A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, R, 110 mins.
2008, R, 110 mins.
Wesley Gibson: James McAvoy / Fox: Angelina Jolie / Sloane:
Morgan Freeman / Pekwarsky: Terence Stamp / Cross: Thomas
Kretschmann / The Gunsmith: Common / Cathy: Kristen Hager
is the kind of film that has the sheer tenacity and endless bravado to
look improbability in the face and forcefully give it the finger.
This new action thriller has to be one of the most preposterously
silly films I’ve seen, but it’s also more preposterously
entertaining than just about anything this summer.
The film is a one, gigantic tsunami of pulp fiction-comic book
inspired trash, but cinematic trash has rarely been such a jovial,
fun-filled, and wickedly giddy hyperactive rush as this film showcases.
WANTED is a Super Big Gulp sized ode to wanton violence and
bloodshed that operates almost ostensibly on primordial impulses:
This is a vehicle to wow and excite, and the film delivers with an
unapologetic dynamism and fierce creativity.
genre of “Cinema of Incredulity”, WANTED is clearly in a class all by
itself. This new genre - as
coined by my friend and fellow moviegoer, Steve Barss - includes films
that “exist for us to take in all of their highly improbable sights
and engage excitedly in them without questioning their cadence.”
Films that adhere to this formula, like the two TRANSPORTER films
and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III,
had me staring at the screen in sheer disbelief at the limitlessly
implausibility of their action scenes.
The key here, though, is that if you are a nitpicker of realism
in action films and stridently want them to adhere to the laws of gravity
and physics, then you need to stop at the theatre exit before entering at
the risk of intensely disappointing yourself.
no doubt, may have you scratching your head – but with a sly grin on
your face and a lot of admiration – for just how well tailored it is at
being “an incredibly romp of complete and utter incredulity.”
helm to quarterback all of this sadistic mayhem and rousing, blood
drenched spectacle is a director that will surely gain comparisons to the
Wachowski Brothers, Timur Bekmambetov.
He is a Kazakhstan-born filmmaker that has developed an incredibly
loyal following in his nation for films like NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH (unseen
by me) that have emerged as hugely profitable.
He sank his teeth earlier in his career in advertising and then,
like many in the field, made the transition to features.
Bekmambetov’s boisterous aesthetic ingenuity and breathtakingly
composed compositions – which are a hybrid of John Pechinpah, John Woo,
David Fincher, and the Wachowskis - is such an unyielding assault on the
senses that it’s really difficult not to respect this man’s
never-wavering drive to go for broke and try just about anything to
deliver thrills. Considering
the relative staleness of the action genre, I absolutely love it when a
new filmmaking voice comes along and takes huge gambles by showing
me something different, by imagining the unimaginable, and by going to the
extreme by visualizing the unthinkable.
On those levels, WANTED is a relentlessly imaginative
vision. Just don’t think too hard while viewing it…it wrecks the
shock and awe factor.
film is yet another comic book summer film, but this is decidedly more
under-the-radar. This is not
another dime-a-dozen origin film about spandex clad protagonists.
The film is loosely based on the original 2003-2004 six-issue comic
book mini-series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, which featured an amoral
protagonist that comes to the realization that he is actually the heir to
a career as a super-villainous skilled assassin.
The books’ stories heavily resembled THE MATRIX (both involve a
down-on-his-luck white collar nobody that is whisked away into a
fantastical world marred with violence and intrigue).
The WANTED comics were almost unwaveringly malicious and nihilistic
(it’s hero, unlike typical comic justice seekers, uses his newfound
abilities to inflict violence simply for the sake of giving into his own
greedy, selfish impulses), and Bekmambetov basically maintains that vibe
in the film version. The
WANTED film version keeps the comics’ characters, names, and basic plot
outline to appease purists, but it also makes calculated – and necessary
– changes and omissions (the super hero costumes that the books’
personas wore, for example, are all but excluded here in the film).
the film’s rampant stylistic flourishes and hyperactive creativity, it
still nonetheless tells a very decent origin story and, most surprisingly,
allows real investment in the main character.
The story spans a millennia and we are given very brief exposition
(in the form of a few images and title cards) that there’s a thousand
year old clan called The Fraternity that are incredibly trained and
resilient assassins. Being a
member is not easy: one has
to showcase an almost innate, superhuman ability to kill.
In the present we meet up with a Neo-in-the-waiting named Wesley
Gibson (played in a thanklessly solid and emotionally textured performance
by James McAvoy, refreshingly playing a hot-headed American slacker after
his brooding and somber work as a Brit in ATONEMENT).
sucks: He’s a mild-mannered
accounts manager that is always just a few seconds away from a violent
anxiety attack. He hates the
inanity and mundane discourse of his flavorless job, his female boss is a
unmitigated b-i-t-c-h in heels that is a foul mouthed brute, his shabby
apartment is right by an obnoxiously loud elevated train, and his
emotionally abusive girlfriend is cheating on him – several times a day
– with his best buddy.
Morpheus-esque fate appears in the form of the mysterious Fox (an
unusually pale skinned and anorexic-looking Angelina Jolie, who still
nevertheless manages to ooze sinful appeal while simultaneously playing a sex object and total
and Fox have the most violent meet cute in the history of movies.
She meets him at a drug store where he gets his daily fix of anti-anxiety
meds when she tells him that he is actually the son of a very famous and
skilled Fraternity member and he has inherited all of his wealth
of course, does not believe her (he was raised thinking that his dad
abandoned him as an infant), but his father was around…at least until he
was murdered by a renegade Fraternity member, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann). Cross
actually shows up at the drug store and a spectacularly realized (the
first of the film’s many) gun fight erupts, which spills out into the
parking lot and morphs into a virtuoso car chase in the streets.
It also involves one of the niftiest ways to get a person in a car
without stopping it. Insanely
impossible? Yes, but ridiculously
Fox brings Wesley to a secret Fraternity headquarters where he meets its
boss, Sloane (Morgan Freeman, naturally commanding here).
They eventually convince him to give up his past life to train in
the deadly assassin arts, which involves a training regiment that I think
Rocky Balboa could not endure. Predictably,
Wesley becomes an incredibly lethal killer, thanks largely to Fox’s
unusually harsh methods, which culminates with him learning how to curve
bullets around any obstruction to hit his targets (physics and gravity are
absent in this universe…again…one's brain should not enter the theatre with
one’s body). But before
William can avenge his dad’s death, he must undertake a series of
starter-kills, which are picked by the Loom of Fate, a giant textile
machine that creates patterns that – if one looks very, very closely
to its patterns – shows a code that reveals the Fraternity’s next
target. Eventually, Wesley
becomes so skilled that he soon discovers some real holes in the
legitimacy of his newfound career choice.
story level, WANTED does a remarkably assured job of providing a lot of
exposition without feeling like it’s given a lot of exposition.
The origin story has a quick pacing without feeling rushed and it
even manages to forge an acerbic black comedy in the midst of all of its
later brutality. The story
itself – especially if you’re unfamiliar to the comics – has some
nifty plot twists that seem a bit preordained, but do keep the momentum at
a high. The performances are also consistently strong.
Freeman is, of course, so quietly potent here, and a cameo by the
great Terrance Stamp late in the film is well handled.
Jolie can play eroticized vixens better than any actress,
and she excels here, but the real treat and surprise of WANTED is the very
credible performance given by McAvoy as his nerd-turned-vigilante/hitman
hero. By wisely avoiding the
pratfall of playing his character as large and broad as the film’s
visuals, McAvoy gives a sincerely grounded performance, which gives the
sheer outlandishness of WANTED a rooting resonance with viewers.
course, the real star of the film is Bekmambetov’s style, and his
fingerprints are all over this film’s raucous, insatiably lively,
and simply mesmerizing symphony of orgasmic gunplay and fisticuffs.
If you convince yourself to languish in ridiculing the film’s
absurdly asinine premise alongside its genuine disdain for logic and
credulity, then WANTED will be a wasted 110 minutes.
For all others that want to witness what has to be the most
ingeniously crafted and staged gun battles since the landmark bullet-time
showstoppers of THE MATRIX, then the film will be a euphoric blessing.
WANTED is insidiously barbaric, but its sadistic superfluities are
made all-the-more endurable by the unbounded and remarkable visual flair
and invention of its director.
largely perfunctory action sequences in the film showcase Bekmambetov’s
cleverness and willingness to try anything to make age-old and tired
sequences look fresh and new. Look
at one scene where a character runs out of a skyscraper’s window (we see
the shot from the inside-out, right to the point where the glass makes
contact with the body and we see thousands of minute shards of glass
shatter into a chaotic mosaic). Then
there are endless scenes of innovation with care chases (the speeding
vehicles here turn, bog, weave, jump, and summersault in ways Henry Ford
never dreamt possible) and several gun battles are like amazingly
sustained ballets of bullets and blood.
Bekmambetov has clearly been influenced by THE MATRIX, but his
bullet-time-like effects here go even further: Sometimes he pauses
the bullet's P.O.V. shot mid-way, reverts time, follows the trajectory
back to the shooter, and then back again. WANTED, on these pure levels, is unyieldingly enjoyable
and rousing for its over-the-top gusto and Bekmambetov’s bravura
execution of scenes that, in previous weaker hands, have bored me to
dearth in countless other tired action films.
On a level of awe and wonder
alongside a facetious tone, WANTED revels in being audaciously
different…and that’s to it’s credit.
film also is ultimately a grin-inducing fantasy.
Cold-hearted cynics may find entering this world difficult.
Yet, WANTED is an auctioneer of such untamed, valiant, and
eccentrically uncanny imagination: It
uses state of the art visuals and effects, sleek and sexy cars, rampant
gore and carnage, vividly exciting chases and gun battles, offbeat and
appealing characters, and a willingness to slap pragmatism in the face.
This is a consummately assembled hybrid of sci-fi, fantasy, action,
comedy, and super hero motifs that may be deliciously lewd and sleazy, but
it all gloriously holds up as the ultimate mid-year guilty pleasure.
Very much like 2006's very underrated RUNNING
SCARED, WANTED is unreservedly soulless trash, but it's so
satisfyingly original and well-orchestrated as a stylish and uncompromisingly
visceral thrill ride.
it’s one of the best films involving instances of “complete and utter
incredulity” that I’ve laid eyes on. By a long shot.