So what if you didn't have to do it every day? What if you could stop going though the motions of the pointless tasks that define your banal day-to-day existence? What if you could kick it all aside, and free yourself live the life you always wanted?
This is at the core of the movie 'Wanted' based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, and due out on DVD December 2nd.
James McAvoy plays Wesley Gibson, a young man pummeled daily in the perfect storm of ritual abuses that mark his bottom-rung existence. He hates his boss, on overweight harridan who berates him several times a day. He doesn't like his girlfriend much better, another shrew who is screwing his best friend on the side. Even the ATM machine straight-up tells him he's a loser. It's no wonder he has panic attacks.
Everything changes when he meets Fox, (played by a fierce, slinky Angelina Jolie), who pulls him into a gunfight and then a car chase just moments after they meet. Then she drops the real bomb-shell. Wesley is the son of the world's greatest assassin, who is part of a centuries-old Fraternity of assassins, headed up by a man named Sloane (Morgan Freeman). Wesley will inherit his father's fortune in the millions if he agrees to join the Fraternity. Oh, and those panic attacks? They're actually super powers that allow Wesley to shoot the wings off a fly, curve bullets and otherwise kill with amazing accuracy.
And so begins Wesley's new life, filled with brutal, rigorous training that inflicts bloody wounds, bruises and broken bones that mark the boy's path to becoming a fully-empowered man.
'Wanted' the movie (like 'Wanted' the comic) is basically just that, a power fantasy. Wesley is soon dumping his girlfriend and his job, performing hits for the Guild and giving a hearty "FUCK YOU" to the world as he once knew it.
But it's not the story that makes 'Wanted' a compelling movie. No, the storytelling is deeply flawed at times. The pacing tends towards jerkiness. The core premise involves a magical sewing machine. And how compelling is a story of empowerment when that comes via magical super-powers and an instant bank fortune? The story, as it stands, is not bad, but it's not the reason 'Wanted' is so watchable.
Unlike the gray, dull life our hero once lived, his new world is a world that can only be realized by the special effects wizardry of director Timur Bekmambetov. It's a world punctuated with one eye-popping set piece after another with cars flying, trains racing, slow-mo bullets, more cars flying, more trains, more bullets...well, you get the picture.
But the truth is, as great-looking as those set pieces are (and the DVD extras will spend a lot of time telling you what a visionary Bekmambetov is) they still all feel a bit post-'Matrix', with the near-freeze-frame gun play and gravity-defying stunts. The effects are terrific, don't get me wrong, but they are also not the reason to watch 'Wanted'.
The acting of the movie is uniformly good. McAvoy does a tremendous job of selling his gradual transformation from simpering loser to confident man of action. You can't really ever go wrong with Morgan Freeman or Angelina Jolie either. But, no, it's not the acting that sells 'Wanted'.
What puts 'Wanted' over the top is the snarky attitude pulled Mark Millar's source work. Woven into the connective tissue of the movie is Millar and Bekmambetov's shared joke, that the world is making fun Wesley when he's down, and cheering for Wesley when he's up. You see it on the ATM screen that needles him, "You're an Asshole. Correct or Incorrect." You see it painted across the screen with Wesley finally bashes his girlfriend-stealing "best friend" with his computer keyboard, sending the loose keys flying across the screen in ultra slow-mo: "F U C..."
These are jolts of surprise energy that elevate the action of 'Wanted' from middling fun, to a better-than-average movie watching experience.
It would be remiss to avoid comparing the movie to the graphic novel. In recent years we've seen adaptations that were slavishly devoted to the source material (movies like 'Sin City' and '300').
This isn't that.
If you've read the book, you know that the Fraternity was not originally some shadow group of assassins but rather a Secret Society of Super Villains. In fact, the book trades very heavily on DC Comics archetypes (purportedly Millar pitched it as a DC miniseries before going the creator-owned route. Lucky for him DC didn't spark to the project).
As you can imagine, this leads the movie to several departures from the story. There are no jaunts to alternate Earths to steal Kryptonite condoms. No mutant villains like Sucker or Shit-face. No costumes or sci-fi tech in the movie.
In re-reading the book I was surprised by just how many visuals and story points actually remain intact, in spite of this major deviation.
Whole lines of Millar's dialog show up. The opening sequence detailing Wesley's life as well as the assassination of the super killer both feel a lot like the same threads in the comic.
The movie differs from the book in one other important way though. It tones down the Fraternity such that the assassins in the movie have a semi-noble purpose. Conversely Millar's Wesley does a great many reprehensible things (like rape and random, unmotivated killing) as he embraces the villain lifestyle.
This actually leads to a slightly more mature take on the material and keeps Wesley as a character the audience can root for. Bekmambetov even caps the movie off with a beat that echoes the infamous final page of the comic, confronting the viewer without slapping him or her in the face.
While I still love the comic-booky aspects of the graphic novel and wish they had been preserved, the movie does manage to improve on the story.
'Wanted' comes in a two-disc special edition, the second disc of which contains copious extras. Several of the featurettes are quite interesting.
"Cast and Characters" gives us a documentary style intro to the various players in the movie as they talk about the characters they play, as well as comment on what each other actor brings to the film.
"Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible" and "Stunts on the L Train" peels the curtain back on many of the contraptions Bekmambetov created in order to keep the effects on the practical level, rather than relegating everything to CGI. When you see cars barrel-rolling through the air with Jolie and McAvoy inside, that's not a computer model. Those are the actors in a car that's rolling through the air.
Watch the DVD and see for yourself.
Fans of video games will get a sneak peek at the game from the film (which features Wesley in full-on comic book costume). You'll also find several cheat codes for the game hidden in the extras, so watch them all.
There's a "Motion Comic", which renders segments of the graphic novel into semi-animation, an effect I continue to find completely unimpressive.
There's also a secret feature called "Code of the Fraternity" that you can discover on the main menu of disc 2. However, I was unable to crack the code in time for this review and cannot provide details of what's contained there. Any of you Maniacs who have cracked it, please post below.
'Wanted' is a highly entertaining bit of action mayhem. You probably won't feel empowered to change your life and become a kick-ass killer, but it will leave you with a grin on your face, and some welcome anticipating for the sequel.
The DVD has a good selection of extras for fans who need more than just the movie and is worth picking up if you're a fan of Bekmambetov, McAvoy or Millar .