Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
When talking about what justifies giving a film “zero stars” critic Roger Ebert has said that he believes the film needs to be both “artistically inept and morally repugnant.” While we don’t have a star rating system here at CC2k, I would have to consider such a dismal rating for Wanted if we did. While it can certainly be argued that the film may not be artistically inept it is undoubtedly morally repugnant, so maybe half a star would suffice. This film is the first real clunker of the summer season. I felt kind of dirty and uncomfortable watching it, and while I tried to push those feelings aside and concentrate on the film’s visual flair, I just couldn’t do it as the film consistently defies logic in its attempt to be as violent and repulsive as possible.
The film opens by introducing James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson. Wesley is not a happy man. He has extremely low self esteem and suffers daily panic attacks. He loathes his mundane office job and his obnoxious boss. The film goes to near-sadistic lengths to establish Wesley as a Grade A loser. Googling himself results in zero hits. His girlfriend is nailing his "friend" and coworker. Even the ATM adds “you are a loser” to the notification that he has “insufficient funds.” Although still early in the film I already began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. We get it; Wesley’s lot in life sucks. The dead horse is sufficiently beaten; there is no reason to take some kind of perverse joy out of it. Anyway, while we are being introduced to Wesley we also witness the assassination of a hitman atop a skyscraper. How is this event connected to average, boring Wesley, you ask? Surprise, surprise the hitman is Wesley’s estranged father, and Wesley has unwittingly inherited his father’s deadly skills and is destined to enter into the same lethal profession.
Wesley learns of his newfound powers from Fox (Angelina Jolie), one of the operatives from an organization known as “The Fraternity.” Fox informs Wesley that the man responsible for his father’s murder will soon be after him. Wesley is, understandably, incredulous at first, but unable to return to a life he abhors he applies for acceptance into The Fraternity. Wesley then meets the master of his fate, so to speak, and The Fraternity’s leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman). However, before any decision is made Wesley is subjected to an application/training process that would make the villain from the Saw series proud. He is tied up, beaten, and stabbed nearly to death repeatedly, only to be placed in an odd therapeutic “bath” that covers him with a strange wax-like substance and heals all of his injuries.
This initiation process demonstrates the film’s obsession with pointless violence as it’s hard to figure out exactly how this facilitates the honing of Wesley’s assassin skills. Once the beatings subside Wesley (finally) gets to learn how to shoot a gun – but not the “normal” way. As you’re probably aware from the trailers The Fraternity’s assassins have the ability to “curve” bullets around objects in order to hit a target on the other side. As it turns out this incredibly ridiculous feat is accomplished by holding the gun sideways and swinging your arm towards the target as if you’re throwing a football “sidearm.” Wanted not only revels in graphic violence, it also tries to push logic as far outside the boundaries of the believable as possible. Another example of this is when Wesley, on one of his first assignments, has to launch the car he is driving into the air and over a limousine in order to shoot and kill his intended target through the limo’s sunroof. Of course a scene like this is intended to thrill the audience, but it’s just plain stupid. Why does the film need to have so many over-the-top ludicrous scenes like this? My guess is because its script is so idiotic that it needs distractions of epic proportions to keep the audience from thinking at all.
To wit, all of this nonsense is centered on a concept that doesn’t make much sense if you think about it for more than, say, five minutes. There’s a great deal of talk during Wesley’s initiation about The Fraternity being “the instrument of fate,” and that their actions are for “the greater good.” By “killing one” they “save a thousand.” Yet the basis for Wesley’s entry into The Fraternity is cast into doubt in the second half of the movie when the script throws a curve that has nothing to do with a bullet but is equally silly and obvious. The man that Wesley believes (thanks to The Fraternity) is out to kill him may (gasp!) have a totally different agenda, and The Fraternity may (double gasp!) not be what it seems. If you really think about this twist, the film makes even less sense and we have to ask ourselves why this man would have to go through all of these violent confrontations when he could have just sent Wesley an e-mail.
Furthermore, as we learn of The Fraternity’s origins – a medieval clan of “weavers” began the organization, instructing their assassins through secret code included in their weavings who their next target is, a target they cannot question due to “serenity and balance” of the world being at stake, or something along those lines – the concept of a random death sentence makes it hard to root for these assassins. In fact, there really aren’t any characters worth caring about at all. The climax of Wanted is as bloody and absurd as what comes before it as we see bullets tearing through bodies in slow motion, and no one is spared. Most alarming to me though is the final scene which pretty much says “Hey, in order to be somebody you gotta go out there and kill someone.” Unfortunately films like Wanted advertise and appeal to a young audience, and this ultimately may be the most morally repugnant thing about it.