30 June 2008
Suddenly it’s feeling an awful lot like 1999. That was a pretty good year for movies, and two of the best were Fight Club and The Matrix. What would happen if you melded them together? Their offspring probably would be a little something like Wanted, a comic book-inspired film by Russian director Timur Bekmambetor (Night Watch, Day Watch).
James McAvoy, whose rise to fame has included roles in the Oscar-winning dramas Atonement and The Last King of Scotland, is Wesley Gibson, an accountant who spends his days in a cubicle, enduring the constant torment from his boss (Lorna Scott) and knowing his girlfriend (Kristen Hager) is cheating on him with his best friend (Chris Pratt). He introduces himself in narration dripping with apathy and cynicism. Appropriately, the Nine Inch Nails song “Every Day Is Exactly the Same” accompanies parts of the early sequence.
In a convenience store, Wesley meets the alluring Fox (Angelina Jolie), who rescues him from an assassination attempt and takes him to the Fraternity. The group’s leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), explains: A thousand years ago, a family of weavers started the order of assassins. The “Loom of Fate” spits out names, and the assassins carry out the orders without question.Wesley’s father was one of the best killers in the Fraternity, until he himself was murdered. Sloan’s plan is to train Wesley, who possesses the rare ability to use excess adrenaline to heighten his senses, to assassinate his father’s murderer.
We meet other members of the Fraternity, who have fun names like “Gunsmith” (Common), “The Repairman” (Marc Warren) and “The Butcher” (Dato Bakhtadze), and the obligatory training montage follows. Unfortunately, it occurs at the expense of the irreverent tone and humor that marked the introductory scenes. McAvoy handles those beats with ease but seems out of his element as an action hero.
Jolie, meanwhile, does little more than smile suggestively. She is infinitely better when challenging herself as an actress, and it’s always evident when she’s on cruise control. Freeman, on the other hand, is always at the top of his game, even though he could play this kind of wise authority figure role in his sleep.
For the action, Bekmambetor employs the stylized slow motion and closeups of bullets flying through the air that blew minds when the The Matrix did it. But it’s been imitated and parodied ad nauseam ever since, and the novelty wore off long ago. The results are some of the most elaborately staged boring action sequences ever committed to film.
I don’t know how closely the movie, written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, adheres to the comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. The movie relies on a third act twist that most astute viewers should see coming and leads to a lot corpses piling up in the climactic battle.
Wanted works much better as a Fight Club clone than it does as a wannabe Matrix. Too bad it leans more toward the latter. The former isn’t any less derivative, but the energy is there and it feels more current. Ten years ago, Wanted would have been revolutionary; today, it’s entertaining in spurts but mostly a rehash of things others have done better in the past.
(Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality. 110 minutes.)