I’ve been contemplating what to say about Wanted ever since I saw it two weeks ago. I realise that my procrastination has made this review a little irrelevant, especially given the cinematic resurrection of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight this weekend. However, should people choose to care (or read), I’ll still give my two-cents worth.
Even when I don’t have time to read the whole issue, I always peruse the Current Cinema section of The New Yorker and I thought this description by Anthony Lane (full review here) just so perfectly encapsulated the style of the movie:
“What is it like being Timur Bekmambetov? No artist should be confused too closely with his creations, but anybody who sits through “Wanted,” Bekmambetov’s new movie, will be tempted to wonder if the life style of the characters might not reflect or rub off on that of the director. How, for example, does he make a cup of coffee? My best guess, based on the evidence of the film, is that he tosses a handful of beans toward the ceiling, shoots them individually into a fine powder, leaves it hanging in the air, runs downstairs, breaks open a fire hydrant with his head, carefully directs the jet of water through the window of his apartment, sets fire to the building, then stands patiently with his mug amid the blazing ruins to collect the precious percolated drops. Don’t even think about a cappuccino.”
There are only two reactions to this sort of thing: either amazement at how awesome that was or amazement at how incredibly stupid this whole thing seems. If you too would love to make your morning coffee in this way, this is your kind of movie. But if you require at least an ounce of realism in your movies, then you’ll probably find yourself rolling your eyes through the whole thing.
The problem with Wanted is that it refuses to acknowledge its own absurdity. Other superhero films contain protagonists with clearly superhuman powers and they are singled out by their costumes or weapons of choice. They revel in their realization of boyhood fantasies: flying, conquering over bullying villains, and blowing things up. Wanted, on the other hand, actually attempts to masquerade as something that could actually happen (its main character being powered by simple adrenaline and backed by a semi-typical group of assassins).
Other “possibly real” unrealistic things in Wanted: curved bullets (some people in the theatre actually seemed to believe this was possible if you swung your arm hard/fast enough… uhh no), and the recovery bath of wax (clearly a poorly constructed plot device so that the characters can take more pummeling in a 2 hr time frame).
Of course, realism is not a necessary component of a good movie (see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). However, the other elements that hold together the vast exaggerations of Wanted are a bit threadbare. Given advances in technology, the amount of gore films can show has definitely increased and Bekmambetov capitalizes on this by not only adding more violence, but also painfully inserting slow-motion blows every single chance he gets. Some may say its stylistic, but by the 20th slowdown of a curved bullet’s path, it gets tiring. The narration throughout was mildly irritating and oddly placed, although the pay-off at the end may have been worth it. In fact, my general opinion is that the concluding remarks with its echo of the beginning sequence saves the film from being pointless, transforming it to satisfyingly triumphant.
The Loom of Fate (nice allusion to the Greek Fates, I’ll admit) and the ancient society of assassins are both key factors in the film that are never really explained. In the end you’re still left wondering: Who’s sending them these codes? Is this Fate synonymous to God? Or if the sender isn’t divine, aren’t they just as bad as Sloan (Morgan Freeman) who decides to kill other people to save his own skin?
While Wesley (James McAvoy) is lauded for taking control of his own destiny, this message is complicated by Fox (Angelina Jolie)’s insistence on adhering to the decisions of the Loom/Fate as well as the demonization of Sloan who essentially also attempts to put his fate in his own hands. Early on, Sloan tells Wesley:
“It is a choice, Wesley, that each of us must face: to remain ordinary, pathetic, beat-down, coasting through a miserable existence, like sheep herded by Fate, or you can take control of your own destiny and join us, releasing the caged wolf you have inside. Our purpose is to maintain stability in an unstable world – kill one, save a thousand. Within the fabric of this world, every life hangs by a thread. We are that thread – a Fraternity of assassins with the weapons of Fate. This is the decision that lies before you know: the sheep, or the wolf. The choice is yours.”
It seems odd that Sloan claims the path he offers frees Wesley from Fate when the Fraternity is actually governed by the codes of an unseen weaver. Also, the mantra “kill one, save a thousand” definitely treads on some troubling moral grounds. After the initial embrace of and subsequent rebellion against the Fraternity and its values, the audience is left unsure of what the “take control of your fate” slogan of the film really refers to.
Despite all this, Wanted (and James McAvoy) still manage to charm you into overlooking all these flaws. Against all reason and better judgment, you’ll find yourself swept into the action. Perhaps the lure of the summer action flick is its ability to make you forget all the logic, schoolwork, and reasoning that you acquired over the school year. You know you’re wasting your summer and that you have better things to do (or watch), but it’s summer, so what the hell.