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Wanted

Starting life as a somewhat controversial six issue comic book mini-series by Scottish writer Mark Millar and artist J.G. Jones, Wanted has been utterly transformed for the big screen. Although the initial set-up remains relatively similar to the comic; a worthless young man, Wesley Gibson, working the 9-5 grind finds out he’s the son of the world’s greatest assassin, everything else is reworked for the current trend of making comic book based movies as ‘realistic’ as possible. This change of tone and indeed narrative works exceptionally well in this instance, striking a similar balance between the theatrical and real that has served Nolan’s Batman so well.

Out go the intentionally garish costumes and characters of the comic book. Out goes the paradigm shifting back-story and alternate world-hopping, to be replaced by a world at one remove from our own. Albeit a world where people can still bend bullets.

Given the size and money involved, Timur Bekmambetov handles such a big movie skilfully, controlling small details and big set pieces with equal aplomb. He cleverly separates the world before and after Wesley Gibson’s revelation, striking an enjoyable contrast between the two before forcing them to collide in an opinion-splitting ending. Though it never quite hits the heights, Bekmambetov hands in a solid movie with moments of intelligence and great spectacle; a breathtaking opening quickly surpassed by a spectacularly crazy car chase and two unbelievable end set-pieces.

Equally, all the cast members are on top form; James McAvoy’s Wesley Gibson is suitably pathetic before an impressive and believable, if somewhat truncated, transformation from sap to driven killer. Morgan Freeman nicely underplays Fraternity boss Sloan but it is Angelina Jolie’s surprisingly nuanced performance as the aptly named Fox that takes the plaudits. Between the sexually attractive and physically dynamic, Jolie adds a third element of thoughtfulness to each of her scenes, the ending being particularly noteworthy of reflection in light of one specific conversation.

Wanted isn’t without its flaws. At times the film seems to try too hard, the mysterious method of how the hits are decided by the Fraternity is bluntly, a bit daft. Hearing two top actors like Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie then trying to validate the method with some awful lines is a little cringe-worthy. Indeed, it is when the pace of the story slows that the movie seems to go off the rails slightly, giving both characters and viewers time to dwell on the ludicrousness of the situation.

Also the inability of the movie to completely overcome an, admittedly, difficult original ending is problematic. The deception at the end is fairly obvious and the lack of characterisation for the most important person of that deception, makes it the weakest section of the script. Not that anyone is going to mind too much with an apocalyptic slow motion fight preceding it. The conclusion mirrors the opening, leaving just over an hour and a half enjoyably spent and with the, perhaps vain, hope that production companies will look outside of DC and Marvel, and superheroes, for more future comic based movies.

Overall this is a fun movie. Strong acting masks a thin plot that tries, and for the most part succeeds, to give you plenty of bang for your buck. The set pieces are big and bold and the film holds its swagger well, exuding a sense of cool violence to the very end. Definitely worth a look.

Owen Jones © 2008

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