Friday, March 16, 2012

Even With Angelina Jolie Naked, Wanted Arrives As Summer's Most Mediocre Action Flick!

The Good: Moments of special effects, One or two moments of performance
The Bad: Low on character, Not much in the way of acting, Predictable plot
The Basics: Angelina Jolie's summer blockbuster outing, Wanted puts James McAvoy in yet another bland action-adventure flick that fails to satisfy.

This review was originally written for Summer Blockbuster Season 2008, which explains the dated qualities to the opening. Enjoy!

As Summer Blockbuster Season continues and I balance new movies with reviewing older material, I've become somewhat surprised about how few films starring Angelina Jolie I have actually seen. That is half true; I'm surprised that - as of this writing, according to the IMDB - including the new film Wanted, Jolie has only appeared in thirty-seven works that I might have caught her in on screen. Of those, I have only reviewed four and seen an additional two. What does not surprise me about that is that Jolie has been in some films of minimal interest to me, like the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movies. So, with Jolie's live-action contribution to this summer's blockbuster season, Wanted, I had minimal expectations and draw based on Jolie's presence in the movie. Indeed, if anything, Wanted struck me from the previews as limited in what it might provide for Jolie, given her action-oriented performance in Mr. And Mrs. Smith (reviewed here!).

With Wanted, viewers get more of the same from Jolie and while there is little danger of her being typecast as a trained killer, this is very much an average action-adventure movie and by the time the flick is over, it's hard to say what one has seen that is actually new. This is, largely, because it isn't. That said, it is not the worst action adventure magnum violence to ever grace the big screen.

A mundane office worker, Wesley Gibson, trudges through his life with little ambition and even less respect from those around him when he is approached one day by Fox. Fox claims his long-dead father is actually only recently deceased and that he was part of a super-secret organization of assassins called the Fraternity. Fox has been sent to protect Gibson and recruit him into the Fraternity. She and Sloan, unlock Gibson's skill (the ability to alter the trajectory of bullets so they curve and otherwise do not travel in a straight line) and teach him their version of the history of the Fraternity and set him out to killing people.

Of course, nothing is quite that simple and the Fraternity is not the wholesome, honorable organization it initially appears to be and soon Gibson and Fox are caught in the crossfire. The mystery of the Fraternity and its targets pulls the last half of the movie into a constant action sequence gun battle that quickly becomes more blase than exciting.

Fans of pop culture will appreciate the recurring gag in Family Guy involving Peter's fight with the giant chicken. What does this have to do with Wanted? It's quite simple, the reason Family Guy's gag works so well is that it is ridiculous. It is nonstop escalating physical violence that becomes more and more extreme. The humor in it is in the endurance and duration of the sequence, the commentary on it is quite simple; the violence keeps escalating to the point that the combatants lose all sense of motivation. All the sequence becomes is pushing the envelope for more violence, more gore and a bigger sense of movement. And it works.

For exactly the same reason, Wanted does not work. Wanted is competing in a market where cinephiles and action-adventure fan have seen quite a bit. Indeed, we've seen it from Angelina Jolie in the intense violence and gun battles of Mr. And Mrs. Smith. Just as the moment Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop mastered digital characters with Gollum that became the cinematic standard to match for quality (as of my writing of this, it has yet to be beat), Wanted suffers because it pushes the envelope in no new or unfamiliar ways. We've seen gun battles, we've seen hitmen, we've seen the naive thrown into extraordinary circumstances. We get it, we've lived through it before. And this incarnation is hardly special and hardly engaging. In other words, (to tie the Peter vs. the chicken metaphor back) Wanted is like watching Peter's first encounter or second encounter with the chicken, after having seen the pair's duel crash an ocean liner. It's ho-hum, meh, we've seen something bigger and better.

That is not to say that an action-adventure movie must be bigger to work, but it does need to be better. You can have a more cerebral action-adventure or one that focuses more on character, but Wanted does not do that. Every aspect of character and each twist has been seen before in something that was holistically a better film. Indeed, despite the special effect style that mirrors is, anyone who has seen The Matrix (reviewed here!) is likely to be disappointed by Wanted. We've seen it before.

The characters are unsurprising for their monolithic nature, to the extent that there are moments where it seems that the writers didn't even try. This is not to say that Alias has an ironclad lock on having the leader of a super-secret cell of baddies named Sloan, but . . . given the success of Alias and the multitude of names out there, why did writers Mark Millar and J.G. Jones have to go with Sloan? Perhaps their comic book - from which this is adapted or based - predates Alias. The more problematic aspect is that the characters ring familiar from things we've seen before.

Wesley Gibson is, in many ways, a recast Anderson (better known as Neo). Similarly, Fox and Trinity have much in common. Sadly, it is Sloan that suffers the most on the character front based largely on the casting. I think Morgan Freeman is great; he's a wonderful actor but having him play Sloan was a huge mistake on the part of director Timur Bekmambetov. Why? We've seen Freeman in this role before. We've seen him in a similar role as Lucius Fox in Batman Begins (reviewed here!) and in an even more proper analogy, as the Boss in Lucky Number Slevin. Indeed, it would be nice to be able to end the review right there; Lucky Number Slevin is a vastly superior movie. Go, get that out on DVD, watch that instead, avoid the theaters.

This is not to say that Freeman is not good as Sloan, but it requires no acting that the viewer has not seen from him before now. We've seen it, we get it, we know it is well within his range and talents. Similarly, Angelina Jolie behind a big gun is no shock, surprise or - by the end of the flick - interest to the viewer. We've seen it, it offers her no new challenges or potential to expand her range.

One suspects that director Bekmambetov is covering for the casting of James McAvoy as Gibson. McAvoy is a very white bread actor and while Keanu Reeves pulled off a performance of the bland to the extraordinary in The Matrix, McAvoy fails to captivate as Wesley Gibson. Instead, he never becomes exciting to watch, he never makes the viewer care about his character and he never convinces the viewer of the reality of the situation.

Timur Bekmambetov, who directed the Russian science fiction-horror films Nightwatch (reviewed here!) and Day Watch (reviewed here!) directed Wanted. Like those films, he seems obsessed with special effects, though in this outing he seems to generally use them better than he did in his other adaptations. At least here, the effects make sense and fit the story as opposed to effects for effects sake.

On DVD, Wanted is packed with special features, mostly special effects-based that do little to actually enhance the movie. There is an extended scene as well as a featurette on the stars of the film, a featurette on the stunts and another on the special effects in general. As well, there is quite a bit in the way of discussions in interviews involving the translation of the graphic novel to the film that was created. This is interesting, but hardly enough to make the film worth buying on DVD unless one was already going to.

What pushes it up into even average territory? Quite simply, it does what it sets out to do. It makes a lot of movement, people run, they shoot guns, bodies fall, rah rah rah. Wanted only works as a popcorn movie for people who have no ambition to see anything smarter or more interesting that is in theaters currently. In reference to that, it is worth noting that I've rather surprisingly rated Wanted higher than Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Is this a better movie? No. Both are remarkably average. The lower rating of the other film reflects the heightened expectations vs. the dismal reality. Wanted actually contains some more intriguing shots than the Harrison Ford film, but it was a huge disappointment given the quality of the franchise. Wanted is a simple film with a simple premise and even with lowered expectations, it resulted in an average flick that does what one expects from a movie of its type.

It does nothing more, though, and it's impossible to recommend as a result.

For other works with James McAvoy, please visit my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe


Check out how this movie stacks up against every other film I have seen and reviewed in my Movie Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best film to worst with clickable links to take you from the name of the film to the review of it!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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