The first thing that needs to be said about 2008’s Wanted is that it bears almost no resemblance to the comic miniseries of the same name upon which it is loosely – and I do mean LOOSELY – based.
Really, the only things the two share in common is that there is a “Fraternity”, although in the movie this is a group of assassins as opposed to supervillains in the comic. Our main characters are still called Wesley Gibson and Fox, and each features a super-assassin who is known as “The Killer” in the comic as opposed to “Cross”. Both also start with Wesley being a downtrodden loser with a girlfriend who cheats on him and an abusive boss. In every other respect there is no comparison between movie and comic.
Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Night/Day Watch, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Hardcore Henry) is the story of the aforementioned Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), who discovers that he’s actually the son of a assassin who was killed by another assassin gone rogue called Cross. Seizing the opportunity to make something of his life, Wesley quits his job in spectacular fashion and joins the Fraternity to be trained to take down Cross. This mostly involves a long montage of Wesley getting seven shades of crap beaten out of him until he has that moment of clarity, of enlightenment, and begins to embrace the training and what he is capable of.
The particular gimmick is that all the assassins have a rare ability that causes their bodies to become supercharged with adrenaline, allowing them to slow their perception of time and carry out near superhuman feats of agility and strength. Oh, and curving bullets in the air to shoot around corners. The movie is REALLY proud of the whole curving bullets thing and goes out of its way to show this off anytime it can, which is admittedly still kinda cool even ten years later as you watch these guys shoot each other’s bullets out of the air.
This is definitely what could be described as a popcorn movie. It unabashedly embraces its own somewhat silly premise but rather than the slick, cool underworld of assassins we’re presented with in the John Wick films, this is, well, sillier. Riding on trains just to shoot someone through a window, ramping cars off other cars, a “loom of fate” that tells them who they need to kill, people jumping from building to building in over the top slow-mo. It really is all rather daft, but it’s executed with such joy and enthusiasm that you can’t help but get swept along and eventually you stop noticing how daft it is and you get sucked into the spectacle.
Wanted is also filled with lovely little background details and nods to the original comic series. When Wesley leaves his apartment in the morning he briefly stops by a poster that says “your father’s son” while in the background is another building that will become important later. There’s also another poster by the ATM the day after he meets the Fraternity that says “Time for a career change?” I love these extra details. Later, we have a character called “Rictus”, a nod to Mister Rictus from the comics. The final little easter egg is the nameplate next to Wesley’s desk in the last scene that says “J.G Millar”, mashing together the names of the original authors – Mark Millar and J.G. Jones.
James McAvoy is brilliant and utterly believable as this doormat of a human being, passively making his way through life, putting up with everyone else’s shit, and watching his portrayal change as he grows in confidence and skill is just masterfully done. Thankfully the studio didn’t get their way as they wanted a more “conventional” handsome Hollywood leading man and that would have defeated the point. Wesley’s meant to be a bit of a nerd, a bit weedy, and we’re meant to see him grow into what he can become.
Angelina Jolie plays Fox and she is hands down the best character here. Utterly devoted to the Fraternity and its code, she actually spends much of the movie in complete silence, almost everything conveyed by body language and movement. She often has a slight smile on her face, an amused benevolence when dealing with Wesley early on, and is always aloof and somehow untouchable.
Rounding out the main cast we have Morgan Freeman as Sloan and, well, what can you say? He’s Morgan Freeman! Has he ever turned in a bad performance? Hearing him say “Oh fuck” is funny, though. It’s so odd to hear the man swear. Other than that he’s a bit of a cipher as he really doesn’t have a great deal to do beyond walking around and delivering exposition. Keep an eye out for a ludicrously young pre-Parks and Recreation era Chris Pratt as the best friend Barry who was the ripe old age of 29 when he appeared in this film.
Wanted is a silly movie, there’s no denying it. It is a gloriously silly, cheesy, over the top action romp, wish fulfilment at its finest and even 10 years later it can still be enjoyed and still have you picking up on details previously unnoticed. Yes, some of it is stupid, yes some of it is corny, but I guarantee you that if you are any kind of action movie fan then this is worth your time. Gun fights, car chases, training montages, gun fights, train crashes, did we mention gun fights? Wanted‘s got it all.