by Mel Valentin
Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (the forthcoming "Twilight Watch," "Day Watch," "Night Watch") makes his English-language debut with "Wanted," the big screen adaptation of the miniseries by Mark Millar ("Ultimates," "The Authority," "Superman: Red Son") and J.G. Jones ("Final Crisis," "52: the Covers"), is an over-the-top, ultra-violent, profanity-laced film. If "Wanted" does as well as it should, Bekmambetov will join American directors known for their proficiency within the action genre, e.g., John McTiernan ("Die Hard," "Predator"), Michael Bay ("Transformers," "Bad Boys I and II"), and even the Wachowski Brothers (the "Matrix" trilogy).Wanted isn’t very far away from the Matrix trilogy or Fight Club in story points and in the central character, Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a milquetoast accountant and cubicle drone stuck in a dead-end career and a lifeless, rote relationship to his cheating girlfriend, Cathy (Kristen Hager). When he’s not cowed into submission by his boss or ignoring his best friend, Barry (Chris Pratt), sleeping with Cathy, Gibson is on anti-anxiety meds. All that changes (as it has to, of course) when a woman (Angelina Jolie) identified only as the Fox, accosts him in the pharmacy and spins out a story about a secret order of super-assassins who do good by doing evil, how Gibson’s recently deceased father (whom he’s never met), was a super-assassin murdered by a rogue assassin, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann). Before Gibson can do what he does best (i.e., run away), Cross shows up at the pharmacy and exchanges gunfire with the Fox.
"The anti-Sex and the City flick we've been waiting for."
After a spectacular chase through the nighttime streets (Chicago, presumably), Fox takes Gibson to meet her boss, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the seemingly benevolent head of the secret order of super-assassins, the Fraternity. Sloan convinces Gibson of his special abilities by having another assassin, the Gunsmith (Common), point a gun at Gibson’s head and, under orders from Sloan, shoots the wings off houseflies. Sloan offers Gibson the prospect of revenging his father’s death, but only after an arduous, often brutal period of physical and firearms training. Gibson learns how to use guns from the Gunsmith, knife work from the Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze), withstanding physical punishment from the Repairman (Marc Warren), and how to get rid of vermin from the Exterminator (Konstantin Khabensky). Luckily for Gibson, the Fraternity’s headquarters comes equipped with a special healing bath. Even then, Sloan decrees that Gibson isn’t ready to take on Cross.
Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan's screenplay takes liberties with Millar and Jones’ miniseries, so much so that fans of the mini-series won’t recognize many of the plot points and turns. Gone are the costumed super-villains and superheroes, the multi-verse, the five ruling families or crime syndicates run by the super-villains under the cover of normalcy. Gone too is the rank nihilism that made Millar and Jones’ miniseries a difficult, disturbing read. Instead, Brandt, Haas, and Morgan left it at one Fraternity and not five families, stripped Gibson of his sociopathic personality and hunger for sex, violence, and power, pushed the revenge angle to the foreground, added the Loom (or is it Looms?) of Fate that determines the Fraternity’s hit list, and planted the seeds for several, interlocking plot turns absent from Millar and Jones’ miniseries.
If that sounds like an improvement over Millar and Jones’ mini-series, that’s because it is. While Gibson isn’t a particularly deep or even compelling character, at least he’s given adequate motivation for his actions. The violence and profanity are still there (and sex too, of course, albeit in small doses), but it all feels “true” to the characters and the world they live in. Then too, it helps that the screenwriters kept the background motivations of several key characters hidden until the right, bullet-ridden moment. None of that would have added up to anything, though, if it was for the gloriously over-the-top, unashamedly self-indulgent Timur Bekmambetov, here taking full advantage of the financial and technical resources available to Hollywood filmmakers and pushing the gravity-defying set pieces as far as they can go. Cars flip over in mid-air and land right side up undamaged (mostly), assassins leap and jump and shoot, all in an effort to leave moviegoers gasping in disbelief (it works, of course).And that doesn’t even begin to convey how far Bekmambetov pushes "Wanted" or his cast. Scottish actor James McAvoy does a credible American accent, but he really sells Gibson’s transformation from meek cubicle geek to over-confident super-assassin. Likewise with Jolie who, as Gibson’s mentor, doesn’t get much of a character arc, but pulls off the action sequences with the maximum of cool. In short, think of "Wanted" as the anti-"Sex and the City." If "Sex and the City" was, to use a disparaging term, a “chick flick,” then "Wanted" can be definitely described as a “d*ck flick,” an action film for action film geeks.
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originally posted: 06/26/08 21:00:00