by Brett Parker
Picture a wild action picture that plays on the inventive grandeur of The Matrix, the twisted philosophies of Fight Club, and the relentless testosterone of 300 and you’d probably get Wanted, a fast and furious burst of action creativity that goes so far over the top, it can touch the rings of Saturn. Forget such silly things like plausibility and patience, Wanted is too busy with flying cars, curving bullets, crashing trains, blowing up rats, and teaching a sensitive young actor to be a tough guy, to slow down. It brings your suspension of disbelief to its absolute pressure point, and you’ll love every minute of it!
James McAvoy stars as Wesley Gibson, a depressed office drone who is growing restless with his humdrum existence. His obnoxious boss (Lorna Scott) chews him out in his cubicle, his girlfriend (Kristen Hager) is sleeping with his best friend (Chris Pratt), and his medication doesn’t seem to be helping too much with his intense anxiety attacks. Things change dramatically for Wesley when he is approached by the mysterious Fox (Angelina Jolie) in a pharmacy. Fox informs Wesley that the father he never knew was in fact a super assassin who was killed earlier in the week. Wesley finds that information preposterous until an assassin named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) opens fire on both of them in the pharmacy. Fox helps Wesley escape this hail of gunfire in one of the most manic car chases you’ll find on the screen this summer.
Fox takes Wesley to the headquarters of the Fraternity, a secret society of assassins headed by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Sloan explains that the Fraternity exterminates bad men who will do evil things in the future, altering the course of history for the worse. How do they know who these bad people are? They in fact receive premonitions from an age old secret code that can be found in weaving fabrics (yeah…I’m serious). Sloan claims that Wesley has the instincts of a super killer locked in his DNA and he offers him the chance to join the Fraternity. Dreading a return to his boring office life, Wesley agrees to join and set his sights on taking out Cross, who he believes murdered his father.
What is first and foremost impressive about Wanted is the creativity and technical skill of its action sequences. Director Timur Bekmambetov (the Night Watch films) pushes the envelope and tries for action that has never been seen before. This includes bullets that can zip and curve around corners, an assassin that can crash through a skyscraper window and leap over to another skyscraper unharmed, cars that can leap and do flips while landing safely, and assassins that can run on top of speeding subways while shooting to dead accuracy. Of course, these scenes completely stretch plausibility and could never ever (ever) happen in the real world. Yet we’re so dazzled by the action’s audacity and special effects wizardry that we have zero problem letting a lack of realism slide.
I’ve begun realizing lately that a lot of great action films usually have an illogical preposterousness about them, yet if the technical skill and levels of melodrama are up to par, the audience won’t mind investing in the material. To be sure, Wanted is completely preposterous, but it has a wild creativity that feels rare in today’s action pictures. The film is so caught up in its own ideas and universe that we can’t help but buy what they’re selling. Take for example the concept of the Fates, the method in which the Fraternity decides who to kill. If you apply logical thought to it, you’d find holes all over the place. Yet you can’t help but admit what a cool idea that is. The film takes it so seriously that it at least feels plausible. You can accuse Wanted of being ridiculous, but you certainly can’t accuse it of being by-the-numbers.
It helps that the actors labor away like true professionals, giving their characters an undeniable edge and coolness. Angelina Jolie finds a role that fits perfectly with her action bad-girl image. She knows how to rock a role like this, internalizing emotions and being ferociously immersed in the action scenes. It also helps that she displays what could be the sexiest use of body tattoos to ever grace the silver screen. Of course Morgan Freeman can play wise and slick like no other, and he probably has in this film what could be the line of his career (it’s in the final library scene). Common and Terrance Stamp are cooler than hell in supporting roles, yet the award for coolest character surprisingly goes to McAvoy for his portrayal of Wesley. He masterfully handles Wesley’s transition from white-collared wussy to cooler-than-ice assassin. A scene where he tries on a leather jacket and a shotgun in front of a mirror will have you cheering. If you look at the heroes of this summer’s blockbusters, which include Robert Downey, JR. in Iron Man, Shia LeBeouf in Indiana Jones, and now McAvoy, you’ll find that skilled character actors who used to take on soft, sensitive roles are now cooler-than-hell tough guys showing us what big-screen heroes should look like. How awesome is that?
Of course, Wanted isn’t exactly an action masterpiece. I wish the film had taken more time with its pacing so it could develop its ideas a bit more, especially considering the wonderful twist the plot dishes out halfway through the film. Plus I had the same issue with Wanted I had with 300, its over-the-top creativity can feel too cartoonish at times to be taken seriously. I’ve come to realize that a great action movie is one that gets crazy and excessive, yet pretends that it’s grounded in realism. However, these are only minor complaints. Wanted is an action thrill ride that doesn’t quit, doesn’t disappoint, and blows so many current action vehicles right out of the water. Wesley’s final line to the audience almost seems to be directed at all the second-rate action directors making mundane movies: “what the f—k have you done lately?”