A friend of mine used to have a game he called “Who can take the hardest punch?”. I never played. But something of that game’s mixture of violence, posturing and borderline personality disorder came back to me as I watched Wanted. This is a movie made for boys: full of guns, knives, fast cars and explosive women. People get punched in this movie so hard and so regularly that you might fear for their looks, if they weren’t part of a fantasy universe. Blood doesn’t signal a wound in Wanted, it’s more like lipstick. The hero doesn’t have sex; he has the crap kicked out of him.
A thousand years ago (so the credits tell us) a group of weavers created a secret society of assassins to protect the world from evil. What the hell weavers (weavers?!) know about killing people, I’ve no idea. But go with it. Our movie begins with a bloodbath. An angry-looking man in a dark suit gets his brains blown out. Angelina Jolie tells James McAvoy the angry dude was McAvoy’s father. No time to mourn daddy, ’cos the guy who killed him wants McAvoy dead too. After that it’s mayhem… Ok, more mayhem. McAvoy learns the way of the assassin and he Kicks Some Ass!
In a factory someplace – where they built Angelina Jolie – they built her with a movie like Wanted in mind, and it worked. Angelina makes perfect sense in Wanted. People have tried in the past to cast her as a woman. And ok, all joking aside, it worked once or twice. But she’s best playing Angelina, the lioness… ageless, sensual, thrilling to behold. There’s a great scene in Wanted where McAvoy (who’s us) asks Angelina if she ever dreams of a normal life, and she looks at him – all cheekbones – and it’s as if she doesn’t even need to answer. She looks normal when she’s leaning out a car window, dressed in couture and blasting a shotgun at a psycho. That’s her normal. There isn’t any need for her character to have a character in Wanted. Once they cast Angelina, it’s like the movie became background for what we dream of as her everyday life.
James McAvoy (who some may remember as Mr Tumnus) has been living at the gym, evidently, since getting cast in Wanted. He has a shirt-off seen that should please his admirers, and he handles guns like someone reared on John Woo. But he’s still best as an ordinary schlub. McAvoy starts the movie with a complexion like used toilet paper. His eyes are ground into his skull and he looks like he wants to die. What’s great is way the movie plays like a young man’s fantasy of life-as-an-action-movie. McAvoy literally wakes up one morning with a gun in his pocket and Angelina Jolie waiting outside. He seems giddy here, and a little smug, like the 15-year-old who knows he’s entitled to everything. Even when he’s being beaten to a pulp, you know he likes it: what boy doesn’t enjoy rough-housing with the other kids?
Action scenes are ten-a-penny in Wanted, and everything is done twice (in case you don’t appreciate the awesomeness first time around). The director, Timur Bekmambetov, has a thing for playing with time, so you get a lot of slow-motion, the better to savour heads exploding and cars flipping over other cars. Untold numbers of civilians are killed, but the movie doesn’t worry in the slightest about them. There’s a typical scene where a packed passenger train is obliterated, and the only people we’re supposed to care about are the two who caused the train to be destroyed.
In the game “Who can take the hardest punch?” the rules were simple: you got hit by the other guy until you couldn’t take getting hit anymore. It was all about not thinking too much. If you thought about it, you’d stop. Wanted is like that. Step back from this movie and it’s nonsense; a lot of blood spurts with some acting in-between. But if you don’t think about it – if you think like a boy – it’s great fun. Guns in this movie are no more real than two fingers and a thumb. James McAvoy plays at being an assassin. His co-star is Lara Croft. This movie is a video game waiting to happen.