At The Picture Show
Alive and kicking
The hyperkinetic 'Wanted' isn't anything we haven't seen . . . but that doesn't mean it's not irresistible
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on the graphic
novel series created by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Thomas
Kretschmann, Common, Terrence Stamp, Marc Warren, Chris Pratt and Lorna
Rated R / 1 hour, 50 minutes
Opened June 27, 2008
(out of four)
There's not much that action movies can give us that we haven't already gotten
before. We've seen the same fight choreography, the same chase scenes, the same
slow-motion. Of the countless action movies that come out every year, we're lucky
if more than one or two of them really make us stand up and take notice.
Which brings us to the curious case of Timur Bekmambetov's Wanted. Here is a
movie that certainly isn't an original creation. In fact, at times it bites more movies
than it can chew. It is a little bit Matrix, a little bit Jason Bourne, a little bit
Equilibrium. And so on.
Yet it begs to be seen anyway. Maybe it plays so
fast and loose with its obligatory gravity defiance and over-the-top fight sequences
that it earns a certain charm. Maybe it's the nonstop tease of an unconscionably
alluring Angelina Jolie firing a semi-automatic. Or maybe - and this is my best
guess - it's the absurdly humorous touch given to all of the proceedings, as if
Bekmambetov is teasing us with the silly appeal of this level of ultraviolence and
then giving us as much as we can handle.
Say what you will about the finished product, but it's nothing if not committed to
bringing us the goods. And it doesn't hedge its bets, either. It starts over-the-top
and stays there, creating its own rules of logic along the way. We meet the
comically doomed Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), who exists in a world stacked
against him and is ill-equipped to handle it. His sensationally overbearing and
mean-spirited boss won't get off his back, his insufferable girlfriend is cheating on
him with his phony-faced best friend, he has no money or prospects and is working
in a cheerfully bright office hell (think Office Space on meth). His response to all
this? Crippling anxiety attacks. Nothing he can do except properly medicate
himself like a good boy.
Oh, and then also, someone's apparently trying to kill him.
He discovers this - and, you know, his destiny and
all that - at a routine visit to the pharmacy, when Fox (Jolie), a woman completely
out of his league, informs him that a man around the corner is about to try to kill
him. Oh. A long, elaborate, frenetically executed shootout/car chase ensues, during
which we see stunts so inconceivable we can't help but admire the attempt.
Turns out, Wesley isn't such a waste after all. His father was one of the greatest
assassins who ever lived, paving the way for Wesley to join a fraternity of
assassins that has been around for centuries, following a strict code of ethics that
make it easier for us all to swallow the whole "killing people for a living" thing.
Wesley now has $3.6 million in the bank . . . and those panic attacks? Yeah, turns
out it's actually a gift - adrenaline; his heart pumping 400 beats per minute, giving
him a greatly enhanced perception of time and space.
(I don't know how good that science is, but for action scenes this creative, I'll go
And so the fraternity goes about training him - the mastermind Sloan (Morgan
Freeman), Fox and a ragtag team of misfits, each with a special assassination skill.
Naturally, the action sequences are the make-or-break point for a movie like this,
and by that standard, Wanted more than makes the grade. We may have seen action
kind of like this before, but Bekmambetov infuses it with his own style and comic
sensibility; at the very least, we're being satisfied on a visceral level. (The train
sequence is one of the finest action setpieces I've seen this year.)
But more than that, McAvoy makes the movie with
his performance, bringing more to the character than what's on the written page.
He is going to be one of the great actors of the next 20-30 years, and this, oddly, is
one of the movies that proves it. He's proven himself in versatile projects like
Atonement, Rory O'Shea is Here, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Bright
Young Things and The Last King of Scotland, but in Wanted, he becomes a
perfectly credible action star, giving the character of Wesley Gibson the anger and
desperation that the role calls for. We expect certain things from action movies, but
when it comes to the performances, it's usually just about posturing, masculine
mannerisms, comic timing for your one-liners, etc. It's an added bonus when you
get a legitimately full-bodied performance; for this movie more than most, it's the
extra boost we need. Wesley Gibson is a boring everyman that seems exiled from a
life he never knew existed. McAvoy makes us feel those elements of the character,
and draws us into his transformation into an action hero as a character-building
experience, rather than as a plot requirement.
Read more by Chris Bellamy