Film: Review: Wanted

Action film stumbles in an effort to redraw the comic book genre

Universal Pictures

Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman shoot things up in Wanted.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) might seem more than vaguely familiar to both film and comic book fans. Wesley is a societal drone in a world that has never felt genuinely dynamic or three-dimensional. He's an analyst of some sort for a faceless, near nameless corporation with a boss who abuses him simply because she can.

His father left him when he was a child and there's barely a significant mention of his mother who raised him. He's the next best thing to an orphan, a stray of the world, as Prince once sang.

But this loner/loser, who takes medication to calm his stressed out nerves in times of crises, is destined for more. You know things are looking up for him when he receives a visit from a beautiful and deadly woman named The Fox (Angelina Jolie) who tells him that she knew his father and that the man was a master assassin who was killed on the rooftop of a skyscraper just a day or two before (we know this because we see what happens before being introduced to boring old Wesley).

Are you getting the feeling that Wesley might be a not so distant cousin to a certain John Anderson, Mr. Anderson to the agents of The Matrix? Except in Wanted — the new film by Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch and Day Watch) based on a comic book serial by M. Millar — the world is not an illusion created by machines to enslave the human race. Instead, an elite group of assassins who subscribe to some cryptic loom of Fate and kill to maintain the balance of order shepherd us along the right and true course of human history.

And Wesley, once he's weaned off the drugs that have numbed his senses and desensitized to the notion of violence and the complete disregard for human life that comes with being a member of centuries-old Fraternity, must accept the fact that he just might be the leader and savior of the order.

It takes a little time to get past the sneaking suspicion that Millar's comic and Bekmambetov's film cribbed a bit too much from the Wachowski brothers. After that passes, though, it might occur to more discriminating viewers that there's something about The Fox that calls to mind a certain cyborg killing machine from the future who first came to kill a woman named Sarah Connor and then returned a couple of times later to protect Sarah's son John from other killer robots. This thought, once implanted, could distract the discerning watcher from the connection the story has to David Fincher's Fight Club, where another consumerist drone must break free of the pull of mind- and soul-numbing social order to find his true self, the old-world destroyer on a mission to free us all.

So you see the underlying problem with Wanted. There's not an original idea to be found in the film. But that's not to say that it isn't rendered with verve and visceral acumen. Bekmambetov's Night Watch franchise (a trilogy set to be concluded with Twilight Watch) mashed up The Matrix, vampires, shape-shifters, magic and more mayhem than should be allowed to exist in two-dozen such action extravaganzas. And while he tones much of the stylistic flourishes down here, Wanted suffers from the same primary issue that plagued the Watch films: The story cannot be followed.

While Bekmambetov's previous films were too convoluted, here too much was extracted from Millar's graphic world. Super-villains dominated Millar's Wanted narrative. There was no loom of Fate, just a lawless bunch of rogues who had removed the threat of superheros. The villains reigned supreme, and Wesley's father, The Killer, was the top dog until Wesley was initiated into this (dis)order.

Now, Wesley follows a more linear path. He exits his boring life, leaving behind a girlfriend who is cheating on him with his best friend. He follows The Fox, meets up with the mysterious Sloan (Morgan Freeman) and the even more mysterious Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp) who lets him in on a secret twist of fate that's not so surprising and leads to a paradigm shift that sends the movie down a path toward ... nothing in particular.

So far, this summer has given us comic book movies that have delivered the basic smash-mouth highs of the comic frames writ large and the promise of more to come. Wanted wants to offer us something more, a darker, more graphic brand of thrills, but the movie strays too far from the source material, leaving us wanting more. Grade: D+

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