If Timur Bekmambetov is the Russian David Fincher, then “Wanted” is his “Fight Club”: bloody, brutal, funny, lightly satirical, and all about a nobody who shakes himself from his reverie and becomes a real man. There aren’t many deep themes here (not as many as there are supposed to be, anyway), but who cares? The stylized violence and unapologetically ludicrous action sequences are the selling point, and “Wanted” delivers those by the blood-soaked truckload.
“Wanted” is about a Chicago office drone named Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) whose life is so insubstantial that he gets zero hits when he Googles himself. But like Neo before him (only played by an actual actor, rather than a plank of driftwood), Wesley is rescued from his drudgery by a secret organization that wants to tell him who he really is and what his destiny can be. That’s right, the Mormons.
No, kidding. The group is known as The Fraternity (but they let girls in, too), and it began a thousand years ago when a group of weavers decided that weaving was boring and they should become assassins. Today the group is run by Sloan (Morgan Freeman), with headquarters hidden in an actual textile factory. Every guy in the place is tough and mean, a real brute of the loom, if you will, and they show Wesley the ropes of shooting people from a distance. That’s right: Wesley snipes. (That concludes the pun portion of this review.)
Aided by his new handler, Fox (Angelina Jolie), Wesley learns to control the powers that have been in his DNA all along. Those anxiety attacks he’s been taking pills for? It’s actually his body speeding up so he can react and think more quickly than the average person.
Wesley is needed for a particular mission to assassinate a particular person; why it must be him who does the job is a revelation saved for later, along with many (perhaps too many) other twists and turns and crosses and double-crosses that come spilling out in the last act. In the meantime, Wesley studies The Frat’s history and learns, from Sloan, how their targets are chosen. He takes it on faith that these targets are all bad guys who deserve to die. And why wouldn’t he? Sloan is Morgan Freeman, for crying out loud. You’d believe anything that guy told you.
Angelina Jolie manages to kick some butt (and show her own, briefly), though I think her fans might wish she’d been given more to do. She comes off as a supporting character rather than a co-star, and aloof in a very Angelina Jolie sort of way. The star, James McAvoy, acquits himself well enough in his first big action role, displaying more diverse talents than his performances in staid period pieces like “Atonement” would have indicated.
Bekmambetov, who made the “Night Watch” series of vampire films in Russia, makes his English-language debut with “Wanted.” Based on J.G. Jones and Mark Millar’s comic book, it’s a good fit for the Kazakhstan-born filmmaker, who has already demonstrated his love for creative violence and thorny mythologies. In “Wanted,” as in the “Night Watch” films, you get the feeling you’re never expected to take any of it too seriously because Bekmambetov himself clearly doesn’t. He’s laughing right along with us. This is much better than what usually happens with outrageous action films, where we laugh at how ridiculous it is while the director says, “Hey, why are they laughing? That was supposed to be cool!”
Like Fincher (and like the Wachowskis, whose “Matrix” this film occasionally resembles), Bekmambetov loves intricate camera movement and CGI-assisted tracking shots. He also loves to film violence. He delights in it — not in the violence itself, but in the physical movement associated with it, the way a bullet arcs through the air or a person’s body reacts as it’s hit. “Wanted” is full of such visual poetry, as well as several slam-bang action scenes that suggest the Russian fellow might have a long career ahead of him in Hollywood, if he wants it.
B (1 hr., 50 min.; )