Wanted (2008) Review

Every once in a while there comes a movie that just breaks your heart, because it squandered all of its potential. Wanted is that kind of film. It has all the makings of a great action movie – and for the most part it is – but it all falls apart in the end. The collapse is so great that it crushes all of the good parts.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) lives a terrible life. His apartment is next to train tracks, his girlfriend is a nag and cheats on him with his best friend and his boss is an overbearing taskmaster. Worse yet, Gibson suffers from panic attacks during any kind of stressful confrontation. He doesn’t even know who his father is. Wesley Gibson is an insignificant nothing in the great scope of life, as evidenced by finding nothing when he Google’s his name. His life takes a dramatic turn for the better – or worse – when Fox (Angelina Jolie) approaches him and reveals that his father was a super assassin recently killed. She wants Gibson to join her organization called The Fraternity and hunt down his father’s killer before the killer strikes first.

The idea that there’s a secret group of assassins isn’t necessarily new, but it’s handled nicely in Wanted. As Gibson goes through his training, he’s taught several facets of being an action hero badass. He learns endurance and pain management by getting his face beaten every day while he’s restrained in a chair. He learns close quarter combat with knives while getting sliced and diced in the process. Gibson also learns how to defy physics by curving bullets in mid-air, which is admittedly very cool looking. The Fraternity is able to do physically amazing things because they can control their adrenaline to give them super fast reaction times and pin-point precision aiming that allows them to even shoot down incoming bullets. With this repertoire of awesome moves, the action is fast, furious and satisfying, which is why it’s a shame the movie just doesn’t come together.

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the semi-goofy premise. According to the film, an ancient order of weavers discovered patterns in cloth that they were able to decipher into binary, which then correlated to English letters, spelling out the name of someone that needed to be assassinated. The weavers deemed the codes to be the will of Fate. It’s not the worst contrivance for an action movie, but it does beg a few questions, like if Fate wills the targets dead, then why are assassins needed? Won’t the targets die anyway, since that’s their fate? Also, where is the cloth coming from? Maybe their loom just needs to be serviced. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give answers.

Secondly, Wanted appears to draw heavily from other films, but doesn’t maintain the homage consistently throughout. The beginning action sequence emulates The Matrix with a man performing an impossible leap from one skyscraper to the next, which seems to go against the rules for the rest of the film. Gibson’s introduction smacks of Fight Club’s Narrator, with his complete self-awareness, seeming omniscience of what’s happening beyond his knowledge and scathing inner monologue criticism of cubical life in the workplace. There also might be just a tad of Trainspotting in the end during Gibson’s final life-affirming monologue. It’s not always bad to borrow convention and style from other movies, but here it feels wrong when the homage is used so singularly and only to remind audiences of the other films, not because this film required that particular style or convention.

Finally, the third act doesn’t capitalize on most of the points that were set up previously in the film. What was the point of watching Gibson get beaten to a pulp if his endurance is never tested later on? Why did he have to learn knife fighting if only uses guns for the entire film? No one knows. When scenes don’t get paid off they become as valuable as a porno: fun to watch but ultimately useless.

Despite these flaws, individual moments in the film are exceptional. The action is unique and tense and completely pushes the envelope of believability. The actors also deliver solid performances. Special recognition goes to Jolie who sells sexy so well there’s barely enough reason to call it acting anymore. Plus, for a supporting role, she certainly knows how to make excellent choices as an actor to really stand out onscreen, from a simple wave to vicious facial expressions. While Jolie is great in the film, her inclusion will only barely take the sting out of the disappointment audiences will feel after watching Wanted.