3 Stars out of 4
Wanted asks us a very important question: what the fuck have you done lately? As you sit around playing video games, wallowing in your cubicle, or watching this pulsing movie, what exactly exciting are you willing to accomplish? Life, as you know it, is passing by. If you are to catch up to it, then do something already. As enthusiastic and as eye-opening as Wanted deems to be, it’s not really philosophical. Its smarts, if anything, are embroidered under pretension, ostentation gimmicks, and vulgar profanity. But it still looks cool. And for a summer blockbuster, that’s what the film will order. Wanted is preposterous, silly, over the top, and gimmicky. But it works because this film (directed by Russian-Kazakh filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov) knows it is just that. Wanted finds an incandescent style and explodes its fury on the screen. Danny Elfman’s punk beats shatter the screen and the story, as cliché as it rings out, will force you into guilty pleasure territory. Wanted, fittingly, is precisely that.
Wanted zones in on the individual. It ‘attacks’ a society, that regulates itself on individualism and the material world. As Elfman writes in his theme song here: “someone has to pay for the little things … and it all comes down to you.” I find this very powerful. It enhances the cliché of the story. So what if its bombastic; Wanted is easy to appreciate because it finds a sort of depth behind its ridiculous action. We have a revenge story. We have a hero story. But Wanted also has this unusual humanity buried beneath its cumbersome action scenes and absurd special effects.
It’s all about choosing your destiny. A quasi-middle class worker named Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is living a pathetic life. He lives in a ratty apartment next to abrasive train rails, his girlfriend is screwing his best friend, and his obese boss picks on him like a school ground bully. Wesley just sits there and takes it. And he says sorry too much. The script, which was written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan, constructs Wesley nicely. They give him something that needs changing. Okay, so he must develop from weak to strong, but McAvoy is strong enough to make his character changes more crystalline. The script and the performances both know what they are doing and what they are dealing with. This is an action movie. With its motivations.
Once Wesley joins a group of assassins called The Fraternity, his life spirals into hysteria. That little cubicle won’t swarm him anymore. For now, guns, knives, and shooting wings off flies is his daily work. I guess he’s been promoted. The head of The Fraternity named Sloan (Morgan Freeman, beholding some Samuel L. Jackson profanity) is totally volatile. At one time he is slowly dictating Wesley’s mission as a hereditary assassin, another he is duelling guns and cussing up a storm. Meanwhile, a femme fetale named Fox (Angelina Jolie) nurtures Wesley into the assassin that he never was. She’s violent, rigorous, but something is so voluptuous about her derriere tattoos.
What Wesley goes through is rather terrifying. He gets punched in the face, knives through his hand, blades chopping at him, curved bullet training. Say what? Yes, Wanted even dares to say curving bullets is perceivable. Wanted does not need to have any self-referentiality to keep its absurdism in check. It knows it’s absurd, so it propels that style, exploits it, and kind of masters it.
But all this nonsense can have its limits. Wanted, as good as its script can be at times, can become so foolish with its plot, that it loses any credibility to any of its preceding smarts. We are told to do something vitalizing with our lives, but Wanted exemplifies a scenario so impossible that the film can never really relate to anything vicarious. And that is a problem. What made Fight Club a masterpiece was its grounded approach to masculinity. To be a man, you need to fight and you need to be an active not passive producer in society. Forget the furniture, the big screen television. Living a naked life was the way to freedom. It’s radically beautiful. Wanted is just machismo fun. It’s not beautiful, but it is intoxicating.
In a way, you can and cannot expect much from Wanted. Allow it to dazzle you with its abundance of special effects, but admire its smarts for only a moment. Because if anything, the balance between smart and dumb goes more to the latter. With a preposterous visceral to this film, its ideas become unfortunately that. Wanted does not necessarily mean much what it says, but it is exciting, pulsating, and…well…pretentiously intelligent. Most action films don’t try that nowadays. Wanted does and it, as distracting as it is, marginally succeeds. But admire its foolishness. I mean, what other movie would make curving bullets seem so very real?
I SAY: SEE IT.