Many action movies, comic books and geek-appeal TV shows are fantasies of empowerment. Protagonists from Luke Skywalker through Peter Parker and Harry Potter are mistaken for dullards by everyone in their lives. They are whisked out of their ruts by magical mentors, who induct them into secret universes where they inherit a legacy of heroism (along with an arch-enemy or two), can take their pick of the cool toys (mostly fast vehicles and big weapons) and get to marry (or at least cop-off with) the princess or prince of their choice. Wanted fits that template treading a tricky path between ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ and ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
Here, a whiny loser gets access to sports cars, guns that shoot round corners and a tattooed Angelina Jolie, and takes his place in a battle between good and evil without necessarily caring about the body count. Our hero, Wesley (James McAvoy), endures arduous training which brings out his latent near-superhuman abilities, and executes his first missions.
The director, Timur Bekmambetov, obviously has a lot of fun with a sizable budget, we get fights, chases, crashes, murders and assaults involving flipped-over sports cars, speeding trains, skyscrapers, and a castle. Bekmambetov understands pacing and escalation, scenes build in intensity, and each sequence is filled with inventive gags or gimmicks, like the broken letters that spell out a to the point resignation message when Wesley breaks his keyboard on the face of the best friend who is sleeping with his girlfriend. A great thing about Wanted is it doesn’t seem interested in trying to appeal to the masses by getting a 12A certificate, so it can deliver the gruesome payoffs to its fights.
McAvoy, boyish charming and occasionally scary, carries off a tricky role, growing the hero’s character to match his bullet-curving and knife-fighting skills, and proves he can hold his own on the big screen. A slender Angelina Jolie is insidiously attractive as the world’s greatest (and, apparently, most limber) hit lady: I have never seen her more charismatic on screen - or bent into such odd positions.
In a time where even the good action films have been predictable, Wanted offers more than enough twists, turns and surprises to fool viewers who think they know what’s going to happen. Wanted is fun, funny and packed with more action than you can shake an AK-47 at. Recommended.