Attempts to adapt the work of Mark Millar, Scottish comic scribe and concept man extraordinaire, has led to some pretty strange shit; be it the swee,t ultra-violence of Kick Ass or the Roger Moore’s James Bond on ecstasy antics of Kingsman. However, neither of these can hold a candle to the weapons grade oddness of Wanted, a film that takes all the reality-warping weirdness of films like the Matrix and then off-handily went – “Nah, not nearly weird enough…”.
Helmed by the impressively inconsistent Timur (Night Watch, Day Watch and, erm, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) Bekmambetov in his American debut, Wanted is the Russian director leaving literally everything on the screen no matter whether it makes sense or not to strikingly cool effect.
Wesley Gibson is your average, down-trodden nobody. He works an office job he hates, his girlfriend is screwing his best mate, he suffers crippling panic attacks and he feels like he has no identity whatsoever – so imagine how he feels when one day the chiselled features of a stunning assassin swoops in to protect him from a mystery gunman. The assassin is Fox, an agent of a secret society of killers known as The Fraternity who have been taking out people for centuries thanks to a secret binary code found within the weavings of a special loom and they’ve got their eye on recruiting Wesley. According to them, the mystery shooter is Cross, a man who has turned on The Fraternity and killed Wesley’s father who was also an agent. Under the watchful eye of Fox, Wesley endures brutal training in order to learn the strange, bullet-bending techniques this society uses to execute those deemed targets by fate but as he gets closer to his prey he starts to realise that maybe everything isn’t what it seems (a secret society having a secret agenda? You don’t say!) and that The Fraternity’s leader, Slone, is maybe keeping a few too many cards close to his chest…
As ferociously out-there as Wanted is, Mark Millar’s source comic is even weirder, with it’s hero based firmly on rapper Marshall Mathers rubbing shoulders with villains like a super powered man with downs syndrome and a thug made from the shit of the 666 most evil people who ever existed. Yet, by dialling back on the absurd superpowers and making more of a contemporary action film, Bekmambetov has somehow made something defiantly stranger and has given us a movie that takes full advantage of post-Matrix cinema but has no interest in following it’s rules.
What do I mean by this? Well, the Wachowski sibling’s use for all the kung-fu and gravity defying gunplay was only achieved by them painstakingly creating and explaining an entire world where these new rules would apply in order for us to except these history changing set pieces – Wanted on the other hand, takes all of it’s preposterous notions of curving bullets and having people perform crazy athletic feats simply because they have a firm of super-pulse and simply applies even more bullshit. Almost daring his audience to storm out in disbelief, the filmmakers throw things at us like The Loom Of Fate and baths that heal you like Wolverine simply because they’re all in on the crazy and they’re banking on that you will be too.
And you know what? You are! Because when you have such ludicrous notions to drip feed to an audience, having a cast this good is extremely important. I personally think that the Loom Of Fate may be one of the endearing stupid expositions I’ve ever fucking heard, but when it’s given to Morgan Freeman to explain it, you listen. Similarly, no one is going to question someone flipping a Dodge Viper like a fucking coin after driving it with her feet while lying on the bonnet if that person is Angelina Jolie who puts in her best work from that action phase of her career. But the man who has to make everything work is James McAvoy, spectacularly popping his action movie cherry after appearing with goat legs in the Chronicles Of Narnia; he gives Wesley the same beaten down lack of self-worth that Edward Norton exhaled with every breath in Fight Club and his accention from a cubicle rat to death dealing bullet sprayer feels like a mixture of Tyler Durden and Neo.
The action is (of course) utterly fucking bug-nuts, but it’s also pretty damn slick too as combatants curve their bullets all over the shop while shooting each other’s shells out of the air and it has a nice and healthy disrespect for the lives of passers by too, especially when a gunfight on a train results in a carriage full of screaming passengers hurtling into a gorge.
Thanks to Bekmambetov’s aggressive, anti-establishment style (and not to belabour the comparisons) Wanted feels very much like the angrier, scrappier little brother of The Matrix and Fight Club, but not even David Fincher would think to have a scene where someone has a keyboard broken across their face with the keys and loose teeth spelling out FUCK YOU as they fly through the air or have Freeman demand that McAvoy shoot the wings off a fly at gun point. It’s audacious, stupid and fantastically cool and it’s a damn shame the director hasn’t managed to equal it since. It’s also a shame that the movie has been kind of forgotten these days despite it’s stellar cast (especially McAvoy) moving on to bigger things that unfortunately don’t involve blowing a crater in a man’s face and then shooting countless other people through the hole…
The final shot of the film has a defiant Wesley look straight at the camera and angrily snarl “What the fuck have you done lately?” directly at you. You could a lot worse things than getting reaquianted with Wanted.