*** [A highly enjoyable, violent, cotton candy, Summer action movie.]
WANTED is a relentless, kick ass summer action movie that succeeds where most summer entries have failed: it actually entertains. To truly enjoy the graphic novel adaptation, one must suspend logic, desire for a meaningful plot, emotional depth and aversions to violence and CGI blood. It’s pure cotton candy – eye popping, visceral, action packed entertainment thoroughly well delivered by successful Russian director, Timur Bekmambetov [Director of Russia’s most lucrative movie franchise Night Watch and Day Watch, two ludicrous, off the wall, yet very enjoyable and well made fantasy-action oddities.]
Upon seeing the movie two weeks ago at a very early press screening, I predicted it would emerge as a sleeper summer hit, surprising both critics and audiences initially lukewarm to the trailers. Much of the credit goes to the cast and crew able to pull off the nutty plot with charisma and energy that would come off as laughable in lesser hands. Also, props must given to Mark Millar and J.G. Johns, the creators of the original 6 issue graphic novel upon which the movie is based.
As one who read the graphic novel, I could not imagine how a mainstream Hollywood studio could possibly tackle the absolutely subversive, amoral, completely politically incorrect characterization of a world dominated by warring, evil superheroes, who kill, maim, slaughter and rape with wild abandon. Wisely, the movie dilutes much of the graphic novel’s needless nihiilism yet still retains its rebellious, adolescent “middle finger” to the establishment chutzpah.
The “origin story” remains mostly the same: Our protagonist, Wesley Gibson, played well by James Macavoy, is a run of the mill, garden variety, 21st century cubicle loser. He’s an unassuming runt who apologizes incessantly, suffers from panic attacks, receives daily beratings from his obese, overbearing dictator of a boss, and pathetically lives with the knowledge that his alleged best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend. Macavoy succeeds in gaining our empathy because he is neither a “no neck” beefcake nor a posturing action hero; he looks like an average joe who has just been given the gift of a lifetime.
That gift is a revelation delivered by a smoking hot messenger in the form of Angelina Jolie, who plays Fox, one of the premiere “assassins” belonging to a league of genetically gifted, super hero assassins known as the “Weavers.” They’ve apparently existed for a thousand years and act as the “balance” against evil, aka – they assassinate bad guys in style. It seems our runt, Weslely, is in fact the gifted son of a recently murdered, fellow “Weaver”, one of the most talented and skilled killers ever to set foot on Earth.
The plot has the “Weavers,” who are led by the calm and dignified Morgan Freeman, train Wesley to realize his true potential so he can find his father’s killer and avenge his death. What ensues is 100 minutes of over the top action sequences, slow motion bullet ballets, gratuitously violent closeup kills, double crosses, triple crosses, and Angelina Jolie’s butt nekked-ness.
Speaking of Jolie, she has a glorified supporting role, but her mere presence exudes “movie star.” You know you’ve reached a certain apex of cinematic charisma when your unadorned appearance can captivate an audience. Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe are all examples of actors who didn’t really have to act, they just had to be. They became, in a word, iconic. Jolie has evolved into a such an overwhelming pop culture phenomenon, that we forget she actually used to act. A great example of movie star charisma is when Jolie amusingly and wordlessly responds to Wesley’s hysterical and pathetic threats to shoot her if she doesn’t move out of his way; she simply cocks an eyebrow, smiles and slinks away. When you see the scene, you’ll know what I mean by movie star charisma.
Credit also goes to Macavoy, who’s quickly rising as a bankable star ever since his appearance in the nominated Atonement. His evolution from meek and pathetic Wesley the Cubicle drone to Wesley the Badass Assassin is surprisingly believable and empathetic. The audience secretly wishes/hopes that Angelina would conveniently drop in our lives sometime to tell us we were a “Weaver” like Wesley, but I digress.
The inventive money shots revolve around Wesley’s gift of “curving a bullet,” which the movie thoroughly uses and abuses to a gleeful hilt. It seems his heartbeat, and thus all his senses and instincts, jumps to 400 beats per minute, allowing him and the other Weavers to move, think, act and shoot faster than anyone on Earth. This plays out in 4 actions sequences, the first two which happen in the movie’s opening half hour. The second act shows Wesley’s extended “Training period” as he suffers beatdowns, broken bones, knife cuts and everything in between to “man up” and hone his inherent skills.
The movie’s plot is so streamlined and simplistic – and, dare I say, at times laughably dumb – that you wish they would’ve borrowed more liberally from Millar’s graphic novel. In the comic book, the entire world is dominated by super villains, who successfully killed all the superheroes and secretly run everything from the government to the media to the conglomerates. After being discovered and trained, our hero Wesley, who becomes a superhero deviant, murderer, thief and rapist, plays Yojimbo and plays all sides against the middle emerging as the sole victor at the end. Unfortunately, much of this creative “atmosphere” and universe was dropped in the movie version for the sake of a simplistic, palatable narrative.
Nonetheless, WANTED is loaded with giddy, fan boy thrills, least of which is Morgan Freeman, of all people, shouting: “Now can somebody shoot this motherfucka’!!!!” How can you not love that?
The last line of the movie is the filmmakers’ middle finger and confident challenge to the other bloated, homogenized, over budgeted, vanilla summer action movies as of recent: “What the fuck have you done lately?”