I’ll be honest, when I first saw the trailer to Wanted I nearly wet myself – and not in a good way. I mean, with its bending bullets and oh-so-desperate-to-be-cool tone it just looked so comically awful, as if Uwe Boll had been handed the keys to Bond’s Aston Martin and decided to slap go-faster stripes up the side and neon strip lights underneath.
It just looked so laboured. Morgan Freeman doing patriarchal? Check. Angelina Jolie looking practically edible? Check. James McAvoy as action star? Err, rather unbelievably, check. And then to top it off there’s the director, Timur Bekmambetov of NightWatch fame – for me, a film effortlessly oozing style yet so utterly bereft of structure or sense that I haven’t yet mustered the will to seek out the sequel.
As you may have gathered, my hopes for Wanted were about as high as an ant’s testicles. Yet – and I’m as stunned as can be on this point – Wanted may just have been my favourite film of 2008.
What the trailer failed to make clear was that this is a) a comic book adaptation (I haven’t read it; sue me), b) much, much funnier than it looks, and c) a visceral, blood-thirsty, face-pounding, fuck-you of a movie with a thoroughly-deserved 18 certificate to match. I’m delighted yet amazed there’s a rumoured sequel on the cards, because there’s very little left of the cast by the end of it.
The deadpan narration and rhythmic, driving score may be Fight Club-light, but the story is pure Matrix. Timid office worker Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) is dragged from his put-upon, office cubicle drudgery by an ancient, secret fraternity of master assassin weavers (they receive their targets by decoding hidden messages from a magic loom, obviously) led by Sloan (Freeman), who reckon Gibson’s the only one who can eliminate a former member gone rogue.
Cue the requisite tests of will, training montages and unmistakably American speeches about being the best you can be – and within an implausibly short timeframe they’ve coaxed out his hidden assassin talents and he’s off to partake in some fisticuffs for our delectation. Yes, it’s exceedingly silly, but on just the right side of knowingly so, which means we’re gladly in with McAvoy for the ride.
To say it’s this generation’s Matrix – right down to the lobby-esque carnage near the end – is an understatement, but the few differences are vital. First, the pretentious spouting is thankfully kept to a bare minimum, and Gibson remains genuinely funny and likeable throughout. Second, unlike cardboard Neo, James McAvoy can actually act (albeit sounding like a surfer dude when he’s under pressure), and when his shirt inevitably comes off it’s clear that the little lad has been pumping no small amount of iron since his time wooing Keira and trotting around in wardrobes. I doubted he could pull it off, but by the end I was thoroughly converted.
Then there’s the violence. Oh yes, the violence. The film’s glorifying of knives probably riled the Daily Mail (hooray!), but I think it hit home just how insanely blood-soaked Wanted is when Gibson blasts Hustle’s Marc Warren through the eye socket from close range, catches him before he falls and then proceeds to run with him as a human shield, all the while shooting bad guys through the gaping hole in his freshly imploded head. I just sat, open-mouthed, in sheer admiration. Bravo, Timur. Bravo.
We get exploding rats, healing baths, those awesome guns with cameras that can shoot at right angles (cleverly chucked in there before the whole bending bullets shebang gets them really shooting round corners), and even a scene where Gibson shoots the wings off a fly (if you didn’t know it was a comic book universe before, that should do it). If only they’d trimmed some of the fat off Gibson’s blunt, clumsy voice-over I’d have been happier than a gun in a knife fight.
Alright, it’s not actually as good as either of the cult classics it so obviously borrows from, but the glorious sense of style and a hefty dose of humour keep it ticking over at a hell of a pace – and there are some truly stunning set-pieces. A super-cool snipe from a moving train-top and a crazy upside-down hit through a bullet-proof car’s sunroof will keep the boys happy, as will a brief glimpse of the pert rear of the aptly named Fox (Jolie). As for the girls, well, you get James McAvoy, what more do you want?
But the biggest endorsement I can give Wanted is that when the credits rolled after 110 minutes, I’d gladly have sat through another two hours of it. It effortlessly felt like the beginning of something much bigger, which of course it almost certainly will be, yet it managed this without insultingly laying a sequel out on a plate – in fact, with its refreshingly casual approaching to killing off big names, it did quite the opposite. My only worry is that with such extensive recasting required, and with Gibson’s murderous skill-set now fully mastered, the sequel may be a tricky beast indeed. Still, at least we can all look forward to a good laugh at the trailer.
A bit sparse unfortunately. A short look at the filming of the Viper car chase is interesting enough without really giving any proper insight. A clip focussing on set design and the use of authentic medieval Chicago architecture is far more interesting, although again it’s pretty short. Nothing about the original source material, which fans have told me bears, well, pretty much no resemblance to the film.
Wanted is released on the 20th of October.
|Wanted DVD at Amazon.co.uk|