“Wanted” simultaneously represents what is great about Summer movies and what is bad about Summer movies.
It has big named stars (even if the leading actor isn’t yet in that category), laughs, gore, non-stop “Matrix” level action, incredible stunts, eye candy galore, and a killer soundtrack.
What it doesn’t have is a plot that makes any sense, or a director that can get the most out of all the gifts he was given in terms of acting talent and a budget that would make a Halliburton executive green with envy.
The film begins with a brief action sequence that sees a man dodging bullets flying in from a skyscraper across the street, so he gets ticked off and runs down the hallway towards the shooters, crashes through the window with enough speed to travel almost a city block, guns blazing away at the assailants until he crashes through another window, having only dropped 10 feet during his “flight”, emerging totally unscathed.
Not a bad introduction at all, especially because it lets us know that logic will be a much of a foreign concept to this film as scoring runs is to the Cleveland Indians in 2008. That’s OK, as long as I know the rules.
The best thing it has in its favor is the unconventional choosing of Scottish actor James McAvoy as the centerpiece of the film. After the first action sequence, the story focuses in on his character, Wesley Gibson, and his pathetic excuse for a life. He is an “account manager” at a local Chicago cube farm that is probably not that much removed from what Mike Judge showed in his cult classic “Office Space”, except that none of Wesley’s co-workers are anywhere near as amusing.
Wesley is mousy, overtly nervous, and a complete doormat…a man who does nothing, even when he finds out that his live in shrew of a girlfriend is having an affair with his best friend.
Naturally, this must all change, as it does one evening when Wesley is getting a refill of pills for his anxiety attacks. A beautiful, mysterious girl shows up to tell him his father just died, and that he is the son of a near superhuman assassin, killed by a man who is now trying to kill Wesley.
The girl is Fox (I wonder how long the screenwriter thought before coming up with that original nickname), and she looks a lot like Angelina Jolie if Mrs. Pitt were a cross between a swizzle stick and a human tattoo canvas. Despite biceps the size of a bat handle, Fox packs a hell of a punch, and we’re thrown headlong into one of the best chase scenes I’ve seen in a long time.
Having temporarily escaped death, Wesley meets up with Sloan (Morgan Freeman, playing the same type of character he did in “Lucky Number Slevin”), the head of the Fraternity of Assassins, who invites Wesley to join. Sloan recognizes the same supernatural type talents in Wesley that he are possessed by the rest of his charges, which mostly seems to consist of the ability to never miss a target, and to curve bullets around objects.
As one might expect, the movie then focuses on Wesley’s training, which most of which has him tied to a chair getting his face pummeled. But these build-ups must occur in these types of movies prior to the young protégé being sent out to fulfill his destiny; this is no different.
If this sounds an awful lot like “The Matrix”, it’s only because it is. Although I must admit that I like McAvoy’s insecure chatterbox character much better than the suffer-dude Neo Anderson. McAvoy truly does bring a lot to the movie, and he is the main reason why it was so enjoyable to watch. His transformation from wimp to stud is very believable, and it was important that he put so much effort into fleshing out Wesley’s humanity. Had he not, the movie would have fallen apart later on when Wesley faces a moral crisis that would have rang false had he not first established his character’s basic goodness.
He is in stark contrast to Jolie’s Fox, who is a killer of the “all-action-no-talking” school. Jolie reportedly had most of her dialog removed, as she felt the character would never be the type to talk more than the absolute minimum. I’m not sure that tactic really works here. She is great with the action sequences, and she can convey so many different emotions with just her looks; playfulness, seduction, or “I’m about to put a size 5 leather boot into your jaw” toughness. But it left a character you knew very little about, other than a brief explanation of how she became the person she was (and the fact that she evidently shared the same fake tattoo artist that Viggo Mortensen had in “Easter Promises”).
As mentioned, the action sequences were amazing. Multiple scenes on the El train in Chicago as well as another train in Moscow, two great car chase scenes, and various fight scenes that stand up to anything recently seen. With Angelina, I expected the former Lara Croft to excel in these stunt laden moments, and she certainly did. But I was surprised by how well McAvoy performed, especially considering the fact that most of the time he plays completely unassuming roles, such as his turns in “Atonement” and “Becoming Jane”. However, he did a great job running through exploding buildings shooting with both hands and killing everything in sight.
Given the tone of most of the movie, it should therefore be considered a waste that the entire thing wasn’t a classic adrenaline pumping film such as the first “Terminator”, or “The Matrix”, or even a predictable, but enjoyable sugar rush like “The Fast and the Furious” or “Gone in Sixty Seconds”.
Blame for that goes to Russian director Timu Bekmambetov in his first English language film, and to the screenwriters.
Bekmambetov has no idea how to get any real chemistry out of his actors. Individually, they are very good, but given the talents of the three leads, along with supporting players Terence Stamp, Common, and Marc Warren, it should not have gotten to where it did; where things almost ground to a halt if more than two people where engaged in a discussion at the same time. It ended up just looking like a place to throw in a few minutes of worthless, bland dialog in between high tension action sequences.
Even worse was the script. In addition to heavily borrowing from numerous sources (“plagiarism” would be another word), they failed to do the one thing that is needed in this type of fantasy…make it somewhat believable. Give us the right explanation, and we’ll accept spider webs shooting from a teenager’s wrists, semi-trucks turning into giant robots, or boy wizards zapping dragons. But in this disjointed script, we get pulled along using the normal rules of physics and gravity, and then suddenly when it is convenient for them, we get nonsense without anything close to the reasoning behind it. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t mind a movie where logic gets bent…but it’s like an umpire’s strike zone…to be good, it doesn’t have to be perfect, just consistent. And “Wanted” fails that test badly.
There really is nothing wrong with mindless popcorn entertainment. And I must say that I feel most people (especially readers of a sports site such as this) will thoroughly enjoy watching this film (as long as you can handle the gore and the “f-bombs”).
But as a critic, I can’t get past the fact that it had the potential to be so much more than what it was. And for that, I’m giving it a grade of…
Kelly Holcomb (2 footballs. Disappointingly inconsistent, but some incredible bright spots).
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