Do you know director Timur Bekmambetov? If you’ve seen his Russian vampire flicks Night Watch or Day Watch, you will recognize his trademark spectacular, physics-defying car stunts (cars flip and leap-frog over one another) and zooming camera effects (the screen image even throbs to mimic the lead character’s special rapid heartbeat condition; and we get to see someone shoot the wings off of flies) throughout Wanted, his English-language debut. Even if you don’t know Bekmambetov’s past work, you will still recognize the (I’m going to call them) homages to other modern classics such as Fight Club, Matrix, Bourne Identity and maybe even a touch of Harry Potter in this fanboy-friendly, action-packed, genre blend.
After a Matrix-esque building-leaping prologue, the story begins with Wesley Gibson (played by Atonement’s James McAvoy) providing a voiceover about how life as an office drone is crap. Ten minutes later, he is scooped off the street into the passenger seat of a red Dodge Viper by Angelina Jolie (is that not every guy’s daydream?). Jolie’s character Trinity … I mean Fox … brings Gibson back to a castle/textile factory outside of Chicago where they meet Dumbledore … I mean Morpheus … I mean Sloan (played by Morgan Freeman) who tells him about his special abilities and destiny to be one of them. In this case they aren’t wizards or virtual-reality-freedom-fighters, they’re assassins. Desperate to leave his life of insignificance behind (not to mention hunt down his father’s killer), Gibson embraces this new life with gusto. Let the somewhat brutal training montage begin! (I’m sure no actual flies were injured in the making of these scenes.)
Despite all the call-outs to movies of the recent past, there’s still something fresh and cool about a movie dealing with a secret order of assassins. The fancy weaponry alone is worth a look. McAvoy may be a rising star, but he still manages to be ordinary enough to pull off the transformation from workaday schlub to super-cool hitman. The role of Fox seems to be a cake-walk for Jolie who gets to one-up Trinity’s sexy rubber catsuit by showing off full-body tattoos. Other characters include sensei Sloan, the blade-wielding Butcher, weapon-friendly Gunsmith (played irrelevantly by rapper Common), Terence Stamp as the bullet maker Pekwarsky, and Thomas Krestchmann (a German actor who’s been in many things including 24, and also King Kong) as the bad guy — a “rogue” assassin named Cross, who killed Gibson’s father.
If the movie still doesn’t sound like fun yet, that’s probably because it’s a hard movie to capture in words. Most of the enjoyment comes from the thrilling visuals and the fast-paced action. We’re in the age when a stunt can be made so much more excessive (and maybe breathtaking) with the assistance of computers, and believe me Bekmambetov knows how to work that CGI. I often evaluate how much I was engaged by a movie by whether or not the experience lingers into my real life after I walk out of the theatre. Well, I can tell you that today as I was driving out of the parking lot I was following an SUV with a spare gas canister strapped to the back and my first thought was to wonder what kind of explosion I might get by shooting a bullet into it. Rest assured that my killer psyche is now long gone, but a movie with that kind of immersive effect deserves a 4.5 out of 5.
What if I had made Wanted?
First thing I would change is the heavy metal background music in the climactic finale. Gunplay and hard rock is such a cliche combination. I was stunned when I saw that the ever-inventive Danny Elfman was responsible for the music (I suspect he might have been overruled by Big Boss Bekmambetov). Another thing I would do differently is that (I know I always say this but) I would have fleshed out the side characters more. There was such an opportunity for colourful characters here. Even the character of enemy Cross was so under-developed that I wasn’t very interested in whether or not they killed him. Another thing I would have built up is the mythology around the assassins. What are some more of their rules? What have they orchestrated in the past (i.e. what famous historical people did they kill)? Without that depth it’s hard to buy that these individuals are actually so faithful to their code. Finally, there’s too much voiceover. The bit at the beginning and the bit at the end was appropriate, and more than sufficient.