I've been vindicated. Finally. For all those times I've been ribbed because I don't 'get' a particular film. You know the type; fast cutting, over the top visuals, bass thumping score and usually described as 'high octane'. A type of film aimed at 'the kids' or 'for the MTV generation' (although we're now a generation on from that!) My argument was that such films are shallow, exercises in style over substance and visually rather than plot driven. Apparently, though, I'm just old. But no more will I stand for it because a young Russian director by the name of Timur Bekmambetov has proved that all of the above can still be well driven and still be exciting. My first brush with Bekmambetov came with his astonishingly provocative Nochnoy dozor (2004) - Night Watch - which is a visual as well as an intellectual feast. And now he helms Wanted, yet another comic book inspired film, and one that all the above adjectives could be used to describe, only it's a driven plot and one that is a remarkably good film despite the sheer impossibility of it all.
James McAvoy (best know as Mr. Tumnus from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)) plays Wesley Gibson a thirty something office worker whose life is about to be hurled into the secret world of assassination. McAvory is still a pretty unknown actor, though he has one of those immediately recognisable faces; and that face makes him an ideal choice for the part of Wesley. When we're first introduced, Wesley, is a shy, insignificant, office worked who knows that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend, but doesn't care; who despises his job and his boss and is so full of self loathing as to belittle himself; yet he is full of anger, at himself and his inability to 'take charge'; to live. McAvoy has a fire behind his eyes and acts with a fire in his belly, even at the beginning we can see there is something pent up inside and even though it takes an extraordinary turn of events to show it, there is a truth to his journey - within the realms of the film. His stumbling, fumbling dialogue when he first encounters Fox, his panic stricken squirming as he forced to shoot that first gun, his wildly controlled demeaning of his boss and keyboard smashing antics as he walks out on his job show a growth, a coming to terms, an escape to a wild new life, one where there are no rules, just a code to live by. And even when that code comes tumbling down, still that wild control gives him the inner strength, something so lacking at the beginning, to truly live.
Wesley's first contact with The Fraternity (the guild of assassins whose orders are given by a loom!) is Fox, a gun toting female assassin played by Angelina Jolie. Jolie is that rare breed of actress that can play the action hero without looking like a girl with a gun. Films such as the Tomb Raider franchise (2001 - 2003) or Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) have shown that she can wield her fists as well as a weapon and can certainly stand her own against a male dominated genre. And she does it effortlessly and without losing her femininity, embodying that daft male stereotype of sex and guns. She too has a journey of sorts showing a venerable side as she explains her motives for joining the fraternity, yet it is that very vulnerability that drives her; hell definitely has no fury like a woman scorned and Fox's fury knows no bounds. She is driven by the code, that is all she is, cold and calculating, right to the very end.
Their Boss and leader of the Fraternity is Sloan played by Morgan Freeman. Now you just know as soon as he walks onto screen he is going to become a mentor of sorts, Freeman, a bit like Liam Neeson, embodies that guardian/advisor persona. And it is through Sloan's guidance that insistence that Wesley taps into those super abilities that allow him to become such a powerful assassin. However, Sloan has a terrific plot twist that, although not entirely unexpected, is a great change of character and the fact that Freeman is playing the part helps sell the idea; although I am at odds with the name - Sloan - I guess Alias (2001-2006) is still ringing in my head.
The plot is pretty straight forward in terms of narrative and contains some neat little twists and turns; the joy is in the watching so I don't propose to discuss it here. Bekmambetov's take on the original comic book incarnation is almost wild abandonment; nearly everything is jettisoned yet he still maintains the overall feel and tone; which is indeed the most important part. There are reams of impossible ideas, such as controlling adrenaline to slow down time, shooting bullets around corners, jumping impossibly long distances and taking out targets from ridiculously convoluted distances, however being used to Bekmambetov's extravagant filming style meant he was the perfect choice for director. The impossible ideas blend perfectly with his impossible camera movements, the exaggerated reality is a perfect match for his heightened story telling and the slick plot developments meld perfectly with his story telling skill. Yes you do need a huge amount of belief suspension, but then isn't that also true of any superhero movie? And once you buy into the idea of shooting around corners and the other impossibilities then the film plays out as a wild ride, barely breaking and always frantic. As Bekmambetov's first American film, he could not have chosen a better project to show his talents to the world outside of his native Russia. His style is stamped all over Wanted and honestly he is the only person who could have directed it.
He was helped amiably by the amount of practical effects work, meaning that most of the frame actually contains what you see on screen and only embellished with CG afterwards; this helps to 'ground' the film with cars spinning and trains falling actually contain people. This in itself was a by product of the sort of shots that Bekmambetov wanted for his film; never before seen or used in American pictures and therefore required the amount of practicality used. It certainly makes a difference to the finished product. Over seeing the score is Danny Elfman, who provides a thrilling and dramatic score. It is as frantic as the on screen action and matches it very well.
I'm prepared to admit that Wanted my not be to all tastes, all those adjectives I used in the opening paragraph can easily be applied here; as such there is a certain stigma that will be associated with it; however it rises to so much more that you cannot help but be swept away. And if an old hack like me can enjoy something a frantic as Wanted then there is hope for anyone that tries it with an open mind. Sit back and revel in the sheer impossibility of it all because one thing is for sure it is pure entertainment, and that's something that a lot of films fail to achieve.