By leaps and bounds, “Wanted” is so far the finest adventure of the 2008 summer.
Yes, adventure fans, it is better than “The Incredible Hulk,” smarter, and more enjoyable, and more challenging than “Iron Man.”
Just when guys like me were lamenting the absence of solid stories in movies sure to be devoured by salivating young men, along comes a real winner, this one directed by Russian impresario Timur Bekmambetov.
Oh, the surprises. How about Angelina Jolie, who finally turns in a stellar performance as a live-action heroine? Welcome also James McAvoy, who comes into his own as a strong leading man, a welcome and winning combination of Michael J. Fox and Tobey Maguire. As Wesley Gibson, McAvoy is the proverbial wimp who turns into an elite killer. Then there’s Morgan Freeman in a strong stint as the chief of an elite fraternity of assassins working from centuries back.
There’s much I cannot divulge about this intelligent thriller, especially because a good deal of the story involves betrayals and turnabouts. It begins with a chase and murder of Gibson’s father, a man who abandoned him years back. The pursuer, Cross, is played by Thomas Kretschmann, who was so good as the Nazi officer in “The Pianist.”
Like a brooding Hamlet, Wesley has no idea of his potential. Working as an accountant under a bully and betrayed by his best friend, our hero is forlorn and abused, the bedbug from a Kafka novel. That’s when Jolie’s Fox shows up, saving him from certain death, proclaiming to her acolyte that he is born to be an assassin, that he has to avenge his father’s death and ascend his vacant throne.
Toughened up by a cadre of killers in Freeman’s castle of industry, Wesley is convinced that his hits are for a greater good. Here is where the movie gets us to think about the morality of knocking off dangerous people before they have a chance to do their dirty deeds. It is Wesley’s chance to redeem his existence by shunning the life of an “ordinary, beaten-down” accountant, turning from a sheep into a wolf.
Along the way, Bekmambetov treats us to a rapid-fire succession of “Matrix”-like phenomena. The most astounding are bullets that reach their destination by taking arc-like detours. The laws of physics do not always apply in this universe.
For all its elaborate, supernatural, logic-defying twists, “Wanted” is a no-nonsense thriller. It hits the ground running, and once it takes off, it rarely descends into tedium. It even offers quite a few laughs, not the least of which occurs when Wesley stands up to his supervisor. I must report than in the crowded theater, this moment drew cheers, applause and self-righteous laughter, proving, perhaps, that a lot of people out there would just love to humiliate and embarrass the crass, overbearing lords who rule their workplace.
DIRECTED BY Timur Bekmambetov
SCREENPLAY BY Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on comic strip by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones
STARRING James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terrence Stamp and Thomas Kretschmann
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes