Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Wanted (2008)

* * *

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman

Wanted is the kind of film you watch while constantly thinking to yourself, “Whatever, logic.” It does things that many of us would find irritating in other movies, but does them so well that they simply work. It’s nasty and brutal but it also has a finely tuned sense of fun that ultimately sets the tone of the piece. It is illogical and, objectively, pretty stupid but so awesome that you just don’t care. It’s to the film’s credit that though it was built for the big screen and summer audiences, it still plays well on DVD.

The story, such as it is, centers on Wesley (James McAvoy), an office drone stricken with panic attacks who finds himself suddenly propelled into an exciting and mysterious world. A woman who identifies herself as Fox (Angelina Jolie) informs him that he’s the son of a recently murdered assassin and that his father’s killer is now targeting him. Before he can ask too many questions, Wesley finds himself in the crossfire between Fox and Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), the alleged killer, and then a passenger in a wild car chase that leaves him unconscious. When he comes to in the headquarters of The Fraternity, the leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), explains the group’s secret history, which involves superhuman abilities (which Wesley possesses and which he has mistaken for panic attacks) and secret messages created by The Loom of Fate (yes, it actually is called “The Loom of Fate”).

Wesley is reluctant to join The Fraternity but ultimately realizes that there’s little to tether him to the ordinary world. After a training period that would kill an ordinary person, Wesley is given a series of missions to complete to get him ready to take on Cross and avenge his father’s murder. The Loom of Fate, however, is a tricky thing and no sooner is Wesley dispatched to fulfill what he’s come to believe is his destiny, than Fox is given a mission of her own, one which ultimately leads Wesley to unravel a conspiracy that could undermine and possibly destroy The Fraternity – assuming he can live to tell the tale.

The mythology of Wanted doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, of course, but it does give the story a nice feeling of weight that helps ground it even as it explodes in cartoony violence. I generally hate the fast motion-slow motion-fast motion style of action but director Timur Bekmambetov uses it well and is able to construct a series of excellent action sequences, each more ambitious than the last as the film builds towards its climax. A lot of the action is obviously computer generated, but Bekmambetov is able to incorporate that element a lot more gracefully than most modern action movies and so the film lacks that sense of disengagement that sometimes creeps into films that rely on actors working against green screens.

The film is based on a comic book of the same name by Mark Millar but, from what I understand, aside from borrowing the premise, is only loosely based on Millar’s story. Certainly the film feels completely like its own entity and moves with its own sense of purpose. McAvoy is great in the lead as the nervous but ultimately determined Wesley who gradually evolves into the perfect assassin. Jolie is also great as Fox, doing what she does best. I’ve said before that I this is my preferred mode of Jolie, who I’ve always felt is more compelling for her dark charisma than for any kind of dramatic gravitas, and she gives the film a nice, unsettling feeling that helps foreshadow the turn the story takes towards the end. It’s a perfectly calibrated performance for this kind of film.

It is said that a sequel to Wanted is in the works. Given how the film ends, I question how that would work, but my curiosity is definitely piqued. If the sequel can build on what’s is established here, it would certainly be worth checking out.


Thaddeus said...

Very solid review, but this movie struck me differently. I respect your opinion, but disagree. I went to see this pic because a friend going through a divorce wanted my company.

I went along because I'm a good pal. Yet for me, most of "Wanted" seemed like the masturbatory fantasy of a frustrated, white-bred, man-child. If you look at the issues facing the protagonist, he's already in decent shape, although life does keep kicking him in the guts.

True, reality in action films is a silly expectation, but the lead is so excessively put-upon (practically forced to smile and laugh about an abusive boss or cheating girlfriend) that it strains credibility. Then he gets the chance for revenge and jumps straight into murder.

I found all of this as a back-firing attempt to gain sympathy for the hero. Instead of finding violence as a way to get around the cruelties of life, he might've just not taken crap from everyone around him.

Oddly enough, it wasn't the "loom of fate" (best awful object name E EVER) that lost me, it was the "curving bullets" thing. That level of disconnect only worsened the feeling that "Wanted" was made for violence-loving children instead of adults looking for a good action story.

Or maybe I would've liked the picture better if I saw it in great company. I saw something that looked perfect for bored, suburban, skateboarding teens who listen to death metal. "Wanted" wasn't so bad that I begrudge people who had a good time with it, tho - I'm glad one of us enjoyed it.

Norma Desmond said...

I think it helped that I went into it with absolutely no expectations. I also didn't really take any of the characters seriously enough to care that much about their credibility.

I have to agree with you on the whole curving bullets thing, though. Particularly with respect to the way that it works into the climax.

Castor said...

I somewhat liked this but it's really quite middle of the road in terms of enjoyment factor. I wouldn't be too interesting in a sequel.