Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman’s character overdoses and John Travolta’s character has to administer a shot of adrenaline directly to her heart? That is, roughly speaking, the effect that Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted has on an audience.
Wesley Gibson [James McAvoy] is a cubicle slave with an impressive, but meaningless title, and a boss who takes particular delight in demeaning him. He has a surprisingly good-looking girlfriend and a cheery best friend – who are sleeping with each other. Then, one night when he’s in line at a pharmacy to buy medication for his anxiety attacks, a gorgeous, tattooed goddess of a woman informs him that his father was the greatest assassin in the world; the number two guy killed him the day before and is just… over there!
Wesley, it seems, has inherited his father’s skills, but has been blithely unaware – mistaking his hunter’s/assassin’s traits as anxiety attacks. The goddess is named Fox [Angelina Jolie] and he is to become a member of The Fraternity – a society of assassins headed by the dapper, dignified Sloan [Morgan Freeman]. Of course, he’ll have to be trained – by a host of assassins with names Like The Repairman [Mark Warren] and Gunsmith [Common]. Then he will hunt and kill the man who killed his father.
Based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel of the same name, Wanted seems to be little more than a framework to showcase Bekmambetov’s dexterity as a director. Instead, it turns out to be a showcase for McAvoy’s transformation from wage slave to a man in charge of his own life – and for Fox to discover the real meaning of integrity. At the same time, of course, Bekmambetov does, indeed, throw everything he’s got into action sequence that take the work of people like Louis Leterrier and the Wachowski Brothers and ramp it up to a level so high that the bar is no longer even visible.
Except for a very few scenes, Wanted makes the proverbial bat out of hell look like a tortoise on its back. The fight scenes are agile in ways that combine John Woo and the Shaw Brothers with Peckinpah and the Wachowskis; the chases are well into the land that exists beyond ridiculous, and the gun play is beyond even that.
Bekmambetov hits us so quickly with pans and zooms and smash cuts and dissolves and changes of pace that we go along for the ride – even though the whole thing is as insubstantial as smoke [and we get some of that, too]. This is what summer blockbusters are supposed to be – smart and absurd and gracefully jagged adrenaline delivery systems. On that level, it is superb!
Final Grade: A