WANTED, the new action flick starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, is a bag of mixed treats that in the end leaves a sour taste in your mouth.
Loosely based on the comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, it tells the story of Wesley Gibson, a sad-sack schmendrick who finds himself in a painfully mundane existence as an office worker. He hates his job, his boss and his girlfriend is cheating on him. All that changes when he encounters a woman by the name of Fox (Angelina Jolie) in a drug store while buying his anti-anxiety pills. She’s there to tell Gibson that his father has been killed and that he must assume his father’s role in the Fraternity of Assassins. What follows is a series of action set-pieces that defy the laws of physics and character interactions that defy logic.
Now, I know that all the buzz on this film has been extremely positive up to now and I don’t want to be the buzzkill of the ‘comic-book film renaissance’ party but, I’m sorry, WANTED just left me wanting. (HA! I’m killing like Angelina and her magic bullet.) The movie is essentially about people who kill for a living, and while they may have their justifications (‘we kill one to save a thousand’) we never really get to learn why we should root for, or even care about the characters. Gibson comes off as a dolt who, despite the movie’s message of ‘don’t let other people run your life for you’ pretty much lets other folks tell him what to believe. (‘This guy’s your father. No, THIS guy!’) Morgan Freeman plays Sloane, the head of the Fraternity, and is there to basically try and give the whole operation some respectability. He explains to Gibson why the assassins kill – ala Liam Neeson in Batman Begins – and attempts to give gravitas to some ludicrous scenarios. (Loom of Fate? Seriously?) He’s also there to deliver the funniest line in the whole film. I won’t spoil it, but needless to say, it only works if Morgan-fucking-Freeman is delivering it. Oh, and that bit where they make bullets curve around things to hit their targets? The explanation is practically pulled out of the Christian Science Monitor.
The film lost me when the director’s lack of focus on the characters for the sake of action became quite evident. Gibson’s pursuit of Cross, the film’s ‘bad guy’ (but c’mon they’re all killers so who’s to judge), leads to a gun-battle on a train that escalates to the point where hundreds of innocents are put at risk. After spending time establishing that Gibson has a conscience (he has a hard time accepting the idea that he must kill a person without knowing who they are or why) the climax to the set-piece ends with Gibson showing no remorse over the number of lives his actions have cost.
The film is Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s North American debut and shows a penchant for setting up action sequences that both astound and befuddle. Once you accept that the main characters can defy the laws of nature and do Matrix-like superfeats, you can try to give yourself over to the cartoon quality of the violence, but it’s the dizzying character motivations that will drive you bonkers.
On the plus side, you have Angelina Jolie who totally brings it as a bad-ass female assassin (and as she did in Beowulf, brings a nice ass too). James McAvoy does his best, although the Rocky montage where he goes through his training sessions was almost snicker-inducing while not meaning to. And there is a sequence where Gibson takes on the entire Fraternity single-handedly that, while implausible, was both astonishing and hilarious.
But, if you want a story that compelled by its characters who think for themselves and not just according to the plot, this movie isn’t for you. Oh, and if you happen to have a pet rat, plan to have your sensibilities assaulted in one of the most tasteless, mean-spirited ‘jokes’ ever involving a rat, a timer, and explosives.
You’ve been warned.
Special thanks to Capone of Ain’t It Cool News for setting up the advance screening. My date would thank you too, but she didn’t care for the rat sequence at all. Hoo-boy, she sure didn’t.
E. Ruben Serrano