Wanted is The Matrix meets Shoot Em’ Up with the color palate of The Fast and the Furious. It’s a double barreled, balls to the wall, high-octane, completely over the top, ultra-violent, ultra-gory summer action movie that just doesn’t give two flips for slowing down. To call it a crowd pleaser is an understatement, it’s the kind of movie that’s so in your face it elicits an audible reaction from its audience, whether they intended to spend two hours gasping in surprise or not. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov takes an almost perverse delight in slamming his viewers down in their seat, and then refusing to let them up. Rethink that oversized coke.
After announcing its presence with a series of brutal headshots in which we watch bullets explode through heads in slow-mo, Wanted takes aim at the frustrations of modern society by telling the story of a pussy. That’s exactly what Wesley Gibson is, and perhaps more shaming is that he’s also a lot like me and you. Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is the average guy stuck in a dead end, boring cubicle job abused by his boss, abused by his friends, and abused by his girlfriend. The world takes a daily dump on Wesley Gibson and he just sits there sweating and taking it. James McAvoy plays Gibson perfectly. Cowering and whining and worrying his way through life, Wesley Gibson is society’s bitch. He was born a pussy and probably would have died a pussy, if someone hadn’t tried to kill him.
He meets a mysterious woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie) at a drugstore, when she saves him from a trained killer who shows up out of nowhere. Jolie is good as Fox, since the role requires little more than that she look crazy dangerous and viciously sexy. Jolie does that in her sleep, and she does it while Fox pulls off some of the most insane driving and shooting you’ve ever seen on camera. Fox takes Wesley to her hideout where he learns that she’s a member of a secret brotherhood of assassins, and so by the way, was Wesley’s father. His father is dead and they want Wesley as a replacement super-killer. The opposition would rather see Wesley stone cold dead. After years as a pussy, Wesley’s first response is to go home and pull the covers over his head, until he realizes this is his chance to get the hell out of the dead-end sheep-life he’s currently locked into, and become one of the wolves. Wesley jumps on board and after a brutal training sequence ordered by the brotherhood’s Morpheous-like leader played by Morgan Freeman (who thanks to the use of a curse word, is also responsible for the single best moment in the entire film), he’s shooting people in the head with the best of them.
If you read between the bullets Wanted is about a man railing against the damning constraints of weak-kneed Western society. Wesley signs up as an assassin not just because he’s sick of his job, but because he wants revenge on a culture that’s cut off his balls and turned him into something less than a man. But Bekmambetov only indulges in exploring that more complicated subtext early on, by the film’s end it’s turned right on into a flat out action thriller with Wesley against the world and winning by killing everything and everyone in his path. It’s not that Wanted is no longer interested in introspection, it simply doesn’t have time for it. The action is fun, and you won’t begrudge Bekmambetov his decision to focus on the thriller aspects of his script more exclusively, but there’s an even better film than the already good one we have here, buried in the idea of a man tearing down the walls of accepted American life with a lot of pent up rage and a really big gun.
Bekmambetov instead revels in the simple thrills of hardcore violence, pointing his camera at the insane stunts and crazy killing of his film with obvious glee. Realism is tossed out the window and explained with a vague sci fi conceit which exists only to give Bekmambetov license to get creative and occasionally ignore things like physics. Who needs gravity anyway? Wanted is better off without it. The action genre hasn’t felt this fresh and alive since 1999 and the Wachowskis. This isn’t another entry rehashing the same chase and shoot scenes you’ve seen in every other movie. Wanted is loaded with surprises, the kind that’ll have you screaming “wow!” and wishing for a rewind. Simply put, Wanted is a helluva lot of fun, and it would be even if the script didn’t work, which it does. It’s tons of style with a little bit of substance, and for anyone who’s a fan of the action genre it’s more than worth a look.