It’s one thing to be able to craft a massive hit or two in your home country for a foreign director. It’s another to be able to go into another country’s system and craft a monster hit. That’s exactly what Timur Bekmambetov, of post-Communist Russia’s Night Watch franchise, did with Wanted this summer.
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a twenty-something who has a pretty crummy life. His girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend, and also treats him like garbage. Everyone treats him like garbage, though, and he just takes it because that’s the kind of person he is: meek. Then one day a beautiful woman (Angelina Jolie) saves his life and everything changes, as he goes from meek cubicle worker to badass assassin almost overnight. With the guidance of The Fraternity, led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman), Wesley is trained to be the world’s best assassin (in the footsteps of his father) in an attempt to kill the man who took his father’s life. Throw in a Deus ex machina plot device in the end and Wanted is the sort of ground-breaking film that made The Matrix a hit. And that’s the best comparison to make, too.
Wanted pushes the envelope in how an action should look and feel, as Bekmambetov takes the unique style he brought to the Night Watch franchise and develops it further for his American debut. A lot of the slow-motion sequences he uses in Wanted he has used earlier but nearly as effectively; the action goes from zero to 60 quickly and Bekmambetov knows exactly where he’s going with them. He’s less of an actor’s director and more of a story-teller, sing the actors as chess pieces in his grand vision of a story. But it’s not the story that’s engaging. It’s the action. And the cast is pretty good, too.
It doesn’t hurt that a top flight cast has been assembled, as he has two Oscar winners (Jolie and Freeman) to go with several upcoming stars as well. Bekmambetov has a familiar face in Konstantin Khabensky, who was the lead in both Night Watch films and makes for some interesting conversations in the film that seem to channel the spirit of those films, and Bekmambetov wisely lets a veteran cast do what they need to do in the film. This is more of a director’s film than an actors film, as you’re not going to see anything extraordinary from this cast (outside of Morgan Freeman cursing), but Bekmambetov is smart enough to know when to let his cast dictate the action and when to drop some jaws behind the camera.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Bekmambetov and the screenplay have taken substantial liberties with the story. It’s more of a story about a guy becoming more than he ever imagined than the story in the book, but it’s excessively entertaining nonetheless. It’s an embrace of life, of being able to focus on living the moment instead of waiting around for the day to come.
The film’s centerpiece is the almost non-stop action involving nearly every signature style of action. There are spectacular action sequences aplenty and Bekmambetov saves the most spectacular for the film’s finale. Mixing full speed action sequences with some inventive camerawork, it’s the type of film that aims for much higher than an ordinary action film. If you could mesh Hong Kong action sequences, slow motion, The Matrix and throw in Fight Club‘s testosterone indulgence and you get Wanted.
Presented in a Dolby Digital format, with a widescreen presentation, this is a stellar transfer. This is a film with vibrant colors and some interesting set pieces that provides lots of colors for the palette. The film really shines in its action sequences, making one unable to turn away from them because of how great they look.
Extended Scene is an extended scene where Wesley deals with shooting a dead body for the first time with Gunsmith and Fox. Nothing of note, but a pretty good joke is used by Wesley.
Cast and Characters focuses on the film’s cast. It’s a big fluff piece for the most part, but there are some interesting comments from the comic’s creator. Running 20 minutes, nothing really of note is said.
Stunts on the L Train is a brief look back at the stunt work used, as well as the green screen work, that went into the stunts on Chicago “L” train. McAvoy did his own stunts, as they show him doing the wire work on the green screens.
Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible focuses on Bekmambetov’s style and the effects used in the film. He did a lot with green screens, as most of his effects were practical and not CGI. He strived to do everything in real time as well, to get a more organic feel to it as well as going for a more unique experience.
Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution focuses on Bekmambetov and his view of visual effects. His theory is that they should add to the story without being the story, which is interesting to note. The train sequence at the end was trying to keep it in scale, keep it looking organic but making it exciting with the CGI. Bekmambetov went against a lot of what is traditionally used, wanting to keep it from being completely perfect in terms of sky lines, et al. The key that everyone repeats is that Bekmambetov isn’t obsessed with the CGI, and he even states that he doesn’t want the visual effects taking away from the emotion of the story. It’s about the emotion, not the way the effects look.
The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life focuses on how the comic book was turned into a film. Bekmambetov talks about how the visual style of the comic was crucial for him for the film, as he wanted to emulate it. It doesn’t really touch on how radically different the comic is from the finished product, but everyone seems more concerned with carrying the spirit of it over as opposed to the actual comic itself.
Through the Eyes of Visionary Directory Timur Bekmambetov focuses on his style of directing, as everyone talks about how wonderful it was to work with him. Bekmambetov is shown working, discussing scenes with his actors on how to do it and working with it directly to try and get the best possible scene. It’s interesting viewing, for sure, to see the creative process.
Wanted: Motion Comics is an animated look at some of the comic’s scenes that inspired similar scenes in the film. It’s interesting to see Millar’s vision juxtaposed against what Bekmambetov eventually put on the screen.
A Music Video for Danny Elfman’s “Little Things” is included.
The Making of Wanted: The Game is a piece on how the video game of the film came to be. It’s interesting to see that they wanted to honor the film’s attitude while throwing a nod to fans of the comic.
A Digital Copy of the film is included as well.
If one replaced the two words you can’t say on television in a pornography script with “gun” and “bullets,” odds are you’ll get something close to what Wanted turns out to be as it’s truly pornography for the action film set. That’s not an insult; Wanted is that rare movie that takes the action movie clichés and does them in such jaw-dropping ways that defy explanation and turn into an embrace of life. For the action junkie in some of us, it’s a must own. Wanted is escapist cinema at its best in 2008.
Universal presents Wanted. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Starring Morgan Freeman, James Macavoy, Angelina Jolie, Common. Written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. Running time:110 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: December 2, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.