wanted-movie-posterBack in the days when Mad magazine was still a comic book, they ran a great piece called “Book! Movie!” It contrasted the plot of a seamy, scandalous bestseller with the shiny, homogenized movie adaptation. I thought of it while watching Wanted, a shiny, homogenized adaptation of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ seamy, scandalous comic book.

Actually, the Millar-approved script (by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan) sort of does for action movies what the original Wanted did for superhero comics. In the comic, wimpy office drone Wesley Gibson learns that he’s the son of a famous supervillain, destined to join a group of supervillains who have already wiped out all the superheroes. The rest of the world doesn’t know this because they’re not supposed to. The premises of both comic and movie have been aptly summed up as Fight Club meets The Matrix, the two 1999 odes to breaking out of deadening Ikea conformity with ejaculatory, cinematographic violence.

Here, Wesley (James McAvoy) discovers his heritage connected to an ancient order of assassins who determine their targets based on the “loom of fate,” or some such thing. In the comic, Wesley was drawn as a dead ringer for Eminem; the difference between the comic and the movie is essentially the difference between Eminem and James McAvoy. The punk-rock fuck-you spirit of the comic pops up in the movie intermittently, but for the most part director Timur Bekmambetov uses the basic premise to indulge in computer-enhanced showstoppers, such as when a speeding car meets a moving train with about as much tenderness as Hollywood meets a graphic novel.

All that said, this Wanted is amusing for what it is; it’s pop nihilism (as opposed to Millar’s more genuine nihilism, which ended with the hero literally bending the reader over), but it’s agreeably slick pop nihilism, getting a kick out of its own excesses. A too-skinny Angelina Jolie turns up now and then as Fox, the hot mama who teases and browbeats poor Wesley through his training; he’s supposed to be preparing to kill the Bad Guy who murdered his legendary-assassin dad, though twists are in store. Jolie slinks through the movie with a self-satisfied smirk curling those famous lips, knowing she’s being used as fanboy femme-fatale shorthand, and quite content to let herself be used (she has said she was itching to do something light and brutal after emptying her tearducts in films like A Mighty Heart and Changeling). Morgan Freeman, as the imperious interpreter of the loom, serves as similar shorthand, doing his godlike-authority specialty. All the creative thought has gone into the stunts and setpieces, which add the curve-the-bullet visual to the action-flick lexicon.

Making his English-language debut after the geek-cherished Night Watch and Day Watch, Timur Bekmambetov doesn’t seem to have much on his mind or in his heart except a gallery of viciously cool visual possibilities. He loves to slow things down so we can get the sharpest look at the carnage, and he does interesting things with Wesley’s enhanced senses, which Wesley thinks are just anxiety attacks. (Finally, cubicle jockeys have a wish-fulfillment explanation for their Zoloft prescriptions.) Bekmambetov may not develop into a major visionary, or even a minor one, but he can put a hyperkinetic sheen on the usual bang-bang. That’s not nothing. But it’s not everything either.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, adaptation, comic-book

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