The over-the-top action thriller Wanted is sort of like a cool blast of water on your face on a hot day. Only it's not. It's more like you're getting a fire hydrant unleashed directly down your throat. On one hand, this is a confident, stylish, and impressively kinetic piece of mindless action entertainment. On the other, for all its outlandish action sequences that happily pee all over the laws of physics, Wanted also has a little something to say about complacency, loneliness, and the importance of getting off your ass to lead an interesting life. Nice mixture of smart and stupid, if you ask me.
Rare that a movie can be described as stylish and gritty, silly and smart, mindless and slyly insightful ... all at the same time. But hey, that's why we go to the movies, right? To (hopefully) be entertained and yes, even pleasantly surprised by how entertaining a movie is. Such a thing doesn't happen all too often these days, and I'm certainly not calling Wanted any sort of an instant classic -- but it's comforting to know that some movies are intent on delivering the goods in a relatively unique and exciting fashion. And when a movie delivers three or four things that you've simply never seen in an action flick, that indicates (to me, at least) filmmakers who are trying to jam some creativity into a potentially stale genre.
The first American feature from Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (genre fans will know him from Day Watch and Night Watch), Wanted starts out a little bit like The Matrix: A likable nobody with a dead-end job, a cheating girlfriend, and no real prospects is recruited by a team of mega-elite assassins who have very special powers. Basically, they can make bullets "turn" in flight, they can leap from tall buildings, they can cheat death ... and they take their orders from a magical loom.
(Hey, I told you some of it was a bit ... out there.) At first poor Wesley Gibson (an excellent James McAvoy) wants no part of the dangerous team, but after spending a little more time in the rat race ... Wesley has had it. Time to become a super-assassin! With the help of a wise old master (the always-classy Morgan Freeman) and a team of deadly tutors, Wesley is about to track down his destiny. Or so he thinks.
There's a bit more to the plot (and some of it will undoubtedly remind you of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and well, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), but Wanted offers a fairly standard three-act structure: The set-up of Wesley's lame existence, his gradual acceptance of "The Fraternity" and his subsequent training, and then a big-time battle royale finale that's got more high-end mayhem than you'll know what to do with. Best of all, the director has a clear and obvious affection for highly stylized action scenes, which means that several of Wanted's best moments (of which there are several) feel like they were ripped straight out of a comic book. (And that's probably no accident, as the film is based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones.)
Oh, and one of the deadliest assassins (and Wesley's eventual mentor) is played by Angelina Jolie. Yeah, I thought that might get your attention.
And no gal in Hollywood swings a pistol like Angie does. Yowch!
If the mid-section of Wanted sags just a little, and if the sorta-twist ending is telegraphed from early on, those are small gripes to make in the face of such an enthusiastically audacious action flick. Gloriously R-rated and packed with both harsh violence and a LOT of "collateral damage," Wanted is an action flick that simply wants to dazzle you for 100 minutes, at least enough to get you excited for the DVD release and yep, the eventual sequel. Count me in for both please.
[NOTE: For more Wanted check out our conversation with 'Wanted' star Thomas Kretschmann and our 'Wanted' director/cast interviews