Yes, we know, we already did a Critical Mass today, but, as some of you have noted, there is another movie coming out that may be a little bit more "adult" than an animated children's flick. Wanted is a new action film that revolves around a young Chicago account manager (James McAvoy) who learns that he is actually part of a secret group of super-killers called The Fraternity witih whom he has to join up with to fight the - oh who the fuck cares, this movie also has Angelina Jolie in it. And Morgan Freeman! But is there too much gore? Too many scenes lifted from The Matrix? Too little Jolie de vivre? The reviews, after the jump.
Even at their bloodiest, though, those directors never sent their characters through the abbatoir the way Wanted does. As part of his training, Wesley gets pummeled mercilessly - and the existence of the Fraternity's miraculous "recovery room" doesn't make the damage any easier to watch.
Bekmambetov sometimes shows evidence of a lighter touch, as in the scene where a furious Wesley smashes a computer keyboard and the now-detached keys spell out a taunting message as they hurtle through the air.
Too bad the director doesn't show a similar irreverence toward such inane plot devices as "the loom of fate." Night Watch and Day Watch had ludicrous elements of their own, but those movies weren't nearly as into their own nonsense as Wanted is.
In a movie that musters barely more than a dozen speaking parts, there are heroes and there is cannon fodder. In a thrilling face-to-face battle that sends a passenger train plummeting into a gorge, there's not even a pause to acknowledge the collateral damage of the duel between supermen. Bekmambetov savors the way a target's forehead explodes as a bullet burrows through from the back, but the slaughter of innocents fails to hold his interest.
As much fun as it is to watch Bekmambetov play with his action figures, the movie would be more engaging if he ever got under their polyurethane skin. McAvoy tries mightily to bridge the gap between wheezy nebbish and eager assassin, but there's nothing pushing him forward beyond the movie's pronounced contempt for his former life. In "Wanted's" cosmos, there are wolves and there are sheep, and the sheep are not even worth pitying.
The movie has its moments, one or two good jokes, and a satisfactory number of exploding heads, but, whatever its director's aspirations, it fails to convey that sense of another world - ours but not quite - that ought to be key to any comic book adaptation. A film of this type should be a magic carpet ride, exhilarating and impossible. "Wanted," by contrast, is as functional as a trip on the crosstown bus, complete with stops, starts, and periods of boredom.
That's why Wesley's escape from mundane life is so cathartic for us, the audience. McAvoy is a young actor who has already proved himself in several radically different roles, among them a clueless young doctor in "The Last King of Scotland" and a tragic romantic hero in "Atonement," as well as, of course, a faun in a jaunty red scarf. Here, he's an Everyman with a shot at finally being somebody. Watching Wesley imitate, or attempt to imitate, Fox's leapfrog flips and gazelle-like grand jetés (on top of a moving train, no less), is freeing for us, too. "Wanted" has a sense of humor about itself - a sick one - and a pulse, albeit one that beats deep beneath the corpselike coldness of its surface. But McAvoy, jittery and alive, is its central nervous system. He feels it where it hurts.
Wanted is kind of unintelligible and idiotic. Also kind of nasty and brutish. And also undeniably kind of fun, especially when Angelina Jolie, as an assassin (assassiness? assassinix?) appropriately named Fox, narrows her cat eyes, sets her lush mouth, flashes an Illiad's worth of tattooed text on her impossible bod, and brandishes firearms.
Orchestrating the picture's gut-thumping action is Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (the Night Watch horror trilogy). He goes to the well a few times too many with his beloved slo-mo sequences, but Bekmambetov's noir heart is in the right place. Live-action stunt work dominates CGI effects in Wanted: Rats attack, cars vault through space with unearthly grace, shooters bend their bullets' trajectories, trains fall into gorges with a satisfying crunch and faces get pummeled in the best Fight Club tradition.
Any film that features Angelina Jolie as an international assassin is, pretty much by definition, a film that glamorizes violence. But Wanted, the Hollywood debut of Kazakh-Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, does more than glamorize. It glorifies. It fetishizes. It consecrates. The crunch of bone against bone, the rasp of blade through flesh, and (especially) the planting of bullet in forehead such that it may emerge as a crimson bloom out the back of the skull-the movie's commitment to the staging of such traumas is so complete that they almost seem justified on aesthetic grounds alone.
Wanted is in many ways a deplorable film, but it is also-and, depending upon your perspective, this is either a good or a bad thing-an immensely stylish, effective one. More than any film since The Matrix, it is a ballet of brutality. But unlike Keanu's excellent adventure, which tarted itself up with mystical mumbo jumbo and a sci-fi conceit (and made sure most of its victims were computer simulations), Wanted is blunt and unapologetic. I don't believe I've ever seen a movie that advertised itself more plainly as an escapist fantasy for masculine impotence.
What does turn up looks familiar - the slowed bullets, the air that ripples like water, an underground group, here called the Fraternity - especially if you've seen "The Matrix." Although Mr. Bekmambetov and his team take plenty of cues from that film, they have tried to distinguish their dystopian nightmare by borrowing from even farther afield. To that end the Fraternity practices its murderous skills on pig carcasses (much as Daniel Day-Lewis does in "Gangs of New York") while bunkered in a sprawling factory (that looks like Hogwarts). I'm pretty sure I saw the fabulous recovery room - a concrete spa filled with sunken tubs and lighted candles where Fraternity members go for restorative soaks after a hard day of carnage - in a layout in Vogue.
As if in instant celebration of the Supreme Court's ruling on a citizen's right to bear arms - and of the newly articulated "individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation" - the burly new fantasy Wanted reveals the magic that can blossom when you put a gun in the hand of a meek wage slave and tell him he was born to be a righteous killer. Directed at a pitch of gritty giddiness by the Kazakhstan-born Timur Bekmambetov, who did the DVD faves Night Watch and Day Watch, this hard-R splatter-fest about a team of sanctified assassins is also the summer's zazziest action movie.
'Wanted' opens today, nationwide.