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Movie Review: Wanted

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Wanted is nothing more or less than a balls-to-the-walls action thrill ride. The laws of physics are out the window and the film never stops to acknowledge them in the first place. Bullets curve and make wild trajectories from impossible distances. It is all in the breakneck energy and the ultra-slick atmosphere and this film has no shortage of that.

Much like Neo in the Matrix movies, the protagonist of this film, Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a guy in need of a jolt like that. He has a dead-end accountant office job and gets chewed up by his boss, Janice (Lorna Scott), for not turning in his billing report. Worse, he cannot even stand up against his girlfriend, Cathy (Kristen Hager) whom he knows is having an affair with his best friend, Barry (Chris Pratt).

Enter Angelina Jolie as Fox who taps on Wesley at a convenience store and informs him that the father he never knew about was one of the greatest assassins who ever lived (it’s not every day that happens). Only seconds later, she is covering him from an assassin, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) in an extended car chase in which she is somehow able to balance on the hood of her car and shoot at her nemesis with a shotgun.

Wesley is cowering in disbelief in the midst of all this until he is finally brought to Sloan (Morgan Freeman), who heads a fraternity of assassins and informs him that he too has the gifts of a professional assassin. The fraternity apparently decides their victims by the Loom of Fate, which decides the few people who must be sacrificed to save a thousand. Wesley is dumbfounded by all this, of course, but ultimately decides joining the fraternity is better than the ennui of his everyday existence.

To further describe what happens would be to make a long list of the techniques of wild, brutal training that the hero is put through and the fantastical ways he finally goes about exacting the precise, curving trajectories of his bullets to hit his targets. And it goes without saying that the film never really stops to ask questions like how he manages to just eyeball the path of a bullet hit atop a speeding train. There are a few twists and turns in the screenplay by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan when a key character named Pewarsky (Terrence Stamp) enters the picture, but the film is really more about building a slick sheen (though often with rather bloody images of bullets exiting out of people’s heads). The fact that motion capture animation is used so often in these shots probably gives further evidence that the technique really works better when it is combined with live-action to enhance it rather than existing by itself to confine the possibilities of animation to live-action as was the case in Beowulf.

The fancy disregard for logic and physics will not come as a surprise for those who have seen director Timur Bekmambetov’s previous Night Watch series. Hard as it may seem, the style and energy he brings here is much more controlled and focused than those Night Watch and Day Watch films, which I thought was purely indiscernible, mindless chaos. Some of that might have to do with how this time he is working off a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones and much of that has to do with how McAvoy (who has mostly been in more austere projects like last year’s Atonement and is now getting his big Hollywood break) and the other actors inhabit the action scenes with as much gravitas as it can possibly have rather than merely serve as Energizer bunnies that come back hungry for more. It is also refreshing to see that Bekmambetov makes a rare, R-rated action ride in a film market thought to be long run over by teenage audiences.

In many ways, Hollywood action films have been leading up to this complete blurring of fantasy and action reality where the rules of logic no longer apply. There will, of course, be the purist naysayers who complain that realistic action always works better but a key reason we go to the movies is to see things that we would not normally see in reality. As good action films show, the enjoyment is not necessarily in the plausibility of the stunts but in the style and delivery. Wanted may not have much to do with the real world in physicality or emotional substance but makes up more than enough on its glossy veneer.

Bottom line: Well worth seeing.

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