July 3, 2008

Wanted (07/03/08)

Lettergrade: C

Wanted takes the anti-society ennui of Fight Club and mixes in the cool-ass, logic-defying style action of the Matrix trilogy. The result is a movie that's mildly fun, but largely empty. These days I don't get excited for films that are about cool shots and shit blowing up (or at least, not as much as I used to), and as such I have to rate this one as a solid "meh." I'm not sorry I saw it, necessarily, but I don't believe my life has been enriched for having bought the ticket either.

Early in the movie, we are introduced to James McAvoy, who's life sucks in the way that angsty, twenty-something movie characters' lives usually do. He hates his obnoxious boss at his monotone job, and his surprisingly attractive girlfriend is secretly banging his astonishingly unattractive friend Barry. One night at a White Hen Pantry, he meets the heavily tatooed Angelina Jolie, who says that his long-absent father was actually a super-secret assassin who was killed the other day in the line of duty. Apparently McAvoy has super-abilities too (such as being able to shoot wings off of flies and jump over tall shit, etc) that he was never aware of until now (for completely unexplored reasons).

After an intense action scene in which dozens of innocent Chicagoans are senselessly killed or injured, McAvoy is introduced to a secret organization calling itself "The Fraternity." Headed by Morgan Freeman, who gets to drop the f-bomb in one scene, they select their targets in a perfectly logical way: They translate irregularities in fabric that comes from a giant, magical loom into binary code, and then use that binary code to come up with names of people that they need to kill for the good of all mankind. Now already I know we're way past the point of all plausibility and credulity here, but I can't help but wonder what happens when names like "Bob Smith" come up. Who do they kill? All of them? Including the Bob Smith who presumably runs the Bob Smith Used Toyota Dealership in La Crescenta? I can't imagine that his death would benefit mankind. In fact, with the great deals on used Toyota Camries that Bob Smith regularly offers, I'd imagine quite the opposite would be true. That aside, though, the movie also claims that the Fraternity has been doing this for "a thousand years." Um... how long has binary code been around for?

Anyway, McAvoy begins an intense training regimen, which largely consists of people beating the living fuck out of him, followed by no actual training. Fortunately, he's able to learn everything he needs to know about being a super-assassin in the course of a six-minute montage, and soon he's off killing people on his own. There are a number of big plot twists thereafter which I will not reveal, but suffice to say that it shatters everything McAvoy thought he knew about the world... yadda, yadda, etc.

Although I had a number of problems with the movie, the big one is that McAvoy, while charismatic, seems to only be interested in joining the Fraternity for shallow reasons... largely because it seems like a cool, self-empowering thing to do. As the movie goes on, avenging his father's death becomes vaguely more important to him, but I wondered if I'd feel same way seeing as this is a father he didn't know, and in fact, never met. I'm not saying that it wouldn't strike an emotional chord with me to be told what McAvoy is told early in the flick, but when it comes down to it, we are talking about a virtual stranger who had zero presence in his life and never made any attempt to be in touch with him.

Aside from the fact that the assassins are taking their orders from fucking cloth, my other main beef is the sheer recklessness on display toward the movie's innocent bystanders. There is an excellent sequence on a commuter train about 2/3rds of the way through the movie, for example, which results in the train skidding off the rails and ultimately plummeting to the rocky canyon below. McAvoy and Jolie make it out alright, but I can't imagine anyone else survived. As my buddy Chris recently pointed out, it's one thing if a terrorist or something causes all that indiscriminate death, but when the good guy is responsible for it and there's no kind of acknowledgment or remorse, it's just kind of fucked up.

Similarly, the big climax of the movie has McAvoy using his super-spy training to kill a warehouse full of people in order to get to the corrupt head of a supposedly good organization. I had conflicting feelings about that too, as all the people who are mowed down seem to basically think that they are good guys doing the right thing.

The movie ultimately ends on something of a glib note, suggesting that Russian director Timur Bekmambetov was more interested in making a picture where cool shit happens than he was in telling a story with any greater meaning. Now that he's proven he can make a good action movie in English, he should probably focus on trying to make one that actually tries to mean something by the end.

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