Wanted (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Wanted Poster

Wanted provides the jolt of adrenaline one expects from solid summer entertainment. It exists solely to keep the heart pounding as it shifts from one gear to the next, decelerating only when exposition demands a reduction in pace. The movie marries the superhero origin film with the revenge thriller, blending them with hints of the frenzied intensity embodied by 300 and the visual orchestrations of The Matrix. The storyline, while not Pulitzer material, is strong enough to keep the average viewer involved. But this is one of those experiences where the brain is not the primary organ engaged by what flashes on the screen in the darkness.

The backstory of Wanted postulates that there's a thousand-year old secret society of assassins called the Fraternity whose elite membership have an unsurpassed aptitude when it comes to killing. Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a mild-mannered accounts manager, is about to come face-to-face with the truth about his absentee father. Dear old Dad, it seems, was a member of the Fraternity and he passed his genes to his son. Now, following Dad's betrayal and murder at the hands of the renegade Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), the Fraternity wants Wesley to join their number. He is recruited by the head honcho, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), and the hard-to-resist and appropriately named Fox (Angelina Jolie). She has everything but her own news network. Wesley's training is hard-ass but, after a long montage that might as well be set to "Gonna Fly Now" or "Eye of the Tiger," he's ready to take his place alongside Fox and do some train surfing and lip locking.

One could argue that the most important passages in Wanted are among the calmest and most understated: the opening scenes of Wesley toiling away at the office, crammed into a cubicle under the thumb of an intolerant bully of a boss while his "best friend" sneaks away to screw Wesley's girlfriend. This is the part of the movie that humanizes him - that makes us feel like we know him. It's hard to identify with a guy who can slow time and fire a bullet that curves around a corner, but it's difficult not to empathize with someone who's working a dead-end job in a life that's going nowhere. There's a lot of razzle-dazzle and flash in Wanted; the only reason it means something is because we're rooting for Wesley.

Director Timur Bekmambetov showed in Night Watch that he knows how to do some arresting stuff with his cameras. The flaw with that film is its cold, clinical attitude toward the characters. Here, the approach is warmer and more inviting. Wesley represents our point of entry into this world where the laws of physics (and sometimes logic) have been suspended. He's the everyman who discovers he's more than he thought he was. He's Peter Parker with an attitude. And, face it, who wants Mary Jane Watson when you can have Fox?

Angelina Jolie has always oozed sex appeal, but she's never been able to match badass with dominatrix quite like this. Jolie doesn't have any qualms about showing off her body, nor should she, considering how well sculpted it is. James McAvoy's American accent is a little flawed, but his transformation from dweeb to assassin is believable. Morgan Freeman adds a touch of class to things (much as he does with nearly every movie he's in). There's something perversely delicious, however, about getting to hear Easy Reader say two of George Carlin's seven words that can't be spoken on television.

The action sequences are choreographed like dances of bullets, metal, blood, and sweat. Cars fly upside down at impossible angles. People treat the tops of speeding trains like race tracks. And there's blood and viscera everywhere. Wanted earns its R-rating with the tracking of every bullet as it rips through flesh, muscle, and bone. The film's debt to the The Matrix, with its slow-motion violence and general setup, is undeniable. 300 is also a forerunner. While there's no specific linkage to the story of the indomitable Spartans, there's a strong sense that those who appreciated the early 2007 hit will approve of Wanted. The stories may be vastly different but the vibe is similar.

The film's sense of style is going to capture the praise of some who might normally not applaud a summer movie fueled by adrenaline and testosterone. But Wanted manages to deliver what action fans crave while still maintaining a veneer of artfulness. There are times when the film is flat-out silly (such as the spinning car assassination), but that's part of the movie's charm. At its worst, Wanted is never boring. At its best, it can be damn close to intoxicating. One word, written without apology, describes it best: fun.

Wanted (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2008-06-27
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1