So you’ve seen the smug TV ads with Angelina Jolie driving with her feet and people shouting “CURVE THE BULLET!” with complete sincerity. Just what IS this movie? Besides ridiculous and silly.
It all starts out with Mr. Tumnus working at a dead end job. His boss doesn’t treat fauns very well and his girlfriend is sleeping with his best friend. Mr. Beaver. He’s a total loser that can’t even begin to feel any sort of real anger in life without popping in a turkish delight to help calm his nerves. That all changes one day when Lara Croft enters his life and tells him his father was an assassin and was killed, and his killers are after his son, too. Mr. Tumnus is disbelieving until five seconds later the supermarket is being blown to kingdom come and Lara Croft is pulling sweet driving stunts and lugging around ridiculously impractical guns that only a true assassin would use. She brings him back to her harem of men, where God from Bruce Almighty tells him of his heritage and destiny as an assassin. Mr. Tumnus balks at this and tries to go back to his old life, but the siren call of kicking people’s asses with little-to-no repercussions is too powerful to resist. God welcomes Mr. Tumnus into his league of assassins and teaches him to weave tapestries.
OK, so maybe that’s not entirely accurate. Did you go to this movie expecting story, anyways? I don’t even think the commercials want you to KNOW this movie is actually about something. It could be Angelina Jolie Smirking While Wearing a Dress 2 and the ad campaign would probably be the same. The story in this movie does not matter one iota. In fact, in several instances, it’s completely silly, illogical and implausible. The director, Timur Bekmambetov, doesn’t care a bit about story, either. He’s the director of the Russian Night Watch trilogy, with legendarily muddled, confusing, byzantine plots that take a secondary role to all the effects he employs.
And what effects! Bekmambetov never met a special effect too silly, garish or bizarre for him to use. The Night Watch movies were blatantly Matrix-inspired and rather creative on top of that. Wanted continues down that same vein with stuff that’s reminiscent of The Matrix, but with a different twist. One particularly slick move is how Angelina Jolie saves James McAvoy from being run over by doing an elaborate trick with her car to swoop him up into the passenger seat. My personal favorite, though, is when McAvoy smacks his friend in the face with a keyboard and the keys fly toward the screen to spell “FUCK YOU.” There’s just a real assortment of neat (and oftentimes jarring, distracting) effects to gawk at in the movie.
And damn, Bekmambetov doesn’t quite know how to settle the fuck down when it comes to his movies. For a long stretch at the beginning and end of the movie, there’s seemingly no moment to catch your breath, the camera jittering, sounds blaring, special effects splattering all over the place, feeling like a run-on sentence (kinda like this one!). Thankfully it balances the middle of the movie, which was a little slow for my liking. Even though they take you through McAvoy’s requisite training sequence to turn him into an assassin, you’re often just seeing the same things over and over again with no real headway being made with the story or characters.
But let me talk about violence. I’m usually not above watching splatterfests, but for some reason it stood out in this film. A significant portion of the movie is just the viewer watching James McAvoy getting the shit kicked out of him, with every visceral detail being communicated to us. They get away with giving him a lethal amount of pounding by a plot device where a person can soak in this white, milky stuff that hardens around him like carbonite and when he gets out of it he’s brand spankin’ new. So you can watch James McAvoy’s nose get broken like a billion times and he’s no worse for the wear. And the amount of casualties these assassins accrue during their hits is ridiculous. Y’know in action movies like this that center on violence, usually they have some way around the inevitable body count that would arise from such loony over-the-top violence. In The Matrix, it was perfectly okay to just waltz into an office building and start riddling everyone with bullets because they could always be turned against you. What’s Wanted’s excuse? “Kill 1 to save 1,000?” That’s a bit lame and unconvincing. It sort of makes the main character a bit of a tool to think that he begins to so easily subscribe to this philosophy. Maybe the reason all this bothered me so much was that this movie came out not so long after Funny Games. Maybe a total disregard for human dignity doesn’t seem so cool anymore?
The movie does have actual things to say, though, despite its action-oriented nature. It’s actually pretty creepy how similar my life is to the protagonist’s at the start. The movie challenges its audience to not be so passive, which is sort of interesting since watching a movie REQUIRES you to be passive. I mean, I didn’t run out of the theater and go sky dive or anything, but it’s a nice reminder to not piss your life away.
At the end of the day, Wanted may be another gun-fu flick, but it’s one with some interesting ideas, one or two genuine surprises and an actual fucking vision. How many summer movies out there actually HAVE that? Hancock, put your hand down. With all the weird visual tics in this movie, it doesn’t feel like just another cog in a major motion picture studio’s machine. And maybe that is reason enough for this movie to exist. That and gratuitous Angelina Jolie rear-nude shots.