Wanted (2008) dir. Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretchman
“Wanted” will likely be a big money-making, crowd-pleasing surprise hit of the summer. It stands alone as the only violent action film of the summer – a rarity in today’s era of mass market blockbusters. As one would expect from a poster of Angelina Jolie holding a handgun that’s bigger than her arms, it’s a balls out action film and an onslaught of the senses. Other than a few shock and awe moments though it’s a largely uncreative adventure and a bore.
Wesley Gibson is a typical bored office worker who despises his cubicle jungle. One day, a super hot woman named Fox (Jolie) tells him his father, whom Wesley never knew, was a super-assassin who has just been murdered. And the man who killed him is looking to kill Wesley. Wesley is told he has the same aptitude for assassinations as his father and is asked to join a ‘Fraternity of Assassins” who kill people at the whim of a textile loom that channels the will of fate – seriously.
Wesley joins forces with the Fraternity, and is led by the zen-like Sloan (Morgan Freeman) into a series of assassinations. But Wesley yearns to go after the killer of his father, and he quickly gets the chance when the evil assassin Cross (Thomas Kretchman) finds him first. Mondo action ensues and Wesley fulfills his destiny to be the best assassin in the world.
The film is essentially “The Matrix” – with a few minor adjustments or twists in the second half. Wesley Gibson, like Neo, yearns for something more out of life – he can feel he is 'different' than other people, but just can’t put his trigger finger on it. Like "The Matrix" he’s tracked down by both a really hot chick and a sooth-saying elder mentor who speaks in philosophical hyperbole. They convince him he has extraordinary powers, though Wesley, like Neo, doesn’t believe it. Our hero must go through a series of grueling and painful trials to train and prove his fortitude, worthiness and dedication to the cause.
"Wanted" is blood brothers to “Shoot ‘Em Up” as well, another audaciously over-the-top action picture that wears its influences on its sleeve. The difference being “Wanted” doesn't feel as if it’s paying homage or reference to its influences, just blatantly copying them.
"Wanted" tries to fool us with quantity over quality. Being an action-film junkie with discriminating tastes for the genre, Timur Bekmambetov’s direction is sloppy and distracting. He takes time to craft his action set pieces – which the story moves itself around to fit into – but relies on frenetic editing to assault our senses. To go back to the "Matrix" films the Wachowskis smartly used minimal cutting and let what was on the screen wow us. By cutting, zooming, swishing its camera to the extreme "Wanted" sorely lacks this cinematic confidence.
There are about six wow moments – five of which you have already seen in the trailer. The sixth one comes in the big finale and should generate some laughs, but look between these lines and you’ll a find sub-standard action film – something which Tony Scott, John Woo, Michael Bay, Paul Greengrass, John McTiernan, James Cameron, The Wachowski Bros, Robert Rodriguez, have done better.
To cut Mr. Bekmambetov some slack, it’s his first Hollywood film after making a name for himself for his "Nightwatch" and "Daywatch" films in Russia - two parts of an action vampire trilogy which I could barely sit through half an hour of before getting confused. He translates his hyper-stylized techniques to "Wanted" pretty easily, but it’s nothing new – a rehash of the fast-slow bullet-time cinematography we saw in the "Matrix" 9 years ago. As for the story, there’s nothing to be confused about "Wanted".
As for Angelina Jolie – she’s sexy alright, but so gravely malnourished it’s distracting. There will likely be several more “Wanteds” made after its inevitable success at the box office. There's lots of backstory that needs to be fleshed out, so contradictorily, I actually look forward to part II, but perhaps only to know how the Fraternity figured out that their textile loom is asking them to kill people, and not just serve them coffee or something.