REVIEW: Wanted [2008]

“Not me, fate”

Based solely on Timur Bekmambetov’s Nochnoy dozor, I’d see anything the man makes that comes stateside. With that said, no I have not watched the sequel Dnevnoy dozor, but that’s only because I want to be positive that the version I see is an unedited Russian cut. So, the next work to check out becomes the English-language, comic book based Wanted. The trailers show how this will be a visceral treat above all else, hopefully containing a great story too, but not necessarily needing one. A lot of people fault Nochnoy dozor for having an overblown plot that confuses more than adds clarity to the special effects and vampire aesthetic being shown. Based on a trilogy of Russian novels, the mythology is very deep and I think if Americans saw his native cut, they’d understand it more. Unfortunately, most have seen the somewhat butchered Fox version instead. With this new movie, that problem doesn’t exist as it began and ended with stateside funding, allowing Bekmambetov to have control throughout and not risk any translation trouble. There is definitely more story than you’d expect from the high action, quick cut trailer, and the performances help keep it grounded in some sense of reality, despite the otherworldly things done by them. Eye-candy for sure, the end result does manage to be more than just the effects, infusing a lot of humor into the action, culminating into a very entertaining experience.

The opening sequences definitely set-up what will be expected for the duration. A very stylistically shot film, we are treated to an introduction of Wesley Gibson, our hero, at an office party complete with voice-over narration, changing film speeds, and cuts to events he is thinking of to help illustrate the mental state of ambivalence and docility he has slowly built up to numb himself to the world around him. Juxtaposed with this banal, cubicle life comes a battle scene atop a couple skyscrapers downtown. We have an assassin on the trail of a rogue member of the Fraternity, a group of killers with the ability to hone a massive amount of adrenaline to slow down time and enhance their actions to superhuman levels, looking to identify the bullet being used to out his partners. The fight sprawls into a shootout featuring an impossible leap over a city block through the air, window to window, in order to murder the men across the way, also shooting at him. These men were only decoys, however, as the rogue agent watches it all and finishes the job from miles away. This event begins the search for young Wesley, the son of a Fraternity elite, unknowing of the lion that dwells inside of his beat-down suburbanite façade; a force that will soon come out to play as he discovers his power and a bloodlust for the man that killed his father.

Reminiscent of the training sequences in another highly styled action film, The Matrix, Wesley slowly becomes a lethal machine, honing his adrenaline rushes for super sensory ability, the power to bend a bullet through space, and educating himself on the thousand year history of his new brotherhood, learning everything he needs to know to be the best assassin he can be. A guild of weavers to begin, this troupe still keeps up the work in a textile factory using the machinery as tools of training and also as the way to discover who is next on the list to kill. Fate and faith brings the names out through a secret code in the fabric of a giant loom, spelling out who must die next. The world itself deems who is to be taken; a power we can’t understand or question makes the decisions because one dead might mean a hundred can continue living. Training with knives, guns, and fists; getting the crap beat out of him until his mind is clear to answer even the simplest questions with complete honesty; and bathing in a concoction of a waxy stimulant that speeds up the healing process by increasing white blood cell count, Wesley quickly becomes the professional he needs to be to take out Cross, the rogue agent that the group says killed his father. Gibson is the only man for the job and the fabric has spoken that Cross’ life must be ended.

The mythology is very involved and I believe well explained. We learn about the history of the Fraternity, what they do and why, while also getting a feel for the members and where they all come from. Helped immensely by the brilliant special effects, the sequences aren’t so much unbelievable as they are just plain slick and cool. The world Bekmambetov has transported us to is such a heightened reality that you begin to accept what occurs for the simple fact that it does. Curving bullets through space, driving cars to flip over another so as to shoot through the sunroof, shooting guns from miles away and hitting the target, and leaping through glass as it slowly shatters are definite feats to behold. One thing this film cannot be faulted for is the flair for which it all happens.

To enhance that style is a very prevalent sardonic wit. James McAvoy, who’s American accented whine isn’t as bad as I feared, is perfectly cast as the lemming breaking free from the constraints he has built around his life. The humor comes through his words and actions, bordering on overkill, (the keys spelling out profanities as he slams a keyboard into another character’s face), but never becoming out of place. The aesthetic is set up early and therefore stays faithful throughout. Complete with a well-rounded supporting cast—Konstantin Khabensky having fun with the director that cast him as the star of his Russian vampire saga, Terence Stamp solid as always in a small role, Angelina Jolie just plain having fun on screen, and Morgan Freeman doing what he does best while also awkwardly yelling out profanities, (for some reason a surreal event), Wanted hits the mark. And Thomas Kretschmann, as Cross, the man being hunted down, is great. There is more to his role than one would initially anticipate and he handles the dramatic needs of the part in concert with the action fights.

The film’s story takes some very interesting twists and turns that could have ruined everything if not handled correctly. A realization is presented at the end, pitting characters against each other and surprisingly, the question at hand of what to do next, is solved precisely as it should be at the cost of many lives. Whether he goes back to corporate America or stays a vigilante, Gibson’s life will be forever changed. The very end might be a tad too conveniently wrapped up with a bow, but it does help bookend the film as a package of pure adrenaline rush, satisfying on a cerebral level through all the bells and whistles exploding around each corner.

Wanted 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Angelina Jolie as Fox in Universal Pictures’ Wanted (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] James McAvoy as Wesley in Universal Pictures’ Wanted (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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