The special effects and action sequences may be cutting-edge, state-of-the-art.
But Wanted taps into an age-old narrative fantasy of empowerment – from Jesus to Harry Potter, some ordinary schlub suddenly discovers special powers they have to learn to control, guided by an enigmatic mentor.
Based on comics by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Night Watch and Day Watch director Timur Bekmambetov’s American debut initially promises to challenge the heroism of blindly following your destiny, yet instead descends into an unsatisfactory blur of curving bullets and splattered bodies.
The film begins impressively, with the fearsome-looking Mr X (David Patrick O’Hara) escaping assassination in a Chicago skyscraper, before leaping through the glass and across the void to the roof of the building opposite, only to eventually lose a pitched gun battle with a bullet through the head.
Next day, nervy account manager Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), intimidated by his boss and cuckolded by his best friend, is standing in the supermarket when a mysterious woman (Angelina Jolie) informs him that his hitherto unknown father died yesterday as one of the world’s greatest assassins.
The aptly named Fox then drags him to the floor as a firefight ensues with Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), the man who killed him. Their duel continues onto the streets outside, Fox sprawled on the bonnet of her car, driving with her legs through the smashed windshield while continuing to fire, Wesley screaming for deliverance throughout.
After they escape, she takes him to the fortress headquarters of The Fraternity, where the dapper Sloan (Morgan Freeman) relates how the 1000-year-old organisation assassinates people chosen by coded messages hidden in the textiles they weave. There’s little more explanation to it than that and Wesley commences his training to take vengeance on Cross, a rogue operative of the group.
This chiefly involves The Repairman (Marc Warren) beating the shit out of him, The Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze) doing the same with knives, The Exterminator (Konstantin Khabensky) helping him recuperate and showing how to use rats as mobile bombs, Gunsmith (Common) trying to teach him how to curve bullets around obstacles and Fox revealing how to ride atop a speeding train, a useful skill it transpires for performing his first hit.
Desperate to avenge his father, the impatient Wesley heads to Europe and The Fraternity’s birthplace, where the monkish Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp) arranges a rendezvous with Cross, culminating in an outlandish battle on a train as it careers off a bridge. Successive betrayals and revelations follow.
Despite his occasionally wayward US accent, McAvoy confirms his impressive range as an actor, both as the downtrodden Wesley and the stoic killer he becomes, handling the action sequences capably.
Jolie is perfectly cast, looking sardonically amused as the gun-toting fantasy figure, as is Morgan Freeman as the organisation’s venerable voice of authority. Yet you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve seen them in these parts before, which may, or may not lead you to predict the film’s various twists before they occur.
From the moment Wesley enters The Fraternity, the sketchy script betrays its comic book origins, as you’re consistently aware of more complex source material being dumbed down and crammed into the movie’s running time. The central premise, of ancient weavers setting themselves up as assassins of fate is rendered laughable by ridiculously fleeting exposition, while the key conflict it raises, of blind faith and solidarity versus an individual moral compass, are quickly lost in all the kinetic excitement of gunfire.
Still, for all his apparent unfamiliarity with subtlety, Bekmambetov really knows how to shoot action, exploiting Wesley’s accelerated metabolism to create a juddering visual correlative to the film’s heart-pumping rhythms, using bullet-time technology for some imaginative set pieces and other sadistically original moments, with Wesley charging through a factory, bodies flailing left and right, maintaining fire even as his gun is lodged in the back of another man’s skull.
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