Amid all the high-profile comic book movies flooding theaters this summer (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2), there’s one more whose roots trace, rather quietly, back to the graphic novel format. Wanted is based on a six-issue miniseries from writer Mark Millar and illustrator J.G. Jones, published by Top Cow Productions in 2003. Admittedly, the movie version takes more than a few liberties with the original property. (Like, for example, dumping the entire central conceit.) Sure, it’ll inspire the ire of a few dedicated fanboys; but the film is just as likely to find a solid foothold among average, non-inkstained viewers eager to get blissed out on pure summertime action.
New go-to actor James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland; Atonement; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) headlines a big-ticket cast as Wesley Gibson, an apathetic, cubicle-dwelling office drone who hates his job, his girlfriend and himself (pretty much in that order). One fateful, life-altering day, Wesley finds out he’s the heir to a secret society of super-powered assassins. Seems Wesley’s long-lost (now deceased) dad was one of them, and they’ve got a fresh opening in the people-shooting department. Led by the mysterious Sloan (Morgan Freeman) and his right-hand badass, Fox (Angelina Jolie), The Fraternity (as it’s known) adheres to a strict code of secrecy and honor. Kill one to save thousands is their motto.
Turns out Wesley isn’t the sad-sack, talentless nobody he always thought he was. Like the other members of The Fraternity, he’s a wizard with a gun, able to hit a target from a mile away and curve bullets in a graceful, physics-defying arc. Needless to say, this makes for some inventive, adrenaline-pumping action sequences--a natural evolution of the now rampant “bullet time” style developed in The Matrix.
Crazy action aside, the tone of Wanted is surprisingly dark and cynical, putting it in the same category as the blackly, bleakly comic Fight Club. The script puts forth an awful lot of far-fetched notions (though probably not as many as the original comic, which was set in a world where costumed supervillains and mad scientists had banded together, wiped out all the heroes on Earth and now rule with an iron fist). And yet--rattling, shaking and threatening to blow apart at any moment--the entire film holds together. While featuring some of the most over-the-top action sequences since 2007’s unapologetically insane Shoot ’Em Up, Wanted still manages to feel gritty and somewhat real. How?
For starters, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov takes a lot of the eye-popping visual fireworks he brought to his previous modern fantasy series (Night Watch, Day Watch and the upcoming Twilight Watch) and refines them. Rushing headfirst, leaving viewers little time to catch their breath between spectacular action sequences, Bekmambetov treats every mad plot twist as God’s Honest Truth. Couple that with the script’s witty and realistic dialogue, and it’s easy to swallow (at least for 110 minutes) this hyperbolic vision of bullet-riddled loveliness.
The icing on the cake, of course, is the cast. Jolie and Freeman are perfect (maybe a bit too on-the-nose, even), but McAvoy’s the real hero here. The Scottish actor proves especially expressive, transitioning between timid nobody and hyper-confident killer. This summer has already given us amazing action films starring the atypical likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Edward Norton. All I can say is kudos, Hollywood casting directors. Keep up the good work!
The film’s R-rating should probably be taken as gospel. Bloody as all get-out, laced with the occasional sexual exploit and foul-mouthed to boot, this ain’t no family outing. It’s crazy, it’s violent, it’s got Angelina Jolie’s bare ass. Really, what’s not to like? Run around the movie theater parking lot three or four times to get your adrenaline surging, buy an extra-large Dr. Pepper and then settle down for some next generation Bang-Boom-Blam! served just the way you like it--loud and proud.
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