Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy, "Atonement") is a working drone with a boss from hell and a nagging girlfriend he knows is sleeping with his best friend. One day at his local corner store, he's informed by a strange exotic woman that his father, whom Wesley believed long dead, was the world's foremost assassin killed just yesterday on the roof of the Metropolitan and that his killer is now just behind him. One blazing shoot out, car chase escape extraordinaire later and the meek Wesley finds himself not only becoming empowered but "Wanted."
Kazakhstanian director Timur Bekmambetov who blew away the Russian box office in 2004 with "Night Watch," makes his English language debut with a bang, succeeding spectacularly at what last year's "Shoot 'Em Up" tried and died with. "Wanted," which is adapted from the comic book series, shows its director's predilection for ancient, undercover societies protecting humanity, as well as fast cars, distinctive trucks, dolls, butchers and blood, while folding in stunts and bullet trajectories from "The Matrix." It also gives Scottish actor McAvoy his own action franchise!
The film begins with a prologue in which we see Gibson's dad, Mr. X (David O'Hara, "Braveheart," "The Departed"), retaliate against his assassins by leaping through a high rise window with enough force to carry him across a Manhattan street (the effect, which makes the shattered glass look like a mobile mosaic shield, is a beaut). But he's been set up to do just this and is done in by a long range sniper. It's this man, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann, "The Pianist," "Next"), who comes after Wesley but is evaded by Fox (Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart"), the heavily armed and tattooed stunner who can hang out a windshield blazing away and flip her sports car over police blockades. She brings Wesley to Sloan (Morgan Freeman, "The Bucket List"), who tells him about the 1,000 year old secret society of weavers (currently housed in a textile warehouse) who assassinate future evil doers based on coded messages woven on a special loom. Instructed to blow the wings off some flies with a gun pointed to his head, Wesley's astonished to discover he has some pretty amazing genetic talents, one of which he's been mistaking for work-induced anxiety attacks. These, of course, must be honed and mastered and once Gibson gets a taste of training from the likes of The Repairman (Marc Warren, "Hooligans," TV's "Hu$tle") and The Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze), he tells Sloan to shove off.
Back in his real world, though, the experience rubs off. Wesley jubilantly burns his bridges with an office rousing speech to his boss, cutting off his buddy's 'He's the man!' with a well placed keyboard to the face on his way out. With Fox in tow to pick up a gun he'd hidden in first night panic, girlfriend Cathy (Kristen Hager, "I'm Not There") gets the message too. Amusingly, Barry's (Chris Pratt, TV's "Everwood") around to once again to make the same admiring proclamation. Training resumes and Wesley befriends The Exterminator (Konstantin Khabensky, "Night Watch"), the Russian who tends the wax baths that heal assassins's wounds in preternatural time and trains rats with peanut butter to act as mini bombers. Wesley falters on his first assignment, surprised it is not Cross, but returns and succeeds after hearing what brought Fox to the society. The two are a traintop running, car flipping team until Wesley traces one of Cross's bullets to its maker, Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp, "Get Smart"), in a European monastery and hears another version of Sloan's story.
Jolie may be the star used to sell the film, but the lead is definitely McAvoy, one of the most talented actors of his generation. Still, with his slight build (he's buff here and 20 pounds heavier, but still no behemoth) and freckled nose, one would not think action material. One would be wrong. McAvoy creates a nebbish that metamorphizes into a serious threat as believably as any actor given two guns to blast through twenty opponents while running, jumping and rolling (his character's forced reentry into the Mill is highly reminiscent of Brandon Lee dancing down the bad guys's conference table in "The Crow," magnified by a factor of five). There is a depth to the anxiety prone guy who learns to channel a defect into an advantage and the hardened derelict we're left with is tailor made to rise from his own ashes in a sequel. Jolie is also quite good as the fearless Fox of few words (a choice made by the actress, who felt that her character wouldn't say all the things attributed in the script). She's got a way with a sly look that conveys intelligence and approval, used best and surprisingly in the film's climax. All assassins are well played with the exception of Freeman's Sloan, made banal by the umpteenth iteration of the actor's soothing stoicism. In small roles, Chris Pratt is good as the buddy who cheerfully cuckolds and manipulates his friend while singing his praises and Lorna Scott ("Smokin' Aces") channels "The Drew Carey's show's Mimi as Gibson's grotesque boss.
Bekmambetov serves up his action with a heavy dose of violence. Shots to the head from behind are envisioned with a bullet's corkscrewing path from the victim's forehead leaving a fluid, spiralling tunnel of blood in its wake. The Butcher's methods are everything his moniker implies. The violence is somewhat leavened with humor - an assassin disappears from a stolen truck leaving a collection of vibrating bobble head dolls on its dash, Gibson's propensity to apologize pops up during a hit - so that its celebration is clearly rooted in comic book over the topness. And yet when events turn emotional, such as during a spectacular train derailment scene, Bekmambetov orchestrates concern for the characters to the forefront.
"Wanted" may leave the viewer with some questions (How is Sloan's group funded? A Textile Mill alone would not account for the 3 million plus deposited in Gibson's account and the endless supply of fast cars...) but it barrels along at such breakneck speed with exhilarating stunts and visuals most will be too breathless to give pause.
Robin did not see this film.
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