Wanted

Movie Information

The Story: An office drone discovers he's really a born assassin when he's recruited by a secret society of killers. The Lowdown: Visually appealing -- sometimes beautiful -- and the very definition of action-packed, Wanted is also too hip for its own good, and so nihilistic (and glum about it) that it's a bit of a downer.
Score:

Genre: Violent Action-Adventure-Fantasy
Director: Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch)
Starring: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann
Rated: R

A fifty-fifty mix of smart and smart-ass, Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted is a film that would be something like a masterpiece if it was even a third as cool as it thinks it is. That’s not to say that this visually stylish exercise in comic-book violence isn’t without a degree of cool, it’s just that it tries too hard. And it so shamelessly panders to the inner badass in every downtrodden geek, nerd and just-plain-disenfranchised schlep with a Hitlerian boss that its coolness becomes laughable. Put simply, you can’t pander and look cool at the same time.

The story of the film—based on a comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones—is at bottom a kind of rethinking of the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix (1999) with a liberal sprinkling of angst-driven echoes of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999). If that makes it sound like there’s not much original about Wanted, the truth is that there isn’t. It’s largely a reshuffling of tried and true (in some cases, trite and true) elements with a shiny new coat of paint. That new coat of paint, however, shines something swell. Occasionally, it’s so dazzling that it doesn’t matter much that there’s nothing new underneath.

The problem is that there’s really nothing at all underneath. The movie’s all surface and posturing with a vaguely unpleasant undertone. In a sense, Wanted is comparable to such over-the-top works as Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared (2006), Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s Crank (2006) and Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up (2007)—with all the fun surgically removed. Those films, for all their violence and bloodletting (and there’s no lack of either), had a quirky quality that’s missing here. In its stead is a sadomasochistic tone that inches perilously close to the realm of torture-porn horror pictures. The film lingers too much on slo-mo exit wounds for comfort, while the apparent theory that nothing makes a man a man like having the crap repeatedly beaten out of him is dubious to say the least, and slightly depressing.

That aside, the tale of Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy, Atonement) is undeniably entertaining on its own limited merits. Wesley is a long-suffering office drudge with a faithless, bitchy girlfriend (Karen Hager, I’m Not There), a duplicitous best friend (Chris Pratt, TV’s The O.C.) and the boss from hell (Lorna Scott, The Heartbreak Kid). Wesley gets a new lease on life as a member of a brotherhood of assassins. As fantasy goes, who wouldn’t be thrilled—albeit alarmed—to be picked up in a drugstore by a gun-toting woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie), taken on a wild high-speed chase, and then plopped into the midst of a group of—presumably good-guy—trained killers?

And when the wisest man who ever lived, Sloan (Morgan Freeman, of course), proves to you that you have the power to shoot the wings off flies with a .44, tells you that you’re the son of the greatest assassin of all, and sticks three-plus million bucks in your checking account, are you going to be content to go back and get yelled at by your boss while your best friend is having conjugal visits from your girlfriend? If this isn’t every teenage boy’s fantasy—and a lot of post-teenage boys’, too—it’ll do till something better comes along. That you have to get bullied, bludgeoned, beaten senseless and even a little cut up is a small price to pay—especially since these folks can stick you in a restorative bath that clearly redefines “Calgon, take me away.” And anyway, we all know that this kind of abuse is the path to finding yourself, right? It’s even better when you can do it from the safety of your theater seat, of course.

Moral implications (gotta justify being an assassin), pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo (signals on who to kill embedded as binary code on fabric from a special loom!) and a lot of (not all that surprising) plot twists are really all just an excuse for some genuinely spectacular action set pieces. The scenes atop Chicago’s “El” trains are not merely amazing, they’re weirdly beautiful, while the film’s largest action sequence—also set on a train—is as astonishing as it is preposterous, yet manages to look unbelievably realistic. Toss in some truly wonderful sets, a suitably bombastic Danny Elfman score and a horde of exploding rodentia, and it’s hard not to be at least a little beguiled by it all.

Yes, it goes on too long for its own good. Yes, it’s way too in love with its own cleverness (like the groan-worthy scene where Wesley whacks his best friend in the face with a computer keyboard so the letters and an airborne tooth fly off with CGI precision to form a well-known phrase). Yes, it puts forth the unappealing idea that when a poor slob becomes a rich member of a super-secret brotherhood of assassins, he immediately develops the identical self-absorbed worldview as that of Hayden Christensen in Jumper. And no, it doesn’t pay dividends to think about the plot, the subtext or the moral implications of the spectacle. But while Wanted is on-screen, it at least comes close to delivering the wild ride it promised—and since it didn’t promise anything more than that ride, it perhaps shouldn’t be faulted too much on other levels. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

26 thoughts on “Wanted

  1. tatuaje

    Just saw this yesterday… *GROAN* That may be the worst writing I’ve seen in a long time. When it’s not utterly predictable, it’s laugh inducing….The Loom of Fate! Angelina Jolie is great to look at, but not even her derriere can pull this one back from the brink. Granted, as Hanke mentioned, some of the cinematography is downright breathtaking, especially the El train stuff. Whoever the DP was deserves a crack at something worthy of their talent. But I have to disagree with Hanke on whether or not it delivered the wild ride. The use of slow-mo was completely abused and some of the action scenes just downright made me laugh. This movie wanted to be Fight Club so bad it hurt, but Fight Club was written by Chuck Palahniuk…this? This was written by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt…the geniuses behind 2 Fast 2 Furious…I give it 1 star less than Hanke…Wish I would’ve seen Wall-E….Although the preview for Death Race looked even worse….

  2. Ken Hanke

    This isn’t a movie I’m going to defend. It’s not worth it. My largest gripe with it really is the rather nasty tone. (I understand the tone of the comic is even nastier, but I haven’t read it/them.) Well, that and the bouts of “oh, aren’t we clever?” overkill. Otherwise, it’s big, loud, and dumb, which is about what I expect from a summer action movie.

    It might be more on target, though, to compare the screenwriters with the screenwriter of Fight Club, not the source novelist. In which case, I’m not sure Haas and Brandt have much more to answer for than Jim Uhls, who most recently gave us Jumper. (And they can point to 3:10 to Yuma as some penance for 2 Fast 2 Furious. Of course, you may say this puts them back to square one.)

    And, yes, Death Race looks pretty darn grisly.

  3. tatuaje

    You’re right…not really fair to compare them to Palahniuk. And I haven’t read the graphic novel source for this, either. And 3:10 to Yuma was pretty well written. But I do think Fight Club stayed pretty true to the novel (except for the ending, which is actually better in the movie imho), so Uhls probably had a fairly easy time of it. Had no idea he was behind the screenplay of Jumper. Was going to say that just proves what a great director like Fincher can do, but then I realized the director for Jumper,Doug Liman, also did the Jason Bourne series which I have thoroughly enjoyed despite myself (& Matt Damon).

    What am I trying to say? I don’t know. Wanted had promise, I guess, but with a lackluster script just never got there.

    I am looking forward to the new Batman movie, though, and, dare I say it, Hancock.

  4. This film looks like no surprise if you’ve seen Timur Bekmambetov’s other efforts. NIGHTWATCH and DAYWATCH confuse the hell outta me, but I still like them. Still, Hollywood needs more people like him I think, so I’m going to check this one out.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I am looking forward to the new Batman movie, though, and, dare I say it, Hancock.

    Well, I’m with you 50% anyway. I’m more interested in Hellboy II — even though I find the central character too jokey — and, of course, Midnight Meat Train.

    This film looks like no surprise if you’ve seen Timur Bekmambetov’s other efforts. NIGHTWATCH and DAYWATCH confuse the hell outta me, but I still like them.

    I liked Nightwatch, but I wasn’t crazy about it. Never caught up with Daywatch (after Nightwatch tanked at the Fine Arts, there wasn’t much chance of it getting a local venue). Wanted certainly isn’t confusing, but it is rather silly (especially, in retrospect). However, I don’t think it’s as quirky as Nightwatch. Mind, I haven’t seen Nightwatch since it played at the Fine Arts.

  6. tatuaje

    OK, after a little research on IMDB (what did ya’ll ever do without this website, Ken?) I found out that the Cinematographer for Wanted was Mitchell Amundsen. Some of his credits include:

    The Outsiders – technician: Electronic Cinema
    Raising Arizona – assistant camera
    Heathers – focus puller
    Benny & Joon – camera operator
    All the Pretty Horses – camera operator
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – director of photography: second unit
    The Bourne Supremacy – director of photography: second unit
    Transformers – director of photography

    Wow…what a flippin’ great career. It seems like he’s put in the time and learned his craft. All defects aside, Wanted did look great…

  7. Although I’ve not seem the film, it’s not like the comic was all that great. Apart from the comic’s united league o’super-villains element, it sounds like the same basic idea. It was little more than a predictable revenge/power fantasy for fanboys. It’s a shame they didn’t try to dig a little deeper into the results of the concept in the film.

  8. Ken Hanke

    OK, after a little research on IMDB (what did ya’ll ever do without this website, Ken?)

    We had shelves full of reference books and we had presskits. And for as much as people bitch about the level of accuracy on the IMDb (and it’s sometimes wanting), those weren’t all that much more reliable. The problem was — and continues to be — that people kept passing the same mistakes around. There was one author — his name escapes me — who deliberately put wrong information in his books so he’d know who was copying him! That’s pretty absurd for someone writing reference books, and it certainly didn’t help matters.

    Wow…what a flippin’ great career. It seems like he’s put in the time and learned his craft. All defects aside, Wanted did look great…

    Put in his time, yes, but so little of that is actual cinematographer work. I’ll be interested to see what he does next.

  9. Ken Hanke

    And I still think Rambo was better.

    Well, it’s funnier anyway. (And nice to see you here, Chester. Surely, there cannot be two “luluthebeasts.”)

  10. Ken Hanke

    It was little more than a predictable revenge/power fantasy for fanboys.

    Haven’t read the comics (and the movie doesn’t make me want to), but that’s a pretty fair assessment of the film in terms of plot and theme.

  11. luluthebeast

    (And nice to see you here, Chester. Surely, there cannot be two “luluthebeasts.”)

    I certainly hope not!

    And as far as nerd fantasies, I think the tv show CHUCK does a better job than WANTED.

  12. tatuaje

    Put in his time, yes, but so little of that is actual cinematographer work.

    Well, that was kinda my point. He worked his way all the way from focus puller to cinematographer. Talk about having a front row seat in “How to frame a shot 101″. Makes me wish I would’ve started this whole “love of film” thing years earlier.

    I’ll be interested to see what he does next.

    Apparently it’s G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra which is in post-production right now. That movie probably will be a bomb given the director (Stephen Sommers:The Mummy&The Mummy Returns) and the lead (Brendan Fraser). But, having grown up in the eighties, I’m sure I’ll see it regardless. At least now I know it’ll at least look good. And (I know, I know, I’m sorry, but I can’t resist)…knowing IS half the battle…

  13. Ken Hanke

    Apparently it’s G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra which is in post-production right now.

    Sounds like it’s going to be a CGI heavy affair, much like this was. I’d like to see him do something where it’s more obvious how much is really the photographer and how much is a computer effect. Of course, it’s hard to tell how much is the cinematographer anyway, because most directors frame their own shots and the cinematographer has to figure out how to light it. Even then the director has some degree of control.

    I’ve little doubt that the film in question will probably be a moose fellation party based on title alone, and, yes, most of Fraser’s work is…well, not good. Still, I always remember that once — at least — he did a very fine piece of work in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters.

  14. tatuaje

    We’re at risk of derailing the thread here

    You’re right, Steve…Let’s get a thread going cuz I’ve got some great ones….

    I wept for the rats!

    Yeah, those lil’ suckers were poppin’ off left & right….Does PETA consider that offensive? Even in CGI?

    I’ve little doubt that the film in question will probably be a moose fellation party based on title alone

    I think I saw that one once in Tijuana…

  15. Ken Hanke

    Hellboy II looks great and early word is that it’s fantastic. Bad news about MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN however…

    Have you written to Lions Gate? I certainly plan to. Not only do they have what I think is one of the greatest titles ever, but this seems blissfully ignorant of how well the summer release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween rehash did. I understand exactly where Barker’s coming from. I’ve seen this sort of thing with books after a corporate power shift. And don’t forget how the powers that had come to be at “New Universal” in 1936 disliked the studio’s horror films and stopped making them (until this decision nearly bankrupted them).

  16. Ken Hanke

    And as far as nerd fantasies, I think the tv show CHUCK does a better job than WANTED.

    I fear I can’t weigh in on that — not that I’m exactly looking for nerd-empowerment fantasies.

  17. I am.

    I haven’t seen this movie yet,although the comic is incredibly nihilistic at times (too much so for even me), it is a fun little story. Who hasn’t felt “picked on” at some point during life.

    I’ll check it out later.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Who hasn’t felt “picked on” at some point during life.

    Well, everyone has, but I lost my taste for revenge fantasy narratives about 30 years ago.

    Then again, my idea of revenge has more to do with the idea of living in some rambling great house — with its own theater and possibly a small movie studio — on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland than with putting bullets in anyone’s head. Of course, neither scenario ever came into being.

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