Wanted (2008)

(In theaters, June 2008) Perhaps the best and biggest surprise of this film is how it manages to remain faithful to a certain facet of the source material despite changing nearly everything else about it. The comic-book super-villains (and their associated powers, quirks and backstory) are out; instead we get super-assassins controlled by a magic loom. Yeaaaah. But the first two minutes are nearly word-for-word recreation, and the adaptation even finds a way to spark the memory of the comic book’s infamous last two pages. (Sadly, the leads are not played by Eminem and Halle Berry.) The next-best thing about Wanted is Timur Bekmambetov’s insanely kinetic direction, which picks up where the Wachowski Brothers left off: Plenty of CGI-boosted sequences with long tracking shots, wild camera tricks, subjective point-of-view and variable-speed shots: The film defies the laws of physics with gusto, making one appreciate the attempt even as it trips up every single nonsense detector: The “curving the bullet” shtick (overplayed until exasperation) is a perfect example of style over credibility: Makes no sense, but sure looks cool. And that goes for much of the film itself, which is borderline trash on paper (binary code generated by a thousand-year-old loom that predicts the future?) but manages to keep things hopping through constant eyeball kicks. Alas, what feels pretty cool in the theater disaggregates soon afterwards, and ends up feeling far less substantial a short while later. Even Angelina Jolie seems wasted here, playing a surface caricature of herself as a sex-symbol while not actually doing anything sexy beyond showing up in the film itself. The biggest irony of those statements, of course, is that a script is cheap to fix early on, while all of the stylistic refinements that cover up the hollowness of the film are expensive to perfect. What could have this film been with a little more cleverness? Consider this: While a surprising amount of the comic has been kept intact (considering the comic book’s ultra-violence), very little attempt has been made to apply to the action movie genre the same critique than the book did: It’s all surface escapism, with a last-moment dash of wish fulfillment. What if Wanted-the-movie had gone after the action-movie geeks the same way Wanted-the-comic-book wiped the floor with comic-book fanboys? Ah, but that would have required the intent to question the assumptions of action movies…

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