2008’s Wanted was designed exclusively for the summer audience. Brimming with noisy effects, ridiculous action sequences, and Angelina Jolie, it is a rowdy rock-and-roll thrill ride that can be a lot of fun to watch. It also, regrettably, can seem like a bit of a chore. Inconsistent, uneven, and often careless, this Timur Bekmambetov film is highly conventional and fiercely passé.
Bekmambetov’s Hollywood debut is based on Mark Millar’s comic book miniseries of the same name. Millar’s comic is barely recognizable, however, as the tone, characters, and story arc of the film differs astonishingly from the source material. Millar’s Wanted works because it is the antithesis of the hero story, creating a world of supervillains bent on living out their existence with ego, arrogance, and bright costumes. But Bekmambetov does away with the villain concept, sketchily inserting some of the mythos but using screenwriters Derek Haas, Michael Brandt, and Chris Morgan to retool the whole thing.
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a young man with a dead-end job, a cheating girlfriend, and anxiety issues. He considers himself a failure. One day, Gibson’s life changes when he meets Fox (Jolie), a mysterious assassin. Fox takes Gibson to meet The Fraternity, a secret society of assassins led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Wesley learns that his father was an assassin with The Fraternity and Sloan wants him to follow in his father’s footsteps. After learning about the possibility of a new life as an assassin, Wesley leaves his old job and joins The Fraternity.
After being trained, Wesley is shown the Loom of Fate. This mechanism gives the names of the targets of The Fraternity. Woven into pieces of fabric and interpreted through binary code, the Loom of Fate identifies those who will cause tragedy in the future. The Fraternity is dispatched to head off the catastrophe and, as Fox says, “kill one, save a thousand.” As Wesley becomes more engrossed in The Fraternity, he learns more about his father, the truth, and the reality behind the Loom of Fate.
Fans of Millar’s comic book will not recognize Wanted. Gone is the notion of villainy, gone is the egoism and “we do what we want” stance of The Fraternity, and many of the characters have been switched around. Much of the comic book’s trademark snarky boastfulness is gone, too. In its place, Bekmambetov has inserted feral action sequences and a breathless pace. Is it a fair transaction?
First of all, the action sequences work despite their madness. Cars flip over, trains derail and plummet several thousand feet, and bullets bend around sexy women. These elements all stack up nicely to form a neat blockbuster, although the CGI is less than flawless and sequences unfurl in slapdash ways.
Bekmambetov is hoping that audiences buy the action sequences and will ignore almost everything else. The folly of the Loom of Fate is something I can’t even begin to grasp. The idea of predestination is compelling, but the surface is barely touched and Freeman’s Sloan tosses one incidental elucidation after another in an attempt at explaining how this whole process actually works. Fox steps in, as though to give Sloan a breather, but her cheesy dissertation is no better. In the end, explaining the ethics of The Fraternity would have been a whole lot easier had the original storyline of treachery and self-image been kept in place.
The fact that Millar’s original tone and story is left on the sidelines makes for some interesting dilemmas for the characters. For instance, Jolie’s Fox is basically eye candy with a trivial purpose, but her attitude is left to her looks and her few speaking parts. Instead of utilizing the comic book’s Fox, an unscrupulous African-American woman more suited to Halle Berry, the screenplay was written with Jolie in mind and the character was altered to habitually excuse any sign of bad behaviour. Odd.
Same goes for McAvoy’s Wesley. Thrust into The Fraternity, he begins a bizarre trading of validation and overconfidence that never really takes hold. At times geeky, at times narcissistic, and at times mean, we’re never quite sure where Gibson is going or how he’s trying to get there. The screenplay’s flaws are exposed when the characters attempt to over-rationalize their subsistence and conduct.
Overall, Wanted is just really uneven and packed with problems. The action sequences are notable and fun, but Bekmambetov’s piece is just too unsurprising, derivative, and jagged to work as a whole.
The Two-Disc Special Edition boasts some pretty neat features comprising over an hour of footage, but there is nothing earth-shattering here.
An "extended scene" adds some more to a sequence involving Wesley's training with The Fraternity and a few featurettes offer some insight into the arrangement of the special effects. "Stunts on the L Train" explains how Jolie and McAvoy operated in one of the film's most interesting and exciting sequences.
The usual cast feature is here as well, with Jolie, McAvoy, Freeman, and others explaining their roles in the picture and how they approached the characters.
"Wanted: Motion Comics" is by far the most compelling of the bonus features. Using screens from Millar's comic set to "motion," this feature exposes just how different Bekmambetov's film is from Millar's source material and just how much better Wanted could have been as a film. Truly a shame. An insightful feature on the origins of Wanted further highlights this problem.
All in all, this isn't a bad Two-Disc Special Edition but it isn't all that "special" either. With other films offering hours of bonus footage and far more interesting features, however, I can't help but think fans of Wanted are simply better off with the single-disc edition. There's just not enough here to provoke the extra purchase.