Status: In theaters (opened 6/27/08)
Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov
Written By: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan
Cinematographer: Mitchell Amundsen
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman
Had I known prior to seeing Wanted that it was based on a comic book miniseries, I might’ve entered the theater with somewhat different expectations. Then again, the previews pretty much told me all I needed to know: this is not a movie to be taken seriously. In this world, cars can be flipped on a whim, bullets can be curved in mid-air by whipping one’s arm around (in a pretty stupid-looking manner) while shooting a gun, and it’s not enough to just kill somebody by simply raising a gun and pulling the trigger; no, better to stand on top of an L train and curve a bullet around the corner of a building so that it bursts through the glass window and passes over a boardroom meeting before striking its target, who happens to be sitting exactly where you inexplicably knew he’d be.
Still, though, I wasn’t expecting it to be this ridiculous. Sure, there are plenty of cool stunts, most of them involving Angelina Jolie (whose character might as well just be called “Obligatory Hot Chick”; her actual name–Fox–isn’t far from that) making cars do things that is in no way remotely possible outside of a Fast and the Furious movie. These feats are stomachable insofar as you should expect nothing less from this type of movie. I’m even willing to sit back and enjoy without questioning things like one car using another as a ramp (while both are speeding towards each other in an oddly controlled manner) so that it can flip over a third car, giving the driver an open shot through the sunroof. Things start stretching thin, though, when we get to the bullet control. Wesley (James McAvoy), the film’s supposedly nerdy yet oddly buff protagonist, we learn, is able to shoot the wings off of flies, and to make bullets fly in circuitous routes on their way towards their targets. This is all shown, of course, with that now-stereotypical ultra-slow motion that somehow manages to actually make it less cool (at least, to me it does).
From there it just gets stupid. Rather than subject us to anything resembling a vaguely believable training sequence (or perhaps even a cliched montage), we see that Wesley learns by getting the shit beaten out of him for no apparent reason by the other members of the uncreatively-named Fraternity. It’s okay, though, because he can just take a nap in a strange milky bath, and his wounds will heal right up in no time. (This ritual does, admittedly, serve one noble purpose: providing an excuse to show Jolie’s ass as she emerges from said bath; then again, if I wanted to see her naked in a bad movie, I’d just watch Gia again.) Then we learn that this Fraternity decides who to kill not by any of the standard movie-about-assassins ways, but rather by reading the threads of a magical loom that has been weaving on its own for a thousand years. I realize that this might be considered a spoiler, but I cannot conceive of anybody caring when this plot point is revealed. Even those who seemed to really be into the mindset of this film in the packed theater in which I saw it scoffed at this revelation. It’s not even cool in that stupid action movie way, it’s just dumb. The fact that the preceding few sentences give about as much explanation as the movie (via Morgan Freeman’s character) does of this phenomenon hopefully demonstrates how absurd and uninteresting this story is.
In my opinion, there is a way to do a mindless stunt-and-effects movie like this without making it so obvious that the writers are struggling mightily to concoct some sort of loose and poorly thought out plot around the action sequences. Shoot ‘Em Up, for instance, was a movie that didn’t bother with attempting to justify its existence, preferring instead to just be a vehicle to demonstrate some cool shoot-out scenes. I’ve got more respect for that–a movie that knows what it is and doesn’t try to kid itself or its audience–than I do for something like Wanted, which attempts to wrap its already-ridiculous world in an even more ridiculous mythos.
All of that said, the action sequences in Wanted are quite well done, if you can shut off your brain and allow yourself to get into it. All of the now-typical gimmicks are here: shots that are constantly speeding up and slowing down, 360-degree pans, absurd attention to detail when it comes to blood or teeth or bullets flying out of a person’s body. But maybe it all works, after all: when I saw this movie, I seemed to be the only one who found the climactic scenes–with the movie holding out its best and most absurd fight moves for last–to be hilarious. And if it’s not apparent, I’m actually not giving everything away: it gets even more ridiculous than what I’ve described here.