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Hey Boys and Girls, here’s another sneakier entry into the comic book movie stakes. Wanted is an adaptation of the graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. Not nearly as well known as summer 2008’s other graphic companions, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight, the relative anonymity of the source material gives director Timur Bekmambetov all the leeway he needs to turn Wanted his own eye-popping, hyper-adrenalised guns and ultra-violence fantasy, and boy is it good.

Wes Gibson is a textbook-issue nobody; a working class stiff stuck in a dead-end job, mercilessly harangued by an overbearing gorgon of a boss, taken advantage of by his alleged best friend, up to and including the affair said pal is having with Wes’ shrew of a girlfriend. There is no escape from the drudgery of the poor milquetoast’s life. Terrorised at work, castrated in his noisy vibrating railroad flat, Wes is beset by panic attacks that cause him to pop sedatives as if they were M&M’s. It’s on Wes’ weekly trip to the chemist to refill yet another script for the pills that the poor schmo is forcibly yanked kicking and screaming out of his miserable shell. The mysterious, gorgeous Fox silently appears by his side and offers her condolences on the death days ago of Wes’ estranged dad and lends her high-caliber protection to Wes against the man who murdered his father. A shootout in the pharmacy and subsequent gravity-defying car chase convince Wes that perhaps sticking with his long-legged saviour might be wise and Fox introduces him to his new life. Fox explains to a stunned Wes that his dad was an assassin, one of the finest in the world, belonging to a society of self- appointed executioners called the Fraternity, whose motto, “Kill One, Save a Thousand,” tells you where their heads are at. After the Fraternity’s leader, Sloan and Fox reveal Gibson père’s secret life, Wes is suddenly empowered; discovering his father was a killer changes the squeaking mouse into a roaring lion and all evildoers, monstrous bosses, duplicitous girlfriends and backstabbing best friends beware. After completing his brutal and arduous training as Fox’s pupil, Wes the milquetoast is transformed into Wes the Super Ninja, finding a purpose in the Sloan’s lectures about why these assigned murders are necessary for the good of humanity. They’re doing it for the people! Only problem is ninjas are not samurai and the blind faith that Wes devotes to Sloan and Fox and the others in the Fraternity may have been misplaced as Wes digs deep to discover more about his mysterious father and the man who killed him.

The action, folks, that’s Wanted’s main draw and it’s a knockout in every sense. There’s no pretense to stick to the mundane rules of gravity or physics in this film. Bekmambetov, whose previous films, Night Watch and Day Watch brilliantly showed us a war on Earth between angels and devils going on right under our noses, uses that same surrealistic, fantastic sensibility and amplifies it with a Hollywood budget. The result is artistic, brutal and balletic. The opening showdown between two assassins, each as crafty as the other, climaxes in the camera following  the backwards trajectory of a bullet shot from a high-powered rifle many blocks away and originating as a reversed burst through the forehead of the loser. Bullet-time is completely redefined. The TV spots for the film have highlighted Fox’s convenient way of picking up hitchhikers - scooping them up in the open door while turning the car in a screeching spin - and it looks incredibly, unapologetically far-fetched. The glory of Wanted is that Bekmambetov revels in the utter unbelievability of its action. It’s a perfect comic book movie and you’re going to see things you’ve never seen before that will never remotely be achieved in real life. You’re going to go with the impossible curving pistol shots; you will say ‘yes, more please’ to Wes’ impossible Game of Death-like training sessions against experts in gunplay, knives and hand-to-hand combat. Fox and Wes gallivanting across the tops of cars on the Chicago El is going to look downright romantic, and you will believe a woman can steer a sports car with high heels whilst lying on her back out of a broken windscreen firing a shotgun. You will never look at railway train travel as tranquil or sedate again. You will cheer Wes’ “Tim Burton meets Ben the rat” vengeance upon his tormentors. You will applaud the wonder of James McAvoy’s six-pack and other special effects. Wanted is a purely fantastic nihilist’s amusement park of action and never tries to be anything else, yet manages to rise above its “comic book movie” trappings by way of an intelligent, canny script.

This is how you do daddy angst, kids. None of this 65-year old Indiana Jones whingeing for pop’s approval. Underneath Wanted’s pumping, nonstop action lies a mix of Greek tragedy and Shakespeare as only can be translated in a pulp comic. Would Wes have been the nebbish he is had his father been present in his life? Will the son ever grow out of the long shadow of his sire’s stellar reputation as one of the greatest assassins in the world? Will Wes get the revenge he wants to badly for this man he never knew? The idealistic image placed in Wes’ mind by his father’s old colleagues in the Fraternity make for an irresistible lure – though it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Fox around to help plead their case.  Wes as the eternal outsider finally finds a family who were closer to his absentee dad than were father and son, and the Fraternity is the one place Wes has ever felt a sense of belonging. Family also looms large in the life of Fox, whose own tragedy has formed her into a merciless, righteous killing machine. Like Wes, the Fraternity is the only home for Fox, with Sloan serving as father figure to them both.

Not all is dour and doldrums in the film; there’s tons of dark humour in Wanted, right from the start of Wes’ voiceover narration wherein he details the woes of his existence to the audience. Much of the violence is tempered with a cheeky sense of audaciousness. Bekmambetov displays a nice cutting edge to the comedy and will go broad with his laughs when needed, helping to involve us with Wes’ character.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Wes is portrayed by Temple Favourite James MmmmmmcAvoy. The wee Scotsman’s adorable hound dog features are perfect to play the unlikely assassin, yet McAvoy’s control over the character never makes Wes too pathetic or gung-ho. Despite a wandering American accent, McAvoy’s Wes is a fallible Everyman faced with situations and decisions not meant for a guy who’s been put in a corner – or a cubicle – all his life. In other casting, let’s see sleek, dark, sexy, dangerous female assassin, what actress could possibly fit that description? Sadly, Mo’Nique was busy that week, so Bekmambetov settled for Angelina Jolie, instead. Playing to type, Jolie bites into her assassin of few words with relish. Outside of setting up a vague romantic interest for Wes, Fox could easily have been a man’s role and Jolie plays her with the same stoic strength and lack of girly sentiment as if Fox had been a male. As a result, her few moments of realness, relating the tale of her losses to Wes are poignant. Not to get personal, but she is shockingly thin in this movie and a healthy suspension of disbelief will be needed more for the sight of Jolie pummeling McAvoy with her skinny, stick arms than for any other CGI moment in the film. Have a sandwich, baby, it’s okay. I nearly threw my hands up in the air at the sight of Morgan Freeman playing another benevolent mentor character, but I should have known to look deeper into Sloan. Freeman delivers a line of pure scatological genius that is right up there with Sam Jackson’s famous Snakes on a Plane quote. Everybody looks to be having a ruddy good time, particularly with the action sequences. Oh, and Terence Stamp is in it! That’s all really about Terence, it’s a teensy role, but our beloved Cockney rebel is his luminous self as a link to the truth about Wes’ dad. Thomas Kretschmann actually has a similar intense, brooding presence to Stamp as the rogue Fraternity assassin targeted by Wes.

Grab your popcorn, hold on to your seats and take the ride, kids. The amazing no-holds-barred action and a surprisingly deft script make Wanted pure win. Wanted is a ton of blithely over the top, comic book fun and best enjoyed on a 40-foot screen.

Very well done.


~ Mighty Ganesha

June 25th 2008



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