Friday, July 04, 2008

‘Wanted’: Bone-breaking fun

(Published July 2, 2008, Philippine Daily Inquirer-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy star as super-assassins in the brutal and insane popcorn flick “Wanted,” an antihero yarn that does not resemble its source comic book at all. The movie’s quiet scenes lack the punch and finesse of its elaborate and overpowering action sequences, but its very capable actors are a joy to watch even when there are no furiously paced gunfights and explosions.

It’s directed by Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch,” “Day Watch”), whose stylish visuals and thorough attention to action imagery gives “Wanted” its unique, blood-tinged flavor. It’s very loosely based on Mark Millar and JG Jones’ ultra-violent comics, about a world-weary, cubicle-shackled drone named Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) who transforms radically into a killer.

Wesley, whose girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend, is a pushover who gets occasional anxiety attacks. Languishing in a job that he hates, and barely enduring the taunts of a boss that he hates more, he’s quite the archetypal unhappy loser. But a fateful encounter with the pistol-packing Fox (Jolie) becomes a turning point; Wesley gradually sheds his sorry existence after she rescues him from a top killer who just whacked his estranged dad. Turns out that his dad had the superpower to “bend bullets,” or to maneuver and hit targets unerringly, despite numerous obstacles.

Wesley eagerly joins Fox in the Fraternity, a league of efficient assassins. But the initiation’s nothing he ever expected. Sloane (Morgan Freeman), the covert organization’s leader, considers its members agents of Fate, and believes that Wesley can be as deadly as his pop used to be. The newly minted super-heir soon embraces life as a death-dealer wholly.

The movie discards many elements from its source material, like the cutting-edge tights and eccentric villains. Some concepts from Millar and Jones’ book were changed or ditched altogether, as the script by Chris Morgan and “3:10 to Yuma” co-writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas retools Wesley as someone with redeeming value.

Massive re-imagining aside, it captures quite a fraction of the seminal series’ brash attitude. McAvoy is just perfect for the role; his directionless, apologetic Wesley transforms plausibly into the sharp and unstoppable new Fraternity assassin. Jolie, while mostly lacking a tangible personality here, is a killing machine that outshoots her previous action movie heroines. But her subtlety in a short scene explaining her motivation and origin makes Fox someone deserving of sympathy, even allegiance.

The story’s flimsy parts don’t get too noticed, as “Wanted” is divertingly embellished enough with an assortment of eye candy. Even when the standoffs and revelations happen just as expected, Wesley’s defining drama of finding self-worth and an identity is still pretty enjoyable. “Wanted’s” well-choreographed carnage and chaos, like deadly dance moves, are a visual feast--cathartic, delivering crazy and bone-breaking fun.

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