Tuesday 6 January 2009

Wanted (2008)

Tuesday 6 January 2009
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a loser; a meek office boy stuck in a dead-end cubicle job, harassed by a battleaxe supervisor, prone to panic attacks, and aware his girlfriend's shagging his best-friend. A grenade is thrown into his insular life, in the shapely form of enigmatic uberbabe Fox (Angelina Jolie); a sexy, agile, ruthless, tattooed super-assassin -- who reveals to milquetoast Wes that he's the progeny of her recently-killed colleague, and has become the next target...

Wanted marks the English-language debut of Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, best-known for the stylish but derivative Night Watch and Day Watch movies. A slightly more coherent script is the only improvement here, as Bekmambetov indulges his Matrix-obsession on a larger, $75 million canvas. Loosely based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G Jones, Wanted is a clutter of ideas and themes stolen from better films: primarily, office-set Fight Club nihilism (complete with wry, disparaging narration), bonded to the CGI fireworks of The Matrix -- minus a logical reason for its superhero physics.

Apparently, if your blood-stream fills with adrenaline and your heart-rate rises to 400 bpm, this will automatically give you preternatural speed, strength, accuracy and agility. We're talking men leaping out of skyscraper windows, soaring across the street on kinetic energy, while shooting rooftop gunmen, and landing safely on a building across a city street. And it's a little-known quirk of human chemistry that Wes has inherited genetically.

The expected complaint about Wanted soon arise: it's all spectacle, no heart. Once timid Wesley learns of "The Fraternity" (the secret society of assassins led by Morgan Freeman's Sloan) who train him to defeat his dad's killer (Thomas Kretschmann), Wanted becomes a rather ugly, misogynist, immature romp. The fight sequences, gunplay, and wild stunts are the sole reason to watch, as Bekmambetov is undoubtedly skilled at orchestrating action scenes that stick the middle-finger to Newtonian Law.

But, the script wants us to care about Wesley's desire to avenge his father's murder, despite the fact his father faked his own death when Wesley was a baby, and spent next twenty-plus years as a secret assassin. Having never known his parent, I'm not sure where Wesley gets this thirst for revenge from. I certainly didn't believe in it, or find myself urging Wes to dish out some revenge. More believable is Wesley's desire to just escape his humdrum existence, but even that carries a hateful tone -- as Wes's irregular voice-over berates the audience for being similarly Wesley-like in their daily apathy. Is there anything more discourteous than a film condescending those taking the time to watch it?

Halfway through, sniggers are elicited when The Fraternity's secret history is revealed, too. It has its origin in an ancient order of weavers who discovered a code (hidden in mis-woven fabric) that they took to be the voice of Fate, commanding them to kill specific people. It was binary code, in fact -- er, a millennia before the invention of the computer. Thus, the modern Fraternity has Morgan Freeman taking orders from an antiquated "Loom Of Destiny". Yes, it's that silly.

What saves Wanted from total tedium is an entertaining Act III twist (which, while predictable ten minutes before it happens, still works), the creativity of the carnage (a somersaulting sports car and bridge-set train smash are particularly eye-popping moments of slick, giddy fun), and the superficial delight of Jolie as a smirking butt-kicker and butt-flasher. McAvoy himself makes for a more believable action-man than expected, and gets to show an impressively chiselled chest for his female fans once Wes ascends from zero to hero. His American accent is mannered but competent, too -- but did anyone else find it ironic the Scotsman's screen father (David O'Hara) got to keep his natural Glaswegian drawl?

Overall, your reaction to Wanted will be determined by your age and predilection for Bekmambetov's brand of insane, FX-fuelled stunts. The action is entertainingly bonkers and occasionally funny (in slow-motion, a keyboard smashed across a man's face disintegrates, spelling FUCK YOU from the dislodged keys and a tooth), but this is still a rather hollow movie that highlights the same problem Bekmambetov had with Night Watch: while clearly an imaginative stylist, he's a sloppy and immature storyteller.

Universal Pictures
Budget: $75 million
110 minutes


Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writers: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas & Chris Morgan (based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar & J.G Jones)

Cast: James McAvoy (Wesley Gibson), Angelina Jolie (Fox), Morgan Freeman (Sloan), Thomas Kretschmann (Cross), Common (The Gunsmith), Konstantin Khabensky (The Exterminator), Marc Warren (The Repairman), Dato Bakhtadze (The Butcher), Terence Stamp (Pekwarsky), David O'Hara (Mr X), Chris Pratt (Barry) & Kristen Hager (Cathy)