STARRING: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Angelina Jolie

2008, 110 Minutes, Directed by:
Timur Bekmambetov

Sixteen years after John Woo’s spectacular ultra-violent shootout in Hard Boiled, twenty years after Bruce Willis single-handedly stopped an entire group of terrorists in Die Hard and almost a decade of “bullet time” after The Matrix – what more does action movies still have to offer? How can one film car chases and gunfights and still make them seem interesting after all this time?

Well, it would seem that the action movie genre still has plenty to offer. That is, if Wanted is anything to go by. How do you make a guy falling through plane glass seem visually interesting again? Easy, you get Russian director Timur Bekmambetov to direct your movie.

In Wanted’s production notes, Bekmambetov’s producing partner, Jim Lemley, says that “you could put three people in a room, give them the same camera and ask them to take the same shot. Timur’s image would be amazing.” This isn’t mere PR speak. With Wanted this Russian director has proved that there is still some life left in the tired action genre. If the two Night Watch movies weren’t enough to get Hollywood’s attention, then Wanted will make him into one of the most in-demand directors around. Filmed for an estimated “mere” $65 million – of which $20-25 million probably went towards Jolie’s salary (after all, she has a $70 million bond to pay off now) – Wanted looks like a movie that cost at least double its budget.

Wanted ups the ante when it comes to the sort of hyper-stylized action flick that became the norm since the advent of CGI. “That’s the most ridiculous movie I’ve ever seen,” one fellow critic grumbled upon leaving a preview screening of Wanted. But as another crit pointed out: “Now that was a lot of fun.” Wanted is a lot of fun. Yes, it is ridiculous and far-fetched, but it is done with so much inventiveness and style that Wanted will simply leave a silly grin on your face. It’s bullshit, but it’s creative bullshit – and that is what makes Wanted different from about 95% of all the other, more generic action movies out there.

"Die Hard on acid . . ."

Fans of Mark Millar’s graphic novel should however steel themselves. Any similarities between Wanted (the movie) and Wanted (the comic book) seem to be purely coincidental. That is largely because yes, Hollywood screws up source material as a rule, but also because in this case scriptwriters started working on a screenplay for the movie when only one or two issues of the comic book were finished.

The movie and the book share a common starting point – down-trodden cubicle worker and wimp Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) – meets Fox (Angelina Jolie in minimalist mode) and is introduced to a secret organization. Wanted (the movie) is stripped of all the graphic novel’s superhero and sci-fi undertones. In the comic book super-villains secretly rule the world after they have killed off all the superheroes. In Wanted McAvoy is inducted into a top secret organisation of super assassins called “the Fraternity”.

A thousand years ago the Fraternity has discovered that they help bring order to the world by killing certain individuals before they can cause any trouble. Kill one, save thousands is their motto. If you don’t believe this, then just imagine how history might have turned out a certain Austrian corporal sporting a silly moustache were to die during World War I. Or speaking of silly moustaches, of how much better a certain African country would be off if its despotic tin pot leader were to meet with an accident in the shower today.

How does the Fraternity decide whom to kill? “Fate” decides – in the form of a secret code found in the patterns of material fashioned by a loom. Why “fate” just can’t slip some assholes destined to die a simple virus is a bit of mystery, but that’s how it goes one supposes. This Loom of Fate thing (not found in Millar’s book) is about the only sci-fi-y thing about Wanted. Oh yeah, plus the fact that the Fraternity’s assassins can actually shoot around corners using special bullets. (You read that right: it’s that kind of movie. If you were expecting realism of any sort then it is sincerely recommended that you give Wanted a skip.)

Anyway, McAvoy is soon literally pummeled into shape and the former cubicle underling is turned into a highly trained assassin who can literally shoot the wings off a fly. But not everything is as it seems with the Fraternity, which McAvoy’s character will soon discover to his detriment . . .

If Wanted had stuck to its source material it would have been Spider-man on acid. Instead it is Die Hard on acid. Wanted is a trip all right, but it is such a deliriously demented one that one cannot help but love it. Even the movie’s Fight Club-lite opening with McAvoy’s downtrodden office worker’s voice-over narration doesn’t grate as much as one would expect. (Ironically all the Fight Club male anger stuff comes from Millar’s graphic novel.)

Thus, Wanted is different from the graphic novel – if not downright better. (It was never one of Millar’s best efforts to be honest.) It is Looney Tunes physics in action too, sure. But its sense of humor and energy makes it one of this year’s best action movies. It’ll make a great rental one day with loads of popcorn on hand.



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