We were on the fence. The trailers were OTT, but that can be good sometimes, right? Surprise summer hit? Guilty pleasure? Balls out, unapologetic action? A ripped McAvoy against ever-sexy Jolie?
After some initial roof-top assassination hi-jinks, the opening act, establishing Wesley (James McAvoy) and his drone-like existence, drags on a bit, seemingly trying to incorporate Office Space into the mix. When the action does pick up, there are elements which are so frenetic and blurred that any real sense of what’s going on is somewhat lost.
Wesley is eventually introduced to The Fraternity (the opening title cards having informed us that they were formed by a group of “weavers” 1000 years ago. Yes, weavers), led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman), with the likes of Fox (Angelina Jolie) and the Gunsmith (Common) in tow. This segment is possibly the film’s best part, following Wesley’s journey from breaking free of his cubicle-bound job to his initiation by the Fraternity members. He learns how to handle knives, take a punch, curve a bullet and ride a train. The violence here is real and proper, fist-to-face stuff, with Wesley having to lose his whiny, anxious tendencies and, in his own words, “grow a pair”.
Once Wesley is ready for some proper action and the Fraternity’s work is revealed to him, there is a dubious morality at play. Possibly to be expected from a group of assassins, but, some brief soul-searching aside, the issue isn’t really addressed. It’s telling that Fox’s line from the trailer – “kill one, save a thousand” – has been edited from the film’s actual line – “kill one, maybe save a thousand”. Maybe? Lovely(!) Even the neo-Cons in the American adminstration try to sell us better odds than those when condoning torture. A comic book adaptation is probably not the best place to look for subtley and logic, but if the Fraternity’s cause is questionable, then it becomes even harder to buy into the over-the-top set pieces which follow.
As for the acting, McEvoy, as ever, is good. His character isn’t initially all that sympathetic, but he grows into the role nicely. The shot (also in the trailer) of him all topless and buffed is a nice little payoff for the ladies! Although slow-motion doesn’t flatter his features. Jolie is fine, she’s just not given a whole lot to say, her remit just requiring her to carry out increasingly fantastical stunts. Freeman is just phoning it in really, but isn’t helped by having the unoriginal “join us” speeches and having to explain the truly crazy shit (the loom?!). And giving his character few curse words doesn’t add edge, it merely jars.
Bekmambetov’s direction is fine for some of the slower paced scenes, but there is too much jump-cut editing and slow-mo overall. Heightened reality is one thing, ridiculous is another. Wanted is a film which takes itself too seriously and doesn’t really have the goods to back it up. You can applaud an 18 cert and out-and-out action/violence all you like, but there’s no hiding from the total and utter silliness of much of this film. I’ve never read the comic book nor am I that familar with it, but the film should stand on its own merits regardless of source material.
Terrence Stamp (playing enigmatic bullet-maker Pekwarsky) has already spoken to MTV of his character’s potential for a sequel. This may be wishful thinking/speculation on his part, as the story doesn’t naturally lead to an obvious sequel. Nor has it provided enough substance in this outing to justify one.
four out of ten