Targeted, so to speak, at legions of put-upon, twentysomething worker-drones who dream of being a big, mean badass who can tell the world to eff-off with a pair of automatic pistols, the power-fantasy action movie Wanted is actually a dumbed-down, compromised version of the fetishistic comic-book miniseries on which it's based. As often happens to great Hong Kong, Scottish, French and other directors from overseas, the Russian-Kazakh Timur Bekmambetov has come here and made a generic Hollywood product that looks and feels like a half-dozen other films that excited neither critics nor audiences. The much-anticipated U.S. major-studio debut of the director whose stylized fantasy-actioners Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) impacted Russia the way The Matrix did America has simply given us Bulletproof Monk or Hitman redux.
Initially hewing closely to the comic, down to specific lines of dialogue, the film finds cubicle clone Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) having another in a long line of anxiety attacks—which are about the only way he feels anything at all. Numb to his harpy girlfriend's (Kristen Hager) cheating on him with his frat-boy-caricature best friend (Chris Pratt), and regularly put-upon by his cartoonishly grotesque boss (Lorna Scott), he's ill-prepared for the arrival of sultry action-gal Fox (Angelina Jolie, admirably straight-faced throughout). She tells him a man called Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) has killed Wes' father, who'd left home when Wes was a week old—and was the greatest assassin of a thousand-year-old cadre called The Fraternity.
Wes absorbs all this while being whisked away in a sports car Fox pilots through Chicago with Cross in hot pursuit, bullets flying. But once Fox jumps her car over a police barricade, she and Wes are home free and can drive normally through the streets without any further interference. Did we say "jump a police barricade"? We meant "jump the shark." Or we would if later revelations didn't make clear that this is a movie born in mid-air over the shark.
Wes learns that, like his father, he can channel his adrenaline so as to have super-fast reflexes and the ability to shoot wings off flies. How this lets him or the other assassins curve bullets around objects goes unexplained, and physics really goes out the window later when someone makes a bullet do a complete circle.
In six weeks, Wes becomes a master killer who, under leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman), assassinates individuals who "threaten the balance of order and chaos." Or perhaps order and KAOS, as in the marginally more plausible Get Smart. Until Wes is ready to hunt down Cross, Sloan gives him targets decided upon by—are you ready?—a textile loom that weaves binary code. It's called The Loom of Fate!
That wasn't in writer Mark Millar's six-issue Wanted (2003-2004), in which The Fraternity was an army of supervillains which attacked superheroes en masse, killing or brainwashing them all, and now secretly runs the world. Wes in the comic is a sociopath who goes so far as to kill his old sixth-grade teacher for being mean to him, plus girls who'd turned him down for dates in high school. This comic-geek revenge fantasy ends with Wes breaking the fourth wall and positioning himself so that he's "prison-raping" and taunting the reader for having liked the series. Millar, a popular writer, went on create a series for a Marvel Comics creator-owned imprint in which he ridicules readers with cover lines like "Sickening violence just the way you like it!"
While Millar may have contempt for his readers—and, by extension, the medium in which he works—at least he has his own vision, and gets it across with style and wit. As for the movie, Wes encapsulates the tone of this whole misfired production with a single line: "We get our orders from a loom." That pretty much hits the bull's-eye.