Wanted (review)

From Dilbert to Die Hard

The ultimate geek’s dream of a movie? It could be Wanted. I’m feelin’ it, and it feels pretty good.

And I don’t mean because all the geeky guys have here Angelina Jolie, whom they seem to like, to drool over. She frankly scares me… though I think a lot of the geeky guys like her because she scares them too. And I don’t mean because we girls — and a few of the guys, I guess — have here Scottish actor James McAvoy, sporting a new American accent and making a dynamic transition from Merchant Ivory-esque indie heartthrob to Hollywood action hero. If you’re the kind of girl, like me, who might have thought it would be sort of awesome to throw, oh, I dunno, Mr. Darcy into Die Hard, well, this is almost it. (And I have to confess that, as huge a fan of McAvoy’s as I am, I kinda didn’t think he had “Hollywood action hero” in him — but he pulls it off beautifully.)
Jolie and McAvoy are not what I’m talking about, though, not really, even if they are all kinds of cool in this flick and just, you know, in general.

What I mean is this: How is it possible that Wanted — which comes to us via a graphic novel by Mark Millar — can simultaneously feel exhilaratingly like one of the most cleverly original action scripts in years and feel comfortably reminiscent of a slew of hero’s-journey adventures the likes of which we geeks always gravitate toward? It makes me wanna shout Wow! and applaud and cry for more. This is a thrill ride of a movie that is, as happens so rarely, as smart and as surprising as it is visually stylish and viscerally electrifying, crammed with all sorts of action that we’ve seen before — car crashes, gun battles, foot chases, fisticuffs, runaway trains — done up with a ferocious freshness by director Timur Bekmambetov (of the Russian dark fantasy series including Day Watch (Dnevnoy dozor) and Night Watch (Nochnoi dozor)), in his studio debut.

But it’s also totally fair and accurate (and pretty darn funny) to call WantedThe Matrix meets Harry Potter, with a little bit of Office Space thrown in for good measure.” Except Neo’s on Xanax and the secret people are stone killers rather than wizards — but there is a red stapler. See, McAvoy (Atonement, Becoming Jane) is a nebbishy cube dweller with anxiety issues and a pointed-haired boss who discovers he’s heir to a spot in an ancient order of mystical assassins — they have superfast reflexes, can put English on a bullet, and take orders from… well, you’ll see: it’s wonderfully audacious. Jolie (Beowulf, A Mighty Heart) is Trinity/Hermione, Morgan Freeman (The Bucket List, Gone Baby Gone) is Morpheus/Dumbledore, and as McAvoy undergoes the training to become a Jedi like his father before him, he’ll learn all about forging stability out of chaos and using the Force and…

I can’t spoil too much because what’s surprising here isn’t merely how Bekmambetov pulls off stuff like bullets getting shot around corners or how Millar pulls off how assassins can be mystical. Or even how deliciously bracing it is to see McAvoy transform himself from Dilbert to, well, Die Hard. (Just goes to show, again, what I’ve always said: When you put real actors in action movies, and you get great drama, too.)

Be warned, though: the finale is downright gruesome, to the point where it almost threatens to derail the movie right at the moment when it could have been soaring; bloodbath doesn’t even begin cover it. But, as wish-fulfillment, “I was born for better than this,” Luke-staring-longingly-off-into-the-double-sunset fantasies goes, Wanted is a winner… and it leaves you with one of the best last lines of a movie in ages, one that actually dares the viewer to take his fate into his own hands. Though not, we can hope, via automatic weapons.

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