They don’t put directors on movie posters anymore. Now it’s just stars or startling imagery, something that the studio marketing teams feel will put butts in the seats. There was a time when you could see Alfred Hitchcock gracing his posters for Psycho, and the logic was simple: Hitchcockian suspense was the star.
Wanted is faced with an interesting dilemma. While it’s obvious that any movie featuring Angelina Jolie should feature her striking looks on posters as often as possible, the real star of the movie – the actual reason to see it – is director Timur Bekmambetov.
Bekmambetov adapted novels about vampires into Night Watch, Day Watch, and soon, Twilight Watch; it is the most successful Russian film series of all time. In those films, as in Wanted, it’s the remarkable visuals and the pristine choreography of seemingly reckless stunts that quicken our pulse and keep us glued to the screen for whatever’s coming.
But what lifts Wanted and Bekmambetov’s vampire franchise above the rest of the action-packed, high energy movies wreaking havoc on major cities and multiplexes alike is the way his action plays within his stories. In most cases, big budget movie stunts rarely rely on the story or enhance it in any way. Wanted is a great example of how the universe its story creates sets up the action sequences that power it.
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) has anxiety attacks when the frustratingly boring nature of his life catches up with him. He works in a cubicle under the thumb of a tyrant, and less than ten feet away from his best friend, who happens to be sleeping with Wesley’s girlfriend.
Circling the drain, Wesley is in the drugstore when he meets Fox (Angelina Jolie). That alone would get anyone’s attention. Fox tells him that she knew his father, odd since Wesley’s dad walked out when he was a week old. Fox has the real story, however — his father was an assassin killed days earlier by a gunman now stalking Wesley over on aisle four.
A breathless shootout and car chase follows. Wesley learns that his father was part of a millennium-old army of assassins known as The Fraternity, and he begins his training to fulfill his own bloody destiny, which will include, of course, hunting down the man who killed his father.
McAvoy continues to grow in credibility by leaps and bounds. It was only three years ago that American audiences saw him as Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and each new move has been different and deftly handled, from The Last King of Scotland to Atonement to this, his first action film. Angelina Jolie is without question the most believable action heroine in movies, bringing an unbridled sexuality to every punch, kick, and shooting.
Originally a graphic novel by Mark Millar with artwork by J.G. Jones, Wanted was hailed by the Sunday Times as “The Watchmen for super-villains,” referring to the legendary comic by Alan Moore. There are certainly comic book elements in the film, things that should only exist in the world of animation: an assassin getting a running start so he can jump through a window and cross the street to the roof of another skyscraper, brandishing his weapon all the way; cars performing flips as defensive maneuvers, trains hurtling off the tracks and falling several hundred feet while only the central characters survive.
It’s thrilling stuff, completely not of this Earth but squarely in the world of Timur Bekmambetov, one of the few rising directors whose every move makes necessary anxiously waiting for his next one.