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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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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MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • YES. Awesome review.

    Saw this, and just reviewed it myself, and completely has a BLAST.

  • Haven’t seen the movie yet, but from what I’ve seen and heard it’s a far cry from the comic book. Have you read it yet? Probably untranslatable to film, but it’s deliciously subversive of the superhero narrative.

  • MaryAnn

    Maybe it is a far cry from the comic book. I haven’t read the comic book, so I don’t know. But I’ve seen the movie, and I’m reviewing the movie.

  • Maybe it is a far cry from the comic book. I haven’t read the comic book, so I don’t know. But I’ve seen the movie, and I’m reviewing the movie.

    Umm… I wasn’t being critical. I was just curious to know if you’ve read the graphic novel. That’s all.

  • MaryAnn

    Ah, okay. Sorry.

  • No worries. :)

  • Wow. Sounds as though this might even be good enough to overcome my profound distaste for Angelina Jolie. She’s not called on to try to act here, I hope?

    (I’ve never bitten the head off a chicken as far as I remember, so I’m not a geek.)

  • Roupen

    While I haven’t seen it yet – I still intend to despite my many misgivings, since Mark Millar himself said he liked the final script – this strikes me as yet another adaptation that’s so spectacularly unfaithful to it’s source material that it begs the question of why they would still want to slap the “based on the ____” tag on all the marketing since it’s almost certainly going to frustrate those fans who’ve read said source material, and have any sort of expectations at all. From the reviews I’ve read and from looking over the promotional material, it sounds like a fun ride, but one that if you haven’t read the source material yet you’re likely to enjoy considerably more than if you had.

  • Maurice Webb

    Despite having read the comic series first, I very much enjoyed “Wanted”.

    The film’s story is something of an unfamiliar landscape. The characters’ names and faces are similar, but the film’s writer took it down a divergent, but fun path.

    But as I watched McAvoy’s Wesley tied to a chair having his face beat to a pulp, I realized that the wanton, gluttonous, ultraviolence of the comic would be horrifying to watch on screen.

    I agree with MJ as far as this being an expression of the monomyth, if viewed through a darker lens.

    The comic mini-series is a bit more like “A Clockwork Orange” in terms of it’s unrelenting display of violence without any moralizing to temper it. In fact, the comic’s Wesley and “Clockwork”‘s Alex are more or less kindred spirits.

    Overall, it was fun to watch; kind of like a “what if?” where I get to see what could have happened to one of my favorite characters if his life had gone slightly differently.

    Timur Bekmambetov is definitely on my list of favorite directors now. I can’t wait for “Twilight Watch”.

  • It didn’t disappoint, but when are these new action directors going to realize that shaky cam is not an appropriate way to film a car chase, a fight scene, or really anything other than a flat spin caused by being unable to see or avoid the jetwash.

    The violence was a little too grisly at times, and the (staggering) loss of innocent life nigh uncommented-upon.

    Also: Equilibrium much?

  • MBI

    Well, I’ll tell you what I liked about this movie: I liked watching Wesley in the sequence where he gets the shit beat out of him repeatedly. I’d watch that over and over and over and over again. Shoulda been the whole film. Never have I seen a character more deserving of a thorough crud-beating-out-of. Man, fuck this movie.

  • Dan Duquette

    Maybe some of us would like to see ^you^ in that sequence. Why do people even bother posting such filth? If you didn’t like it, don’t say anything, and if you feel you must, at least back it up.

  • MBI

    Fair enough. This movie left me very, very angry last night, and that was probably not the best way to express it, sir or madam, especially considering the nature of my problems with it.

    No, I didn’t like McAvoy’s character, at the beginning or at the end. At the beginning he’s a sarcastic, whining, woe-is-me self-pitying jerk. By the end, he’s a full-blown sociopath. I don’t understand how MaryAnn can misguidedly rant against the juvenilia of Superbad but give big ups to movies like Transformers or Wanted, which are far worse. Wanted is an ugly, callow, obnoxious, hateful, and quite honestly disturbing wish-fulfillment fantasy, not to mention it’s stupidly written. And that can’t be changed by all the stylish direction in the world. It’s the work of a 14-year-old sociopath.

    That said, I’ve liked quite a few tastelessly sick movies in my day, including Sin City, Con Air, Crank, and even some of Bad Boys II. I’m not sure I can explain what sets Wanted apart. It might be the mix of the power humiliation fantasies with the botched attempts at moral ambiguity, or the righteous-kill aspects. Tell you this, though, it left a mighty sour taste in my mouth.

  • Mhoram

    First of all, the finale was the most beautifully choreographed symphony of violence I’ve seen in years. I’m sorry it put you off, Mary Ann, but that was what Kill Bill tried to be and failed. Action so intense and bracing that you’d hold your breath for fear of missing even a moment of shock or awe.

    The mid-climax on the train was shocking, I think, for an American audience, because of the utter and deliberate disdain for collateral damage on the part of the film maker. I didn’t know you could DO that in a movie, and it left me utterly ungrounded, with so many safety conventions broken, I didn’t know what could have happened in the finale.

    Finally, one thing you don’t touch on, but that I was genuinely surprised by is how powerfully Angelina Jolie is able to command so very many scenes in which she doesn’t have a single spoke word. Between eyes and face and body language, she’s given scene after scene where she responds silently but eloquently, a nice contrast to MacAvoy’s character’s chatty hysteria.

  • MaryAnn

    Action so intense and bracing that you’d hold your breath for fear of missing even a moment of shock or awe.

    I felt that way about the first car chase, and the train sequence, and much of the other action. But not the finale.

  • amanohyo

    I am 100% on the MBI boat for this little gem. This movie hurt me. It hurt me bad, and not just because I used to teach physics. It’s everything I dislike about male geek culture rolled it up into a juvenille hairball and vomited in my face. And then, just to rub it in, they had the gall to get a damn good actor to play the lead role. The sensation is akin to recognizing a piece of your favorite food floating in the toilet.

    Don’t spend the whole movie telling me women get girlboners for guys who can bend a bullet by flicking their wrist, and then have a certain someone effortlessly do something several orders of magnitudes more difficult at the end of the movie.

    Don’t babble semi-coherently to me about morality and consequences when no one in the movie gives a quarter of a damn about the dozens of innocent people that they casually and gleefully murder. I half-expected to see a Bush chestbump after every exploding cranium and fatal traffic accident.

    Don’t tease me with a quasi-original idea like a mechanical loom acting as a binary arbiter of fate, and then fall back on a “I am yout father” twist hackneyed enough to make Uwe Boll groan. *Spoiler Warning… if you’re under 12 and have never watched an action movie in your life* What? The shady organization of ugly, violent assassins and their mysterious leader are really the bad guys? No. Freakin’. Way.

    Don’t spend your whole movie telling me that being repeatedly punched in the face and slashed with a knife makes you a better assassin, and then never have any decent physical combat in the movie.

    Don’t ask me to identify with a grown man who actually gets upset when someone calls him a “pussy.” What’s next, assassins who psych-out their opponents by telling your mom jokes?

    Don’t spend your whole movie telling me how badass these assassins are, and then have 99% of them die in two scenes that scream, “OMG, we don’t know how to end the movie and our effects budget is almost spent!”

    Even John Woo would shake his head at the ridiculous multi-stage bullets, the ludicrous sniper shots that remind me of that horrible Larry Bird/Michael Jordan McDonalds commerical from the 90’s, and the floppy periscope gun that would not only snap Jolie’s wrists like the twigs that they are, but would also make for the most inaccurate gun ever made. There’s a fine line between comic book physics and seneseless stupidity, and this movie took one giant leap for stupidkind.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Wanted is enough to almost make me like The Matrix. At least in that movie, I never actually wished that all of the characters would die just so it would be over. I’m struggling to find something other than McAvoy’s acting to praise. All I can think of is that Jolie is a badass and she doesn’t end up sleeping with the hero or being kidnapped. If the movie had been centered around her character instead of the whiny, gullible, infantile Wesley, I might not have hated it quite as much… maybe.

    Please, please, pleeease! If you must watch this, buy a ticket to any other movie and theater hop. I beg you. If a sequel to this gets made, I swear to Joe I’ll watch that freaking talking Chihuahua movie. Don’t do it. Have mercy on both of our brains.

  • Dan Duquette

    Okay, I loved this movie, for all the reasons MaryAnn discussed, AND MORE. But one thing, and only one thing completely bugged the hell out of me and I’m sorry if this was covered by any other “commenters” but when Jolie makes that last bullet do a complete, full 360(degree symbol) circle around a room, and then this bullet proceeds to enter and exit her own head at “the end” of this said circle… Would that bullet, in theory, not continue to circle around the room until gravity brings it down? (Which would take a really, really long time given the size of the circle it went in.)
    Sorry if that sounds stupid, considering all the other ridiculously impossible things that happened in this movie, but did anyone else wonder about this?!

  • Dan Duquette

    Oh, and I am also sorry for apologizing so much.

  • Jan Willem

    Oh, and you should also apologize for a mega spoiler, idiot! Thank you very much.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, I wish people would note that they’re going to spoil, but I also think that this far down the comments thread we have to assume that people will be talking about the movie in detail.

  • Dan Duquette

    There were so many more revealing spoilers before mine, I didn’t think one more would matter too much, Mr. I call people I don’t know idiots over the internet.. Meanie.

  • Dan Duquette

    I realize I should have noted, I guess that’s just one more apology. I’ve also outstayed my welcome on this particular review, so make that two.

  • Jan Willem

    It probably was the frustration of having to wait two more months – until 9/11 actually – to see the film getting the better of me. Apologies to anyone I may have offended. Will take due note of spoiler etiquette down the thread. Still: ‘Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams’ – W.B. Yeats. Best wishes from Holland.

  • Bill

    “Would that bullet, in theory, not continue to circle around the room until gravity brings it down? (Which would take a really, really long time given the size of the circle it went in.)” – Dan

    Yes and no. Assuming that the badass english Fox put on the bullet resulted in a net central force (a force directed toward the center of the circle the bullet travels in – which is what we need for the circular motion of the bullet), the bullet will still fall to the ground as if it had simply been dropped. Don’t get me wrong – the bullet will continue it’s super-deadly-awesome circular path as it falls. We’ll assume that the english was so badass that the retarding effects of air friction can be neglected, so the spin on the bullet remains constant as it falls (I know – we need that air friction for the english effects, but screw it). We’ll also assume that no kinetic energy/momentum is lost/altered as it shreds flesh and skull. So, the bullet’s path is the shape of a slinky – until it hits the ground and skids off in some complicated way. So, YES. The bullet will continue to circle the room until gravity brings it down. And NO, it will not take a really long time. It will be on the ground in a little less than a second. BUT – if we furhter assume that the badass english on the bullet was such that the net force had a slight veritical component to counter the gravitational force, then the bullet can stay put. At this point, we are assuming all the science out of our physics, but I think we crossed that particular line when we started taking marching orders from talking loom.

  • MaryAnn

    So concludes today’s lecture in Comic Book Physics 203. This will be on the final exam.

  • Maybe the bullet wouldn’t fall because it’s not aware yet that there is nothing holding it up.

  • Bill

    yes. lecture over. now, the real reason i jumped on the “Wanted” thread. was anyone wanting more talking loom? that was some great sci-fi-mystic man-behind-the-curtain stuff. i was left wanting something more – exposition, contemplation, something. this is just one motivation for my general criticism – the movie seemed overly crowded. the first act took its time and was very rich. but somewhere in the awesomeness of the action that followed, thoughtfulness was glossed over and the promise died and i felt cheated out of someting much greater. i enjoyed it, i’ll see it again, it went places i felt like i hadn’t been before, but it needed more talking loom.

  • Bill

    Clayj – I see. Like Wile E. Coyote? I did not consider that. Good call.

  • Thanks.

    It’s also like Arthur Dent in Life, the Universe, and Everything, when he learned to fly by being distracted from the fact that he was falling. Gravity in comic books and cartoons and some SF novels is often a quantum phenomenon that only affects you if you’re aware that it should be affecting you. ;-)

  • MaryAnn

    I loved the talking loom, Bill, and yes, I wanted to see more of it. Perhaps we’ll get *Wanted II: The Loom’s Revenge*?

  • Bill

    I can see it…”Wanted II is hot-threaded action!!” – Good Housekeeping

  • Is it just me or did anyone else notice that the movie story line mirrored Star Wars?

  • amanohyo

    With all due respect, that’s kinda like noticing that Morgan Freeman is black. But yes, yes I did.

    They put the Matrix, Star Wars, the original comic, and Office Space in a box and shook it until all the smart fell out. Then, with the difficult process of writing out of the way, they were free to focus on what really matters in filmmaking; namely asking themselves over and over, “Would a thirteen year old boy think this looks cool?”

    I’m not saying that what’s cool to a 13 year old boy never remains cool through adulthood, but this was clearly their method. And it worked! Yippee, we never have to write again!

  • Ryan

    The basic conceit for Star Wars is a story-telling trope as ancient as storytelling itself:

    Protagonist discovers destiny/enlightenment on a journey, saves (insert anthropological structure) from evil.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, it’s a hero’s-journey story. Which also covers Odysseus and Jesus.

    Is it just me or did anyone else notice that the movie story line mirrored Star Wars?

    Perhaps the Jedi reference in the actual review tipped you off to the fact that I noticed it, too.

  • Grant

    It’s Star Wars if, in Episode VI, Luke went back to Degobah and beat the shit out of Yoda.

    “You fucking stupid, spongy, asyntactical Muppet!”

  • gary

    I thought this movie was sadistic and meanspirited
    The wholw League of assasins including the Lazurus pit was out of Raj a Ghul which is a smal point given that movies borrow from each other.
    There are so many better movies than this shadenfreude.

  • pedro

    *spoiler alert*

    hmmm….i’m in the middle about this one. i would have taken out all the preposterous suspension-of-disbelief action sequences and just gone with a snarky revenge comedy.

    i really, really like the snarky office parts, and i like how wesley finds a way to get revenge on his life. but does it really have to involve flipping cars and trainwrecks with trains falling off a bridge where NOBODY DIES!?

    i often state that “the island” was ruined, for me, by that falling-off-a-building scene. i say the same about the train wreck scene in “wanted”. everything that came after was good, but forever defined by that one scene. i mean, come on! the train derails ON TOP OF A F*CKIN’ BRIDGE and they all live!? they don’t even get seriously wounded!? that’s suspending too much disbelief for me.

    having said that, the rest of the film was nice. i would have chopped away the matrix-y bits and just gone with a lightweight action comedy. i like how the film stays in character – some scenes have indie-pop songs in the background, and the final scene has an indie-pop score, rather than the usual heavy-pseudo-metal one.

    two questions, though. a – why is angelina jolie even credited, if all she has to do is look at stuff/people misteryously? b – why does james mcavoy keep reminding me of zach braff?

    (oh yeah, and don’t think i wouldn’t kill for one of those looks from miss jolie. ’cause i would. heh, get it…? ‘kill’? uh huh-huh. uh huh-huh.)

  • pedro

    also, the wanton killing with no reason is a tad disturbing in today’s environment. the movie tries to tack on sume justification for it, but i call bullshit. one case does not justify all the others.

    the ending solves it nicely, though.

  • i really, really like the snarky office parts, and i like how wesley finds a way to get revenge on his life. but does it really have to involve flipping cars and trainwrecks with trains falling off a bridge where NOBODY DIES!?

    Oh, I’m pretty sure every one of the passengers on that train were dying. But that’s okay, because they’re just faceless people. Besides, maybe one of them might be responsible for killing 1,000 people down the line? Who knows? Let’s ASK THE MYSTICAL LOOM!!

    (Just rented this one, and I’m on the MBI boat, too. I DID like the moment where he questioned the fact that they’re blindly assassinating people based on a loom, right up until Fox gives her “explanation” for why the loom is always right, the logic of which is utterly unacceptable. But our massive collateral damage hero just goes with it. Mergh.)

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