“What the fuck have you done lately?” asks James McAvoy’s Wesley Gibson towards the end of Wanted. He spits the question with such venom that it makes you want to quit the job and sign up or something. It’s blunt and – as a blockbuster’s central question – hardly uplifting. Yet so entertaining, bonkers, brash is Night Watch/Day Watch director Timur Bekmambetov’s US debut that such ribbing doesn’t feel mean-spirited. It’s completely fair really. What the fuck have you done lately?
In Gibson’s case, not much. He’s a loser tied to an office, berated by a vulgar boss while his girlfriend has sex with his mate back at the flat. It’s a terribly dreary existence. That is until Fox (Angelina Jolie, never sexier than when hanging out a car in a skimpy white dress) pitches up and tells him dad was a member of elite assassin gang The Fraternity before he was offed just yesterday. Now Gibson must find and kill the man responsible…
That’s his motivation and, thanks to intense, bruising training and a whole load of self-belief instilled by Morgan Freeman’s sagely, sweary Sloan, he’s bang up for settling scores.
Wanted is the sort of film where walking from cab to kerb takes four cuts and a load of flashbang. It is – as anyone familiar with Bekmambetov’s Russian films will have guessed – visually extraordinary, fast-cutting and slow-moing to the max while veins pulse through skin and bullets smack other bullets in mid-air. It’s all completely ridiculous of course and its pace will switch many viewers off. But the imagination and verve in the way the director handles a massive train crash on a mountainous bridge makes pretty much every other set-piece this summer look staid by comparison.
The whole thing’s helped no end by being based (however loosely) on Mark Millar’s highly accomplished graphic novel, which steers the film’s utilitarian – greater good for the greater number – philosophy. The principles behind The Fraternity’s kills are more intellectually challenging than any spandexer could muster and the ying-yang of right and wrong pulls with every bullet fired and blood-drop spilt. It could have been the new Matrix with a little more existentialism, but such is the humour at heart that Bekmambetov would rather show a rat blowing up mid-air than have McAvoy (a good guide throughout) reading the work of John Stuart Mill.
So this is entertainment after all; massively enjoyable popcorn fluff. Sequel? The ending leaves that option hard to imagine, but fingers crossed. An interesting, fresh director with drive and originality has made an interesting, fresh blockbuster with drive and originality. Hollywood should take note. When the fuck have they done that lately?
The train crash and Jolie's body will take headlines, but Wanted is far better than doubters predicted. Bekmambetov has been given free rein to let his bonkers vision rule, resulting in one of the freshest summer movies in years.