STARRING: James McAvoy, Morgan
Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Angelina Jolie
2008, 110 Minutes, Directed by:
years after John Woo’s spectacular ultra-violent shootout in Hard Boiled,
twenty years after Bruce Willis single-handedly stopped an entire group of
terrorists in Die Hard and almost a decade of “bullet time” after
The Matrix – what more does action movies still have
to offer? How can one film car chases and gunfights and still make them seem
interesting after all this time?
Well, it would seem that the
action movie genre still has plenty to offer. That is, if Wanted is
anything to go by. How do you make a guy falling through plane glass seem
visually interesting again? Easy, you get Russian director Timur Bekmambetov to
direct your movie.
In Wanted’s production
notes, Bekmambetov’s producing partner, Jim Lemley, says that “you could put
three people in a room, give them the same camera and ask them to take the same
shot. Timur’s image would be amazing.” This isn’t mere PR speak. With Wanted
this Russian director has proved that there is still some life left in the tired
action genre. If the two Night Watch movies
weren’t enough to get Hollywood’s attention, then Wanted will make him
into one of the most in-demand directors around. Filmed for an estimated “mere”
$65 million – of which $20-25 million probably went towards Jolie’s salary
(after all, she has a $70 million bond to pay off now) – Wanted looks
like a movie that cost at least double its budget.
Wanted ups the ante when
it comes to the sort of hyper-stylized action flick that became the norm since
the advent of CGI. “That’s the most ridiculous movie I’ve ever seen,” one fellow
critic grumbled upon leaving a preview screening of Wanted. But as
another crit pointed out: “Now that was a lot of fun.” Wanted is a lot of
fun. Yes, it is ridiculous and far-fetched, but it is done with so much
inventiveness and style that Wanted will simply leave a silly grin on
your face. It’s bullshit, but it’s creative bullshit – and that is what makes
Wanted different from about 95% of all the other, more generic action movies
Fans of Mark Millar’s graphic
novel should however steel themselves. Any similarities between Wanted
(the movie) and Wanted (the comic book) seem to be purely coincidental.
That is largely because yes, Hollywood screws up source material as a rule, but
also because in this case scriptwriters started working on a screenplay for the
movie when only one or two issues of the comic book were finished.
The movie and the book share a
common starting point – down-trodden cubicle worker and wimp Wesley Gibson
(James McAvoy) – meets Fox (Angelina Jolie in minimalist mode) and is introduced
to a secret organization. Wanted (the movie) is stripped of all the
graphic novel’s superhero and sci-fi undertones. In the comic book
super-villains secretly rule the world after they have killed off all the
superheroes. In Wanted McAvoy is inducted into a top secret organisation
of super assassins called “the Fraternity”.
A thousand years ago the
Fraternity has discovered that they help bring order to the world by killing
certain individuals before they can cause any trouble. Kill one, save thousands
is their motto. If you don’t believe this, then just imagine how history might
have turned out a certain Austrian corporal sporting a silly moustache were to
die during World War I. Or speaking of silly moustaches, of how much better a
certain African country would be off if its despotic tin pot leader were to meet
with an accident in the shower today.
does the Fraternity decide whom to kill? “Fate” decides – in the form of a
secret code found in the patterns of material fashioned by a loom. Why “fate”
just can’t slip some assholes destined to die a simple virus is a bit of
mystery, but that’s how it goes one supposes. This Loom of Fate thing (not found
in Millar’s book) is about the only sci-fi-y thing about Wanted. Oh yeah,
plus the fact that the Fraternity’s assassins can actually shoot around corners
using special bullets. (You read that right: it’s that kind of movie. If you
were expecting realism of any sort then it is sincerely recommended that you
give Wanted a skip.)
Anyway, McAvoy is soon
literally pummeled into shape and the former cubicle underling is turned into a
highly trained assassin who can literally shoot the wings off a fly. But not
everything is as it seems with the Fraternity, which McAvoy’s character will
soon discover to his detriment . . .
If Wanted had stuck to
its source material it would have been Spider-man
on acid. Instead it is Die Hard on acid. Wanted is a trip all
right, but it is such a deliriously demented one that one cannot help but love
it. Even the movie’s Fight Club-lite opening with McAvoy’s downtrodden
office worker’s voice-over narration doesn’t grate as much as one would expect.
(Ironically all the Fight Club male anger stuff comes from Millar’s
Thus, Wanted is
different from the graphic novel – if not downright better. (It was never one of
Millar’s best efforts to be honest.) It is Looney Tunes physics in action too,
sure. But its sense of humor and energy makes it one of this year’s best action
movies. It’ll make a great rental one day with loads of popcorn on hand.