In September of 2007 an action movie arrived on the big screen that simultaneously spoofed the action genre and held its own when compared to other films of its ilk. It was a movie that concerned itself with how many bullets they could unload at one time in as many different situations as possible. The end result was an action film that took the art of gunfire to the extreme end of the spectrum, creating a comedic action film that was an absolute blast to watch. That movie was called Shoot 'Em Up.
You're probably wondering what that has to do with Wanted. The answer is simple — both of these films have a similar, over the top aesthetic, although the tone is different. Anyway, Shoot 'Em Up was the one film that jumped immediately to mind when I first saw footage from Wanted. Both films are excellent, and as similar as they might feel, they are also quite different.
Wanted is based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. I have never read the series, but having now seen the film I have the desire to check it out to see how it compares to the live action interpretation. Hopefully it is favorable as the film is pretty wild.
At the center of the story is Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a boring young man in a dead end job with a nasty boss and persistent panic attacks. Sounds like a lot of people I know. Anyway, he goes through the motions, working, going home, dealing with his annoying girlfriend, ad infinitum, with no end in sight. One day, while picking up his panic attack medication, he is approached by a woman he will come to know as Fox (Angelina Jolie) who tells him she knew his father.
This catches the mild-mannered Wesley off guard, as he didn't even know his father. This leads to the big reveal of Gibson senior being a top assassin and Wesley possessing the same skills. Of course, Wesley does not exactly believe this is true and proceeds to go about his mundane life. Still, the thought nags at him until it becomes an itch that needs some scratching. He goes and joins up with Fox and her boss, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), where he learns of the generations-old group of assassins called The Fraternity. Yes, I know the name is a little lame, but you can't win them all.
During the training required to unlock his hidden assassin skills, Wesley learns that he is being recruited with the express purpose of going after a rogue assassin who murdered his father. This proves to be sufficient motivation to spur Wesley on to be the best he can be.
That pretty much sums up the story. It definitely falls to the thin side of the scale, but it works. This is an over the top action movie where lots of unrealistic things happen; it does not need a deep story, it needs to deliver an adrenaline rush and have enough of a story to keep the viewer interested. Wanted delivers.
The first piece of the puzzle is the cast. James McAvoy is definitely an odd choice for an action star, but it is a choice that works out beautifully. I am reminded of hearing about Matt Damon's casting in The Bourne Identity — there is another odd action choice that worked out better than anyone could have imagined. McAvoy is a solid actor who has been in a string of well-received films, and he does not appear to be limited in any fashion. He handles himself ably with a gun in his hand and fists aimed for his head. He made this character of Wesley Gibson more interesting and deeper than he had any right to be. As for his co-stars, Angelina Jolie can handle herself in any given situation; what she brings here is a calm, cool, and collected woman who lives up to her name of Fox. Her screen presence is smoldering and she will not be ignored. The rest of the cast from Morgan Freeman on down is serviceable, but none stand out nearly as much as our two leads.
The second piece of the puzzle is the director. The screenplay from Michael Brandt and Derek Haas is one filled with visual flourishes and style that needs a director of vision to realize these elements on the screen. The man for the job hails from Russia; his name is Timur Bekmambetov. He rose to international prominence in 2004 with Night Watch, a film that is as flashy and stylistic as any Hollywood production. Bekmambetov brings his eye for action to bear with Wanted, his first English language film. He does a fantastic job of keeping the action going and keeping it interesting. This is a visually intensive movie that may not be as groundbreaking as they want you to believe, but it does deliver the goods in a fashion that is original enough to make you sit up and take notice.
When it comes right down to it, Wanted is a bullet-riddled yarn about a man living out a fantasy. What guy hasn't dreamt of being rescued from his boring day to day existence by a beautiful woman who promises to whisk him into a world of intrigue, danger, and gunplay? This movie, beyond the actual story it tells, is all about living vicariously through the lead character. In this fantasy world he can do all of things you cannot do, allowing you to get some of the thrills you wish could happen in the real world.
Bottom line. If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, this will definitely fill the bill. It is one of the, if not the, best action film of the year. I was hooked right from the start; it has a strong lead performance, big action, a story that has enough fuel for at least a sequel or two, and a nice post-Matrix feel. Do yourself a favor and go for the ride.