By Matthew Huntley
July 4, 2008
Wanted is a kinetic, versatile action movie, but it is not one-of-a-kind. Watching it, you can't help but notice the blatant influence from other movies like The Matrix, Fight Club and even Office Space. But director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) doesn't necessarily try to hide the references. We can tell he has great affection for those movies, which, after their release, set thematic standards. With Wanted, there's still plenty to get excited about, even if it does rip off a lot.
Based on the 2003 comic book miniseries, with certain plot liberties taken, the movie centers on a tired young man named Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), whose official title is "account manager," but who more or less functions as a paper pusher in a Chicago firm. Wesley works in one of those white, cubicle-filled offices where docile people pretend to be happy when their boss has a birthday. His life has entered into a realm of redundancy and mundanity - his boss, Janice (Lorna Scott), is a b*tch; his friend Barry (Chris Pratt) is sleeping with his girlfriend (Kristen Hager); and he takes pills to see him through anxiety attacks.
One day, a gorgeous woman (Angelina Jolie) in a white dress approaches Wesley in the drug store and says, "You apologize too much," and goes on to say his father was one of the greatest assassins who ever lived and that he died yesterday on top of the Metropolitan building. Wesley doesn't believe her and thinks his father died seven days after he was born. But he's inclined to believe her when she starts shooting at another assassin lurking behind the aisle, the same one who supposedly killed Wesley's father.
After a hyperactive and inventive car chase, one in which Jolie steers with her feet and flips her car to narrowly avoid the cops, Wesley passes out and wakes up in a secluded building. Here, he meets Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the head of a society of assassins known as The Fraternity, who formed a thousand years ago in an attempt to bring balance to the world. Otherwise, Sloan says, there would be chaos. Sloan then tells Wesley to shoot the wings off a fly and, if he's as good as his father, to join them.
It's a pretty good offer. Not only does the gig offer a hefty bump in salary, but it will end the boredom and jog trot lifestyle with which Wesley has grown accustomed. The guy could use some excitement. When he sees over three million dollars deposited into his bank account, he accepts.
Fox (Jolie) oversees Wesley's rigorous training program in a textile factory. He's beaten, cut, maimed, and taught to shoot a gun so the bullet curves, all by a band of colorful characters with names that correspond to their specialty: The Exterminator (Konstantin Khabesnky), The Butcher (Data Bakhtadze) The Repairman (Marc Warren) and Gunsmith (Common). My favorite of these was The Repairman, who puts Wesley in a bath of white goo that makes his body heal faster, which is a must given how bad of a beating this guy takes.
Wesley's mission: to eventually kill a rogue Fraternity agent named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), the man responsible for his father's death, or so he's told. His first assignments, as with all the Fraternity's assignments, come from a secret code produced by the Loom of Destiny. Each inconsistently sewn thread corresponds to a number that corresponds to a letter, which eventually forms the next target's name. Sloan says the Loom tells a person's fate. Who or what operates the Loom is up for debate, but we go along with it.
In the end, Wanted doesn't really add up to much, but it has a fresh style and pulsating energy. The first action scene is also the best (I'm not so sure about the train sequence, which may have shown two bullets hitting each other one too many times). After that, the movie goes down a fairly standard path: rookie fighter gets trained, gains knowledge and confidence, and then kicks some major butt during a final, Matrix-style showdown. Wesley even crosses his arms like Neo did in the latter movie's indelible climax.
Not that it isn't still fun to watch, but I wish Wanted had been more original and introspective. Aside from Wesley and Fox, none of the other characters are developed and the movie doesn't bother to explain The Fraternity beyond what the title cards tells us at the beginning. Nor did it play with the possibilities and unanswered questions surrounding the Loom of Destiny. What would happen, for example, if someone turned the loom off? Where would The Fraternity get their assignments from then? Would chaos inevitably ensue? Is their a failsafe for the loom? Has The Fraternity ever killed the wrong person who shares the same name the secret code produced? The movie doesn't bother to go into such details, but I would have liked some. The eye candy is great, but more substance would have been welcomed.
I liked Wanted and enjoyed its mindless yet thrilling action, but I feel I only ever have to see it once. Viewers will walk away satisfied, but not overwhelmed or out of breath. Like Bekmambetov's Night Watch, this one leaves you feeling like there's more to learn (I've yet to see Day Watch). Wanted is at least good and entertaining enough so that we hope there's a sequel. If so, I want it to tell us more and, hopefully, deliver us more.