Summer Film Series – Vol. 6, No. 5: WANTED
July 10, 2008, at Movies 14, McKinney, Texas
A lot of movies have been made in the past eight years that mimic the look of The Matrix, yet very few have appealed to me. The Matrix is in the top five of my All-Time Favorite Movies list, and I refuse to have it sullied by every poseur that comes along. But the previews for Wanted led me to believe it was different than the rest, that it had depth and value beyond the flashy effects. And even that flash was a little different, what with the “curving bullet” and all. Plus, it had a great cast. I knew at first glance that this was my kind of film.
The premise of Wanted, that of a secret society of assassins who recruit a former nobody, told me to be prepared for an onslaught of violence and offensive moments, so I was ready to overlook quite a lot. After a truly awesome sequence to set the visual tone of the forthcoming action, the story really begins with much ado about how “nobody” this nobody truly is, including a jarring moment of imagery and profanity related to a cheating girlfriend and scummy best friend. But once this is established (and to be honest, it was really over-established), the film takes off. The main character, the nobody named Wesley, begins his immersion into the fraternity of assassins, and little by little he develops into his expected potential. After some hesitation and moral pause, Wesley transforms into the highest caliber of killer, just as expected. He is fueled by vengeance, seeking to kill the man who murdered his own father, and eventually everything extraneous falls away until he has just that one focus.
I had read an interview with the film’s director in which he spoke of the transformative moment when Wesley moved from loser to killer and how astonishing it was to watch James McAvoy accomplish this without aid of costume or makeup or props of any kind. I was watching for this moment, already being such a big fan of McAvoy and fully aware of his talent. But the moment came long before I expected it, and it was so sudden and so complete that I was actually stunned by it. With only a look in his eyes, McAvoy became a completely different character right before my eyes. This is the point when the thrill ride began. Even in moments of convoluted story points (and there is a BIG one involving a giant loom which looks cool but is really just an odd conceit), McAvoy’s characterization kept me fully engaged and aching to see what was coming next. Despite all the focus on Angelina Jolie, Wanted belongs to McAvoy. He keeps the viewer riveted by his very presence, by the obvious churning of his brain and his dogged determination. Jolie looks amazing, but McAvoy pulls focus even from her. I cannot believe that any other actor would have made this film what it is. Any other actor would have turned it into camp.
Wanted is saved by an unexpected twist in the story, and it was this point that the film deepened beyond its visuals. My favorite moment, in fact, comes near the end of the film and rivals even the most memorable scene in The Matrix: that gunfight in the lobby. This rival scene in Wanted is what will draw me back to the film again and again in the future. For all its faults, the film is still very exciting and serves as a perfect platform for McAvoy to reach superstar status in America. That’s enough for me. Wanted is not for everyone, but for those willing to overlook the vulgarity that pops up from time to time, it is a genuinely good popcorn flick.
image from Rotten Tomatoes