Looking for a Good Time, Check in with ‘Wanted’

Every once in a while we head out into the world, seeking a little escapism from our everyday grind. Thankfully, Hollywood pumps out wicked, energy-infused flicks like Wanted. Escapism, ho!
By  · Published on June 28th, 2008

When comic creators Mark Millar and J.G. Jones set out to make “Wanted” back in 2003, they were presumably looking to craft a story which lends itself well to our torrid love affair with the anti-hero. From time to time, we all look forward for doing something a little off-center, and possibly just a little wrong. And whether we are doing it to stick it to the man or to fill some void in our otherwise repressed lives, we all prone to this sort of devious nature at times. Thankfully, instead of turning our real lives into episodes of Grand Theft Auto, in which we go on a rampage of mischief, we can turn to the escapism of film, literature and video games to provide that release.

Suffice it to say, a film like Wanted is just the sort of deviant escapism that can fulfill the needs of any complacent, otherwise bored American. With its heavy doses of high-octane action, a blitz of bullets and a general irreverence toward conformity, both of storytelling and of culture, it delivers entertainment on a very basic level, in a very raw and unabashed way.

In short, Wanted is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It is the story of Wesley, an average loser, played by James McAvoy (Atonement), who is drafted into a secret fraternity of assassins based on a genetic predisposition that allows him to react on levels that are, in many ways superhuman. Within this fraternity, he is trained by a sexy, idealist named Fox, played by Angelina Jolie. Fox instills in him not only the ability to kill on a whim, but also that the Fraternity’s purpose is a righteous one — kill one, save a thousand.

Upon completing his training and leaving his old life as an “account executive” in the past and sets out to avenge the death of his father, one of the Fraternity’s most accomplished operatives, who was killed by a rogue agent named Cross. Under the direction of the Fraternity’s leader Sloan, played by Morgan Freeman, Wesley plots a course for revenge that leads him into a complex web of deception in which not everyone around him can be trusted.

Oh yeah, and he learns how to curve bullets — which is, on any level, incredibly cool. In this story of super-assassins, the righteous instruments of fate, we are taken into a world not unlike The Matrix, but based more in reality. Bullets don’t always fly straight, wounds don’t always take great lengths of time to heal and dialogue doesn’t always have to make sense — but it is a kick-ass ride, so we are willing to overlook the willy-nilly details.

In fact, there are a lot of said details to be overlooked here if you intend to really enjoy this film. For the average moviegoer, it is the silly dialogue, the high-wire stunts that seem out of proportion to reality and the in-your-face irreverence of the film’s tone. For the Wanted fans, those who have been immersed into the comic series, that irreverence may be understated a bit. As well, there is a significant amount of story deviation at hand — the books told the tale of supervillians, a group of powerful evildoers who banded together to rid the world of superheroes, leaving them with free reign to rape, pillage and murder without consequence. Needless to say, that isn’t a story that Hollywood can easily turn into a big, accessible summer blockbuster, so fans will just have to deal with this “in name only” adaptation.

That said, director Timur Bekmambetov and the writing team of Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan have, at least, captured the spirit of the book, giving it a more universally acceptable plot while maintaining the irreverence that was coined in the comic. And anything that was lost in the transition from the book to the screen is masked by the adrenaline injected action sequences and bullet-bending awesome-factor. As well, the cast delivers an element of legitimacy to the film — in the hands of another group of actors this would be just another silly action flick, but with the likes of Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman, the dialogue seems a little less ridiculous, the action seems a little less over-the-top and the characters seem a little more believable.

Ultimately, Wanted’s greatest strength could also be its biggest weakness — its premise is out there, its action is sometimes ridiculous and it doesn’t ever stop to apologize for itself. For some, this is a little too much — they require their films to have a little more substance. For others, myself included, a movie like this is a pitch-perfect reminder that movies are sometimes meant to be silly, meant to be wickedly over-the-top and meant to be a lot of fun. On the fun factor, Wanted delivers in spades.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)