Wanted, the new action film from Universal Pictures, is a crowd-pleasing action film that’s sure to keep the adrenaline pumped in audiences everywhere. Before I continue with this review, perhaps I should confess my own secret love for underdog-turned-badass movies since there’s that twelve-year-old in me that will never grow up.
Films like Wanted appeal to just that kid-on-the-cusp-of-adulthood mentality that most adult men share, driving all of us to wonder just what we’ve done with our lives. Since most of us who shell out our eight bucks to see this kind of movie aren’t interested in anything but violence, guts, sex, and profanity, director Timur Bekmambetov (with his first American film) delivers all of these elements within the first five minutes of the narrative.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, really. Bekmambetov’s style is clearly an attempt to capture the equally-adult comic book in film, a task which is largely successful. Having never read the comic (I know, they’re supposed to be called “graphic novels,” but frankly, I don’t care. They’re comics.), I was able to look at the film as its own entity. Since the vast majority of the film’s audience is equally ignorant of its source material, that’s probably a good thing.
Set around a nobody-cubicle-dweller named Wesley Gibson (played with passion by James McAvoy), we realize just how much we have in common with this character. But then, we’re shown just how much of a super-loser he really is to the point that it’s ridiculous. But hey, that’s the point, isn’t it? After all, doesn’t every loser have panic attacks?
We’re then introduced to the ultimate femme fatale, Fox (a perfectly cast Angelina Jolie), who manages to pull Gibson out of the fire of a particularly nasty assassin’s attack. Not only does Gibson join the ranks of the assassins, he takes the pleasure of telling off his mundane manager and walks out the door of his cubicle world triumphantly. Thus begins a white-knuckle romp of turning a zero into a hero, who happens to be one of the world’s elite super assassins.
In fact, the movie tells us, this group of the deadly elite is called “The Fraternity.” Obviously, this is a far pitch from the beer-guzzling frat boy antics such a name might suggest, with a mission to save the world. Their method is obviously questionable, but it’s one of which Star Trek’s eminently logical Mr. Spock would approve: Kill one to potentially save thousands.
Morgan Freeman provides the leader-with-a-nasty-secret as Sloan, and as always manages to elevate the film just with his very presence. I don’t know why Freeman has taken to playing darker characters in recent years, but it’s an interesting switch. His take on Sloan isn’t all too different from his role as the Boss in the 2006 film, Lucky Number Slevin. Personally, I liked him better as God in Evan Almighty. Even still, Freeman’s skill as an actor and his screen presence are always welcome, and Wanted is no exception.
It’s McAvoy who emerges as the film’s true star, with his piercing blue eyes and his deep intensity that’s not often seen in film these days. He first gained notice way back in a silly Sci-Fi Channel production of Children of Dune (2003), and stayed with television roles until a breakout performance as Mr. Tumnus the faun with a conflict in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. With other stellar supporting roles in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Atonement (2007), McAvoy has top billing in Wanted. Clearly, his star is rising high, and his performance merits all the attention he’s been getting.
Wanted could have been just another exercise in mediocrity, but stellar performances by McAvoy, Jolie, and Freeman give the film a much-needed shot in the arm to actually make it enjoyable. It’s not for the faint-of-heart, though, since there’s enough blood splattered to make a Hellraiser fan happy, and the action is as brutal as it is intense.
The climax of the film brought back memories of The Matrix, and gives a massive body count that’s actually a pretty big payoff. It’s far better than average, but not as great as it could have been. Wanted is a testosterone-filled race through curved bullet paths and head-shot assassinations that’s just what our gung-ho society really doesn’t need. But hey, it’s an action movie, not Shakespeare.