A smart summer film that laughs with you.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch)
MPAA Rating: R (strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality)
What I Expected: A fun, campy, stupid shooter that is hopefully better than Crank.
What I Got: An entertaining thriller that is intelligent without overshooting itself.
Appeals To: Action lovers, people looking for an excellent story, Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy fans, and people who wish the Matrix movies didn’t start to suck.
I started to worry about movies that look like this one: pulse pounding sequences of action laced with high-end, slow-motion special effects involving improbable feats that mostly involve guns. Frankly, movies of this species have been earning a bad rap for themselves as of late. The Matrix movies have declined in quality, Crank was particularly imbecilic, and as lovable as Clive Owen is, Shoot ‘Em Up could have accepted help from illicit recreational agents. Frankly, when one goes to an action film, the action is expected, but everything else is just forgotten about. Thankfully, Timur Bekmambetov realized this and created a work of art that both takes these kinds of movies in a satirical light while providing a deep storyline that hasn’t been seen since the first Matrix film.
So, how does one escape a highly-improbable movie from being stupid? Irony, of course! Any kind of plot theme will work as you need an actual plot to have a plot theme; for Wanted, it’s irony, and this movie is drugged and high with it. Somewhere in the middle of the film’s conflict does irony begin to laugh at the central characters of this film. It uses irony in a steady pace, so that the entire plot is not wrung dry with its twists. The only problem with its use of irony is that, somewhere when you start realizing that irony is being used, the movie begins to get predictable. This predictability makes the movie feel somewhat clichéd or placed for convenience. Of course, the use of irony is just there to save the movie from being the average-yet-stale fun-to-watch adrenaline porn, so if you really want to study a complicated story, don’t go to a summer action movie. At most, it does give you a key existential question to play with when you leave the film.
Another lovely treat of Wanted is James McAvoy in the spotlight. If you’ve seen any James McAvoy film, you know he excels at playing characters who are flawed and almost nerdy while retaining a charm that can only translate through film. Wanted is no exception: he plays Wesley Gibson, a self-aware under-accomplished desk-jockey whose life pushes him around. Essentially, he is the average person that watches and worships these movies, whether they like to admit it or not, which makes him exceptionally lovable for this film’s target audience. Granted, as he changes – and as his roles usually dictate – he gets cocky, bungles up a lot, and makes some very critical attitude adjustments throughout the film, but since I’ve only seen three James McAvoy films before this, it’s not old, and I can’t picture it getting old anytime soon. It sure beats Keanu Reeves playing his same role in every movie.
The other roles in this film are minimal and, like the use of irony in this film, feel placed for convenience. That’s not saying the performances were terrible; they were just expectable and nothing more. Angelina Jolie plays Fox, a sexy, quiet, actions-speak-louder-than-words expert assassin whose role it is to mother McAvoy’s character into assassinhood. Oh, did I mention she’s Angelina Jolie? Essentially, she’s there to act sexy for you so that you can stare at her 10/10 body and breathe heavily hoping for more. As for Morgan Freeman, he plays the character he always plays: a classy, old-man leader that smooth talks and slaps you in the face with reality as necessary. By all means, their acting is fine, but in context of the plot, there’s no reason to care. In summary, their characters rarely have any dimension, although their assembly presents intriguing directions for each character to go.
Okay, so maybe these words don’t shine the best light on the rest of the movie, but ironically, that’s half the point. Unlike several films before this, Wanted actually makes an attempt to present itself like an actual film, both as satire and as a service to itself. Other action films expect fans to come for the action, so what composes the rest of the movie? One or two gratuitous sex scenes with boobies, two scoops of swearing, short bouts of boring talk scenes, and a plot that provides a barely sufficient excuse for the hero to murder or be murdered by countless thugs. Is it social commentary that other movies don’t do this, or did Wanted not want to follow in the footsteps of many films before it? Was this quality content in its source comic? I don’t know or care – it beats rolling my eyes and playing with myself when the movie stops the action for a moment to tell us what’s going on.
The previews only give you a taste of what you will see in the movie in terms of action. Wanted is full of improbable feats of danger and excitement. The action is executed well enough to actually respect the moments of insane stunts that occur and forget the plot’s predictability or the one-dimensional support characters. An impressive fact about the action is that it helps tell some of the story, as you can see characters progress during each scene. Again, is it because of the source material and artistic direction, or is it a silent chuckle about the quality of modern action films? Who knows, and who cares? This film is enjoyable.
I suppose this film really does prove that having a story counts in even an action film; while the story isn’t in any means exceptional, it is thought out and well executed, providing something to stroke your chin over while the action takes a break. Though the story it is easily as flawed as a James McAvoy character, it is also as lovable as a James McAvoy character because it is what all action movies should be: fun.
~ Setsuna Setsunai