Posted on July 1, 2008 by Flames
“And what have you done lately?” So ends a fast-paced, winner-take-all honey of a comic book brought to life. Wanted builds from a nicely sardonic character study through a romp of an action film into a colossal final fight built around a twist that suddenly catapults the movie from a fun night out into an edge-of-the-seat thrill ride. It may start out slowly, but this movie ends with a bang so big, it will leave you grinning with malicious glee. All nice words aside, don’t go to this movie looking for high drama and a soaring intellectual quotient—although the movie does, at times, make witty, ironic jokes worthy of a wry smile. But if you enjoy a dark comic book writ large and riddled with as much wordplay as bullets, then this is the movie for you.
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a mouse. He works at a dead-end job, has a sadistic boss who walks all over him, and knows that his loud-mouthed girlfriend is regularly getting it on with his best friend. However, when the tattooed, gorgeous Fox (Angelina Jolie) literally shoots her way into his life, Wesley’s miserable, ordered existence shatters in an instant—opening up a comic book world of heroes and villains, assassins and targets, and a loom of destiny for him to jump into. It turns out that Wesley is the son of a famous, recently murdered assassin. Fox, and the shadowy organization that she represents, have high hopes that they can whip this here-to-fore wage slave into a killer worthy of executing his father’s murderer.
That sentence alone should suggest just how violent this movie is. Heads distort and then explode, spraying realistic amounts of blood on convenient surfaces. Characters treat guns, knives, cars, and people like one two-cent pen out of a box of fifty. Our assassin-in-training gets pummeled repeatedly, sporting multiple black eyes, crushed noses, and blood bedribbled shirts. Things, and even animals, explode in fireballs of every size. And the movie dwells on every detail with loving, CGI-enhanced care. Think the Bourne Ultimatum with no shaking camera and more emotion. But the pace is fast enough, and the build up is gradual (sometimes too gradual) enough that the strong violence never seems like it’s too much. It never knocks the viewer out of the sometimes-flimsy plot. And, by the end of the movie, the violence level seems just right.
Wanted‘s ending makes this entire film worthwhile. That is not to say that the rest of the movie isn’t enjoyable. The beginning sequences develop a wonderfully malicious humor at the expense of our reluctant assassin. For example, Wesley knows that his best friend and his girlfriend are having the sex he never gets. So, when Wesley’s friend forgets his wallet and Wesley has to pay for them both at the local drug store, the fact that the friend adds to the order condoms that they both know he’ll use with Wesley’s girlfriend hammers in just how laughably worthless Wesley’s pre-assassin life is. Even his empty bank account mocks him.
The film also pays great attention to detail, which it cultivates to both drive the humor as well as fuel its twist ending. Seemingly insignificant details like where Wesley lives or the fact that he is always apologizing come back unexpectedly, toting a chuckle and a plot point or two. They also spur the viewer to watch more closely, just to see what he can pick out.
However, before the plot turns inside out toward the end of the movie, Wanted just doesn’t live up to the comic book series by Mark Millar that it was adapted from. If anything, it’s too emotional. Wesley simply cares too much about the consequences of what he does, which really detracts from his credibility in stepping into his father’s super-villain shoes. James McAvoy also never quite seems to push Wesley from pathetic cubicle drone to gun-packing master of his own destiny. The violent, action-fueled movie also, ironically, pushes a strong moral code which does get thick in spots. But Wanted integrates this moral code well enough into the plot that, even at points where the code is strong enough to warrant an eye-roll or two, it does not detract from the movie reality’s credibility.
Wanted has an ambitious, at-times contradictory goal: build a moral killer driven by revenge who is not mastered by it. It also, at times, achieves a similarly high level of post-modern intellectualism, slinging ironic humor and exploring Wesley Gibson’s existential quandary of a life. Then it sometimes says, “to heck with all this philosophy,” and dives feet-first into standard action-hero fare, with car chases and things going boom. This whiplashing tone can make for gaps in believability and an occasionally holey plot. But it is never bad enough to break the reality Wanted weaves around the viewer, scene by scene and blood spatter by blood spatter. Then the whole movie suddenly shifts, and that uneasy paring of laudable goals, highbrow entertainment, and uncomplicated, bullets-flying action pulls together and works.
Would I recommend Wanted? In a super-villain-enhanced heartbeat. Just, for those of you going in there armed with the actual comic book, this spin-off comic-book world doesn’t quite measure up—until the plot twist and blast of an end, which knocks the teeth out of the comic book’s rather flat epilogue.
Review by Dana Hagengruber