From Iron Man to The Incredible Hulk to Hellboy II to The Dark Knight, comic book movies are all the rage this summer, so it’s a little odd that Universal isn’t pushing the comic connection with their new action flick Wanted, which blasts its way into theaters this weekend.
Of course, that marketing decision may have something to do with the fact that the movie version of Wanted bears only a passing resemblance to the Mark Millar-penned six-issue series that was published between 2003 and 2004. In the comic (which, full disclosure, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading) a group of super-villains has taken over the world and wiped all of Earth’s heroes out of existence. Meanwhile, ordinary folks go about their ordinary lives, including one Wesley Gibson, an employee at the kind of dreary office ridiculed in movies like Fight Club, The Matrix and Office Space. But, like Neo before him, Wesley soon discovers he’s got a higher calling. See, his long-lost father was a criminal mastermind known as The Killer, an unsurpassed marksman who was unexpectedly assassinated by an enemy of The Fraternity, the cabal of super-villains that runs things. His wimpy son is recruited to take his place in the organization by super-hot female operative Fox, but once the thrill of being a super-bad gun expert wears off, Wesley starts to wonder whether he’s really cut out of Fraternity life.
Okay, now contrast that plot with the movie’s storyline, which sets up The Fraternity as a secret society of assassins that was established centuries ago by a guild of weavers. That’s right, weavers—you know, the guys that make clothes. Anyhow, these ancient weavers discovered that their loom spoke to them in a kind of binary code, providing the names of targets that “fate” decreed had to die. Over the course of their existence, Fraternity operatives have developed a host of special talents, most notably the ability to “curve” the bullets they fire out of their guns. Once again, the assassination of one of the organization’s top agents kicks the story into gear, leading Fox (Angelina Jolie, in a role she was born to play) to approach the dead killer’s son Wes (James McAvoy of Atonement fame) and convince him to join the Fraternity. After a brief period of indecision, the depressed worker bee happily leaves his life of 9 to 5 drudgery behind and enters the Fraternity’s headquarters in a giant factory on the outskirts of some unidentified town that strongly resembles Chicago. There he meets the leader of the group, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), as well as other operatives who sport names like Gunsmith (played by Common), The Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze) and The Repairman (Marc Warren). Under the tutelage of Fox, the newest recruit enters into an intense training period that involves beatings, shooting lessons, beatings, subway rooftop chases and more beatings. Once he’s finally mastered the art of kicking ass, Wes starts wracking up the body count before coming face to face with the man that killed his father. But wait! Could it be that this guy isn’t his father’s killer but…his actual father? Paging Luke Skywalker!!
As you can tell, the plot of Wanted is derivative nonsense, borrowing elements from a long list of other movies (Star Wars, The Matrix and The Godfather just to name a few) and working them into a screenplay that must have read like gibberish on the page. Fortunately for everyone involved, the task of bringing this script to the screen was handed to Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, whose previous credits include the visually dazzling (if borderline incoherent) fantasy/horror hybrids Nightwatch and Daywatch. Never one to hold the camera still when he could send it hurtling after bullets and falling train cars, Bekmambetov brings a kinetic energy to the picture that helps you forget—or at least ignore—its severely underdeveloped story. Of course, there will be a sizeable number of moviegoers who find the film’s hyperactive visual style completely unwatchable. Here’s a good litmus test: if you got queasy watching The Bourne Ultimatum’s jittery camerawork, you may experience similar headaches and nausea during Wanted. Bekmambetov’s trick is to regularly speed up and slow down the action, all the while letting things like bullets, computer keyboard keys and teeth fly directly towards the camera lens. (One can only imagine how this movie would have looked in 3D.) Naturally, these kind of visual pyrotechnics can wear out their welcome after awhile, particularly if there isn’t a great story to hang them on. Eventually, even I grew weary of the film’s relentless hyperactivity and found myself wishing that I could pat Timur on the shoulder and tell him to just chill out already. With all the craziness going on around them, the actors don’t get much of a chance to, you know, act, but McAvoy and Jolie are able to score a few memorable moments. (I have to admit that the normally svelte Angie looked scarily thin here—an assassin’s arms shouldn’t resemble chopsticks!) As far as this summer’s comic book movies go, Wanted isn’t a crowd-pleaser on the level of Iron Man and probably won’t come close to the grandeur of The Dark Knight or Hellboy II, but at least it’s not as boring as The Incredible Hulk.