Reviewing Wanted, the film based on the Top Cow miniseries by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, is a difficult request. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the film is enjoyable, but solely on a puerile level, and undoubtedly not for the reasons that Bekmambetov intended. This movie is exactly what would happen if a hyperactive 16-year-old was given free range to write a script; it features an Angelina Jolie butt-shot, bullets that don’t travel at normal speed or in a straight line, and the euphoria of telling off your boss and all the jerks at work. But when asked if this film is actually any good, or even a good comic adaptation, the answer is a strong “No.”
Those of you who remember the comic series remember a truly raunchy adventure about an assassin named Fox who recruits a cubical jockey to take his father’s place in a secret society of supervillains known as The Fraternity. From there, we get a few twists and turns thrown our way, but primarily, this was a comic book about all things comic books: superheroes, villains with puffy capes, a cannibal baddie, and even a few digs on other genre flops like Adam West’s Batman.
With that in mind, the movie takes its own liberties, and generously at that. Replace “supervillains” with “assassins,” “puffy capes” with “bullets that curve,” and “cannibal” with Morgan Freeman. It is totally understandable how this movie was sold, because people are so afraid of doing superhero films that don’t have names like “[[[Iron Man]]]” or “[[[Batman]]]” attached to them, so instead they were going for a Matrix redux, and failed miserably.
[[[Wanted]]] took gravity and physics and threw them both out the window in order to pull of these ridiculous action sequences. In a world like that of [[[Matrix]]], bending bullets and time was believable, as our reality was established as nothing more than a computer program. Here, the reason a car is able to flip around like a kitten is simply because this group of assassins can get their heart rate up to 400 beats per minute, which allows them to become hyper perceptive. This is all that’s provided as explanation for being able to drive a car into the side of a bus, then drive away, seemingly unscathed.
The acting in this film is almost not worthy of a mention. Morgan Freeman has essentially become a brand name, much like Christopher Walken or Mickey Rourke. Adding a name like Freeman will change the feel of the written character, and instead make it “Wanted with Morgan Freeman.” Angelina is essentially playing the exact same character as in Mr. and Mrs. Smith: the sultry/mysterious/dead-behind-the-eyes look that, for some reason, makes men everywhere swoon. The rest of the cast falls in the category of extraneous, including a bizarre cameo by Terrance Stamp, who does not eat people, nor ask anyone to kneel before him.
Another big problem with the adaptation from the comic series is the morality of our protagonist. Wesley Gibson steals, maims and rapes in the book, while in the film we get a whiney, almost “Anakin-esque” performance from James McAvoy. The story almost forces us to feel for his plight, mostly because Hollywood has yet to perfect the concept of the anti-hero just yet.
Our last big issue comes in the ending. Mark Millar is a big proprietor in his books of shocking his readers, and that left the last couple of lines in the comic book having our protagonist essentially berate the reader, explaining why this story makes him better than all of us. This was slightly frustrating, but still fun to have a comic book break the fourth wall and analyze the reader.
While this worked so well in the comic, it fell flat in the film. Like previously mentioned, the powers-that-be softened up McAvoy’s Gibson, making us empathize with his sad life. To then have him turn around in the end and look right into the camera and call the audience pathetic only confused and infuriated the audience. A poor move.
Finally, this film is exactly what NOT to do when adapting an independent comic book for film. One needs to stick to the “do it right or don’t do it at all” theory, instead of doing things like replacing super villains with assassins because “it’s more believable.” I dread to think of what changes would happen if they were to adapt Millar’s new Kick Ass book similarly. Instead of a teenager who learns to fight crime the hard way and suffers a few brutal beatings before becoming a hero, would the Hollywood version feature have him “step up” and break-dance his way into the heart of America?