Action movies, let’s talk about ’em. They got goofy and campy in the 80’s… then Die Hard came along and redefined the genre. Then every action movie after that tried to be Die Hard. Then in 1999, The Matrix redefined the genre all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Which brings us to 2008. I’m not saying Wanted has redefined or revolutionized the action genre. But it’s definitely changed the rules, and has done something pretty damn good.
Scottish star James McAvoy stars as Wesley Gibson, a 20-something nobody working not-so-comfortably as low-rung management at an accounting firm. Barely content that his life means nothing and will go no where, his world almost literally explodes when he is drafted into The Fraternity by Angelina Jolie’s Fox. The Fraternity, a secret society of assassins headed by Morgan Freeman’s Sloan, wants Wesley to pick up where his father left off before his untimely murder by a defected member of The Fraternity. Why are these assassins so special? Why is Wesley so special? They have heightened senses, which allow them to react to a situation better than a normal person. With his training complete, Wesley must now face an ultimate, life changing conundrum: go after the man who killed his father, or listen to him when he reveals the alterior and sinister motives behind Sloan’s bidding.
While it certainly doesn’t break any new ground with the plot (lonely guy working in a dead end cubicle job is informed that he’s special in many ways and must now use a plethora of guns and some kick ass action sequences to stop the bad guys… aforementioned Matrix say what?) What it does do, is shatter the traditional notions of good guy vs. bad guy in the action genre. Primarily through Wesley. Why is becoming this super-assassin? Is it for the thrill he gets off of his new found talents? Is it to avenge his father’s death? Is it because it is what he is told his destiny is, and he’s blindly following it? There’s a philosophical discussion in the making here, and it’s something that hasn’t really been explored since The Matrix.
Similar traits have been explored in the plethora of super-hero movies that have been released over the past nine years, but those were traits that were engrained in popular characters long before they were put to the silver screen. While I admitedly have not read the comics this film was based on, there’s a bit more legitimacy to it than there is when the guy is donning red and blue spandex. The Wesley character is more tangible because we know who he is, we can see him. He’s not wearing a mask, metaphor intended.
McAvoy (Atonement, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) deserves a lot of that credit. That role could have been played a myriad of ways, but he plays it right. The transformation of frustrated meek to frustrated strong. It doesn’t seem like a stretch for him or the character, and it’s certainly not as offensive to the audience as the three hour long GAP ad that was Spider-Man 3. There’s a natural flow to his progression as a character, and I don’t mind the obligatory sequel set-up at the end.
What I liked most about Freeman (oh come on, if you don’t know who Morgan Freeman is, you have no business reading my blog), is that not only is the character a sharp contrast of his usual character-type, but it’s a particular opposition to the character we’ll be seeing in two weeks with the release of The Dark Knight. He’s stepping out of character, which is good. Not to say he’s the villain, far from it. But there’s more depth, I suppose, to his leader role. There’s doubt. There’s mystery. There’s skepticism. You never quite take your eye off of him. The fact that it’s Morgan Freeman doesn’t lull you into a false sense of security. To the credit of Freeman, he doesn’t let his personality take over the role.
And then there’s Jolie. Damn is she hot. I mean, yeah, good actress, miles of talent on that one. But DAMN! Enough of me being a guy… She’s a good actress, done some really great work. While you could tell she had fun with this role, there always seemed to be a slight hint of boredom on her face. Could have been a character trait for Fox. But I couldn’t tell.
I have to give props to director Timur Bekmambetov (if you know who this guy is, then you get a free pass to my blog for life). I was unsure of how he would make the move to doing a mainstream American film. He gained some notice State-side a few years back for his decidedly Russian Night Watch franchise. But I wasn’t overly impressed. They were alright, but nothing to write home about. That’s always kind of a shakey deal, when someone from a vastly different cinematic community (particularly one as diverse, storied and different like the Eastern European/Western Asian community) tries to break it elsewhere. Very few Bollywood and East Asian directors have been able to do it (face it, Ang Lee’s American stuff sucks, as does John Woo’s). But having seen Night Watch, I can tell that he didn’t compromise his voice to the studio, and that’s something you have to respect in a director helming such a high profile, tent-pole of a film. Thumbs up, Timur. I don’t know what that means in Kazakhstan, if it’s a good thing, or if I just insulted your mother or whatever. But here… means good stuff. Keep your eye on this kid.
So Wanted unfortunately doesn’t break new ground in the genre, but it definitely stirs the pot a bit. And that’s what you’ve gotta do every so often… stir the pot. And it was thouroughly enjoyable.