Barry (Chris Pratt) is not-so-secretly having sex with Wesleys girlfriend behind Wesleys back, although Wesley actually knows about it. It’s perhaps his own sense of failure and fear of abandonment that he doesn’t leave her. McAvoy journeys from thrombosis alert to sure, suave, deadly assassin as the film progresses, and although this is a given due to the very nature of the movie, it’s a kind of lurch between the former, and the latter. One minute, he’s a nervous wreck, and the next, he’s a decidedly more calm, cool character not afraid to unleash his talent upon the world. Perhaps not quite so quickly as that, but the feeling of sudden about-face permeates through the last third of the movie.