During Tim Burton’s biopic, “Ed Wood,” Johnny Depp places a phone call to a financier who has just screened Wood’s first major motion picture. “Really,” Wood inquires, “worst movie you’ve ever seen? Oh… well, the next one will be better!”
Timur Bekmambetov previously directed “Nightwatch,” which is one of the worst films of the last five years. Intended as a Russian version of the sci-fi punk genre popularized in “The Matrix,” “Blade” or “The Terminator,” it was an incomprehensible mess of “cool” that I called “the worst thing to happen to Russia since the North Ossetia school massacre of September 2004.” Having missed the sequel, “Day Watch,” I was morbidly curious about what this visual dry-heave and narrative wet-fart would do with a major American action picture. Well, at least this film was comprehensible. So that’s progress. I guess.
Paraphrasing a friend of mine as we exited the theater, “Wanted” is a movie so shamelessly derivative of so many other movies that it ought to have a work-cited page at the start of the closing credits. It steals and copies and dumbs down countless action classics of the last twenty-five years. It swipes from, among many others, “The Matrix,” “Fight Club,” “The Terminator” and “Ronin,” libeling each and every one of them by their inclusion. It has the sensibility of an over stimulated eight-year old boy who still fears the unexplained phenomenon known as girls. “Wanted” is the most willfully stupid and condescending action films in years.
The “plot”: Take “The Matrix.” Substitute James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman for Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne. Ok, now substitute “Wesley, Fox and Sloane” for Neo, Trinity and Morpheus. Now switch out “Fraternity” for “rebellion” and switch out “war against the machines” and “great hope” and toss in “master assassin” and “quest to kill various targets that allegedly threaten society.” That was easy.
While “The Matrix” and “Fight Club” were occasionally subtle and always smart in dealing with the generational angst of males growing up without any real manly purpose in a slightly more feminized world (gross simplification, my apologies), “Wanted” is literally filled end-to-end with over-the-top and on-the-nose voice over from McAvoy in which every plot point is explained, every emotional beat is repeated thrice, and every character choice is explained and diagrammed for audience consumption. Seriously, this narration is worse than “Blade Runner” and worse than “Sin City.” This is literally the worst voice over I have ever heard in any movie… ever.
McAvoy is hilariously miscast as Wesley Gibson. While he is adequate as the put-upon loser in the opening acts (even there, he talks and whines constantly during the action scenes), he is ridiculously unconvincing once he allegedly becomes the master assassin who will prove the savior of “The Fraternity.” For most of the picture, Wesley Gibson inexplicably is obsessed with avenging the murder of his father, despite the fact that daddy abandoned him when he was seven-days old. At all times, McAvoy resembles your whiny little brother and really, who wants to see their whiny little brother become an expert killer in a super-secret society?
Much of the movie’s advertising campaign has focused on the appeal of Angelina Jolie playing a vixin-ish assassin who engages in various forms of action set-pieces. But don’t be fooled. Jolie’s Fox gets one major action scene at the beginning of the film, but she quickly becomes eye-candy background scenery. The rest of the action either doesn’t involve Fox or has her passively observing the manly work of killing.
For Timur Bekmambetov, women are scary, devious creatures who should not be trusted. Wesley’s current girlfriend is an abusive, trashy slut who sleeps around with his best friend. Wesley’s boss is a boorish and vile woman, both because she is in a position of power and because she is grossly overweight. Even the seemingly super-woman Fox eventually finds herself regulated to being the token female in the all-boys killers club.
The much-buzzed about action has no sense of physics or suspense, rendering it boring. Morgan Freeman has but a few lines of notable dialogue and not a single action scene. The film is quite bloody and violent, but there is no weight or consequence to the violence. There is literally a scene where Wesley’s reckless and vengeful actions single-handedly cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent bystanders (this carnage caused by an allegedly covert and top-secret society goes unmentioned and unnoticed).
We have horribly stupid writing, astonishingly insulting expositional voice over, mediocre acting, wasted talent, head-slappingly stupid action, and a sensibility that caters to pre-adolescent boys who still fear cooties. Yep, “Wanted” is the best film that Timur Bekmambetov has yet made. Good for him. Really.