Written by: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on a story by Brandt and Haas, which was in turn based on the comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann
My Advice: Matinee
What are you when you’re less than nobody? Whatever that is, it’s Wesley Gibson (McAvoy). He works a cubicle job, has a girlfriend who’s being bent over by his best friend anytime Wesley’s out of eyeshot, is constantly browbeaten by his supervisor, and has to take anti-anxiety medication because he’s just a complete and utter waste of flesh. Then one day he gets contacted by a mysterious woman named Fox (Jolie) who tells him the truth: the father that he never knew? Was one of the greatest assassins of the modern age. And said father has been recently put down by a rogue assassin who now is trying to put Wesley down. And the balance of the world rests on Wesley’s shoulders: learn how to kill or learn how to be dead. The latter is frighteningly simple. The formerâ€¦not so much.
[ad#longpost]What we’ve got here is the ultraviolent version of Harry Potter. By that I mean that the story is, even moreso here than in the original comic, a tale that’s been around probably as long as there have been males. It’s the ultimate boy fantasy, as I’ve outlined before. Your parents and your life are not your real parents and life–you’re actually the protagonist in a grand epic drama and one day someone will come along and open a door, metaphorically or otherwise, that will let you step in and fulfill your role in said drama. Harry got wands and magical abilities; Wesley gets guns and superhuman powers. This is even more pronounced in the film than it was in the original comic, which played much more with the concept of supervillains and their worldwide cartel than assassins who were serving a higher power.
I’m not here to compare and contrast this with the primary source material–I’m here to review the film. And the bottom line is that the film works. The reason it works is because it’s structured quite well. First we’re introduced to Wesley’s world, a world which we’re all too painfully familiar with. Then we get introduced to Matrix-esque physics gone wild. Then we get to what, under normal circumstances, would be the thing that tipped it over the edge: the reason why the main characters do what they do. I realize most people probably know what this is, but in the interests of being as spoiler-free as possible, I’ll leave the details out. Suffice it to say that it’s a bit on the far-fetched crazy side.
However, since we’ve already accepted curving bullets and superhuman speed and agility and shit like that, it becomes a bit mental to then balk at yet another whacked out concept. In for a penny, in for a pound–that sort of thing. Granted, some people might balk anyway, but I think most people are willing to suspend the disbelief and run with it.
If you can do this, you will be rewarded. McAvoy is a convincing schmoe turned super-killer, which is impressive since before this and Atonement he was probably best known for being a Mr. Tumnus you wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving your kids with. Siege‘s assessment of Jolie–that she can convincingly portray flat out bloodlust when needed–is spot on. She manages to find the right balance of being both effortlessly sexy and effortlessly dangerous in one fell swoop. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Goddamn Freeman. Must we really say anything else on the matter?
The violence is a bit like a cross between Fight Club and The Matrix, very stylized and yet very mental. Fight Club was a way to tap into the male need to deal with the aggression that’s part of owning a penis. Wanted, on the other hand, wants to take that to the next level: the need for destruction and the need to have it conveniently justified. (The fact that they had to invent the reason for the movie as opposed to the ones in the comic speaks to this.) It strays into the formulaic at times (the ending is a bit like big bosses at the end of video game levels) and the CG isn’t as sharp at times as I might like, but if you can buy into what’s happening–the action sequences and the attitude will carry you far, in my opinion.
Ordinarily, this would be a three-and-a-half cup review, but I was so pleased with the story structure as I outlined it above that I gave them another half-cup. If you can still catch it in cinemas and enjoy the genre, then a matinee is warranted.