What would The Matrix be if you replaced Laurence Fishburne with Morgan Freeman and killer machines with daddy abandonment issues?
The answer is Wanted. And while it doesn’t quite match the epic nature of the aforementioned sci-fi classic, it does have the added bonus of Angelina Jolie (and her ass) taking the place of Carrie-Ann Moss, and is still a highly enjoyable thrill ride.
Wanted is the Timur Bekmambetov-directed film adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, published in 2003, though the popular Mark Millar piece of work is really just used as a very loose guide to the characters and action that appear on the big screen.
Far-fetched, but a hell of a lot of nonsensical fun, Wanted the movie keeps the basic premise of Wanted the comic, in that the life of a young mild-mannered office drone is turned upside down and inside out after he is suddenly thrust into The Fraternity.
It’s all because the father he never knew, who had abandoned him, was a part of this most secret of societies but has recently been murdered by a former colleague.
Instead of this Fraternity being full of the world’s great super-villains like in the comic, it is full of the world’s great super-assassins – and they are kinda good, taking out evil-doers across the globe.
Also, instead of Wesley taking on the look of diminutive ‘me, me, me’ rapper Eminem (who the comic Wesley is based on), he takes on the look of the diminutive James McAvoy – because he plays him. McAvoy ditches his British accent for a passable American one.
In fact, the rising star who appeared alongside Forrest Whittaker in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and played that man-fawn in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2006), is quite good as a character who at first is a piss-weak mess. He’s got a dead-end deskjob, has a girlfriend and best friend who sleep together and is prone to panic attacks.
But, like Keanu Reeves’ Neo, a fellow former office worker, Wesley is a chosen one. He might not be the chosen one, but is a chosen one. Chosen by The Fraternity to carry on his father’s work as a professional killer.
He is bailed up one night in a pharmacy store by a bad-ass Fox (played by Jolie), who ends up saving his life, or so we are led to believe, from his father’s killer, the rogue Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), or so we are led to believe.
“Your father was one of the greatest assassins who ever lived. The man who killed him is behind you,” says a cool, calm and collected Fox.
After a shoot-out that tears up the store, the three enjoy an unbelievable car chase through the city streets, with Fox pulling off some crazy-ass maneuvers from the bonnet of her red sporty number.
Cross was introduced to us a few moments earlier during a brilliant opening sequence reminiscent of the best high-flying, earth shuddering, slow-motion moments of The Matrix, in which he cleverly assassinates Wesley’s father, Mr X (David O’Hara) … or so we are led to believe.
After avoiding Cross’ fire, Fox takes Wesley to The Fraternity’s headquarters where he is introduced to its leader, Sloan (Freeman), a new character that takes the place of Professor Solomon Seltzer from the original graphic novel. He explains to the jittery Wesley that his panic attacks are actually caused by a superhuman ability to basically slow down time. And that he is pre-destined to follow in his dear old dad’s line of business, and his sneaky assassin footsteps.
Sloan says, “It’s 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.”
Wesley takes some convincing, even after he shoots the wings of a fly. But it ain’t no red or green pills that make him come ‘around to Sloan’s way of thinking, but a strong dose of ‘giving some back’ to his fat, overbearing boss, and his backstabbing best mate and girlfriend.
Getting a taste for blood, he joins – or gives himself to The Fraternity – unplugged from his machine-built womb of a life (again, think Matrix) – and endures a long and painful initiation. A full-on no-holds-barred training program that predominantly involves him getting the shit kicked out of him by various Frat’ boys.
“You know, if I wanted to get beat up, I would’ve stayed in my cubicle!,” Wesley says.
This part of the film is more Rocky 3 than The Matrix, when the legendary boxer goes to Harlem to be trained ‘old-school’ by Apollo Creed, but with the poncy running and hugging on the beach replaced by bendy bullets that are capable of running and hugging on the beach.
Now ready for duty, the new Wesley’s first mission is to put a hit on Cross.
Now the way in which members of The Fraternity are given their orders to kill is a little … let’s say ridiculous. The Loom of Fate is a loom that gives the group the names of the targets through binary code hidden in weaving errors of the fabric. It is believed those the loom identifies will cause tragedy in the future; but only Sloan sees and interprets the names fate wants to kill.
Trouble arises when Wesley’s name comes up next, and Fox is given the task of taking out the order.
(Spoiler) We soon discover the loom, or more to the point, the directing of its supposed orders by Sloan is one big sham. He simply picks and chooses what fate deems, and he certainly wasn’t choosing to follow through with its directive when it picked him.
Cross, a former member of the Fraternity, knew of Sloan’s double standards and so got out, only to be pulled back into the net when they went after his son … Wesley.
Yes, it turns out Mr X was not the lead character’s dad, but Cross, who has actually been showing up at various times in order to protect him and try to let him know the truth about The Fraternity.
It finally happens towards the end in a very Darth-Vadar-Luke Skywalker-kind of moment, right after Wesley has fired a fatal bullet into his long-lost dad’s chest.
“Wesley, listen to me … Everything they told you was a lie … You’re my son,” Cross says.
As he showed with Night Watch and Day Watch, Russian Bekmambetov really knows his stuff when it comes to creating some amazing, breathtaking scenes of action. He just needs to work a little harder on his screenwriting.
The Russian is said to be in the early stages of a sequel – and one that will have both McAvoy and Jolie returning, (spoiler) and if you’ve seen Wanted you will know the writer-director will have a hard time coming up with a good reason why the latter is back.
Maybe Wesley brings her back to life after she dies heroically in the first film. Nah, he’s good but he’s no Neo.
It was Wanted for a reason. Good brain-dead fun. And did I mention Angelina’s ass?