A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 249 – Wanted

Wanted – November 4th, 2010

I’m not sure whether this movie would rather be Office Space or Fight Club at the outset. It leans towards the latter, but definitely has touches of the former. All I knew about it going in was some of the cast and the director. Oh, and that the Mythbusters addressed the curving bullet thing. Busted. What I know coming out was that this is an exceptionally silly but also very pretty action movie about assassins. Really, if it wouldn’t be immensely and prohibitively expensive, the Mythbusters crew could have a field day with this one. The bullet through multiple heads thing, the car tipping over then driving on the side of a bus? Yes. Many myths. All of which would be firmly busted by the end.

Of course, the movie does set up the assassins with quasi-super powers. Much like The Lightning Thief posits that the kids of Greek gods aren’t really dyslexic, they’re just hardwired for Ancient Greek, this movie claims that Wesley, our hero, doesn’t have panic attacks. Those are his super assassin reflexes slowing down his perception of time so he can do shit like shoot the wings off of flies. So we’ve got this team of semi-magical assassins who get their assignments from a magic loom that makes mistakes in binary to give them names. If you are right now thinking this sounds like a comic book, you are on the money. Unfortunately, that whole mystical thing sort of takes the movie into magical realism territory, and I don’t know if it’s entirely comfortable there. I expect assassins in action movies to be bad fucking ass. Look at Jason Bourne. He’s not magical. He doesn’t have super panic attack sharpshooting skills. But while the assassins in this movie are bad ass, they’re not really superhero powered. Just. A little bit.

I felt like that was a problem with much of the movie. It was trying to be too many things. Fight Club and Office Space and the Bourne movies, all in one. And not really hitting the mark on any one of them. So there are these voiceovers from Wesley that are not quite serious and not quite humorous and I was never quite sure whether it was satire or not. The first fifteen minutes of the movie are spent establishing Wesley as the wimpiest wimp who ever wimped. It’s all to set him up as the unlikely heir to an ancient assassin brotherhood and I get that. But the movie spends these fifteen minutes setting it up so lovingly, it’s caricature. It also ends up feeling like an hour. I was shocked when I looked at the clock and saw how little time had passed. Maybe I’ve got super assassin powers too.

Fortunately for the movie, once it stops masturbating about quitting its job and smacking its cuckolding friend in the face, it does get better. Much much sillier in terms of the amusingly over-the-top action, but still, better. Because, you see, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to watch James McAvoy fighting and shooting and having races on top of subway trains with Angelina Jolie to watching him whine about his boss. There’s just something more engaging about it. The first thing I ever saw McAvoy in was the SciFi (it was still SciFi then) miniseries of Children of Dune, where he played Leto II and did a bang-up job of it in my opinion. But then he played Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and it’s tough to go from a cowardly faun to an action hero assassin. But I do buy him for most of the movie, especially the end. Every so often he backs off to his nebbishy roots and I had a flashback of the Longest Fifteen Minutes of Character Development Ever, but then he’d shoot something and all would be better again.

This sort of movie was not made for me, I know. It’s a big pool of testosterone, with Angelina Jolie gleefully splashing around. And while I do indeed enjoy Angelina Jolie myself, she wasn’t put in the movie for me. She was put in the movie to be the hot assassin chick guys would enjoy watching. Especially if it meant watching her butt. And we do get a shot of that too. But I don’t think it’s my girly nature that makes me feel like the movie was lacking something. Not plot, certainly. There’s plenty of plot, which is kind of nice for an action movie. It’s nowhere near as twisty as the Bourne movies, but there is a twist to it, and a decent set-up, if one accepts the mystical stuff. Wesley gets recruited to this secret group of assassins (The Fraternity – see, more testosterone), whose leader informs him that his father – whom he’s never met – was a member. And so he has to make this transformation into super assassin in order to hunt down the dude who left the Fraternity and went rogue and killed his father. And you know what? That’s fine. That’s a decent plot right there and the twist was something I saw coming but hey, no big.

No, it’s not plot that missing, and it’s not acting. Like I said, I buy McAvoy as Wesley and I love Angelina Jolie and she’s good at the hot bad ass thing. I always adore Morgan Freeman, who does a good inscrutable. Terrence Stamp, sadly, has a small part, but I liked seeing him all the same. It was fun seeing Konstantin Khabenskiy as one of the assassins after seeing him as a mage last night and Monday night. So yes. Fun cast. Decent plot. Craploads of action. But maybe that’s where it breaks down for me. I mean. The action is ridiculous. And I say this as someone who thoroughly enjoyed both Iron Man movies and mostly trashed X3 for plot and character issues, not action. Comic book action? No problem. But this movie is just plain silly in places. It’s over the top in a way that gets me mostly because, I think, we’re not dealing with superheroes. We’re dealing with people who have great reflexes and who can make bullets curve. Fancy reflexes do not make physics stop working. Even Iron Man has to worry about his suit icing up. If they had magic bullets, I’d be less inclined to laugh and more inclined to cheer.

There’s also the issue that the effect where people shoot at each other to deflect the bullets they’re shooting is used about a billion times. In slow motion. Extending the movie at least fifteen minutes. It’s a fun effect, yes. Please show me something else.

Anyhow, it’s not that I disliked it. It had fun moments and I had fun watching it. But I think I laughed a little more than I was probably supposed to and not always where I was supposed to. If they’d ditched about ten minutes of the beginning, or worked it into the rest of the movie in a slow reveal of backstory? And spent more time on bad ass Wesley training with bad ass Fox and the bad ass assassin crew? I’d have been right on board that train all the way to the derailment.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Wanted

November 4, 2010

Wanted

Since we watched Night Watch and Day Watch this week we figured why not go whole hog and make it a Timur Bekmambetov week with Wanted. This is a fun, but stupid movie. It mixes aspects of a whole bunch of popular movies (Amanda commented during the beginning “Is this supposed to be Office Space or Fight Club?”) and the plot of the Assasin’s Creed games into a huge overcharged action mess.

Okay, it’s a comic book movie. It’s an origin story. The origin of a totally bad ass killer. A killer with all kinds of super powers – in comic book tradition. It’s also the story of a guy trapped in a dead end job with a dead end relationship who can’t understand why he is the biggest loser in the world. James McAvoy plays Wesley, a total weenie who tells us in a Fight Club style voice over how repetitive and dreadful his menial cubical job life is. His boss is an annoying woman with a red stapler (is that a deliberate Office Space reference?) who yells at him and demeans him at work. His best friend is having sex with his girlfriend. He has no money in his bank account. In short his life completely sucks until one day in a convenience store a beautiful woman basically tells him “come with me if you want to live” and saves him from an unstoppable killing machine ala Terminator.

From there Wesley is thrown into a strange world full of super assassins who work in a castle that is a textile mill. His bodyguard and mentor is Fox, a taciturn woman who kicks all kinds of ass. The head of the order is Sloan, who translates the orders that an ancient loom makes for assassination targets pegged by fate itself as too dangerous to live. There’s a colorful crew of assassin thugs who work together to whip Wesley into shape so that he can kill Cross – the man they say killed Wesley’s father. (With the help of a montage this training only seems to take a couple days – although the voice over at the end of the movie implies it took six weeks. Still, I suppose they have to provide him with an entire lifetime’s training in that six weeks, so a montage is really the only way.)

Basically Wesley is the son of one of the greatest killers that ever lived, which is why The Fraternity needs him. He is the only person alive who has a chance to take out Cross. Of course there’s a pretty predictable twist and a big explody completely ridiculous action climax as well. But this is a movie that requires a whole lot of suspension of disbelief. The assassins in this movie have such superhuman abilities that they can do impossible car stunts, shoot the wings off of flies in the air, and curve the path of bullets to shoot around corners. (That last was the subject of a Mythbusters episode. Busted of course.) Right from the start, when one of the assassins throws himself through a plate glass window and across a gap as big as a football field to the rooftop of an adjacent building, shooting three assailants while in the air, you know just what kind of magic is going on here.

Actually it’s a pretty well plotted piece of world building. Because it’s an origin story and we’re following this character who’s all new to these kinds of abilities we get to see pretty much the entire arsenal as the rules of the universe we’re watching are established. Then the latter half of the movie are all just playing around in that world and showing us just how much killing one pissed off super-assassin can do. There is a feel to the effects, to the constant slo-motion shots, especially to the car stunts, that does remind you of Timur’s work on Night Watch and Day Watch. Particularly nice is a sort of cameo appearance of Konstatin Khabenskiy who played Anton on those films as one of the assassins in The Fraternity.

I enjoy McAvoy’s performance as the terribly wussy Wesley, though I never really felt that his character came into his own. Maybe now that the world building and origin stuff are out of the way they’ll be able to show him as a bad ass super-assassin in the next two movies and get away from him as the put-upon nobody. It’s a treat to see Morgan Freeman as Sloan and he lends a much needed sense of class and gravitas to the picture. He also gets to be a little bad ass himself with the “Kill this motherfucker” monologue. I found Angelina Jolie rather distracting. Sure, it’s perfect casting. She is easily able to show with just a twitch of the lip and a raised eyebrow just how vastly superior she is to everybody else in the entire world. But her arms! My god – they’re so painfully thin in this movie. Every time she was on screen I found myself worrying that she was killing herself a little. Surely with the budget they had on this picture that’s something they could have fixed in post? Seriously, somebody make sure that woman is getting good, rich, nutritious meals – and get her a sweater or something.

You know what? I like this movie. It’s shallow and unbelievable and stupid, but so what? It’s still got some fun action scenes and I kind of want to see what else they’re going to do with the world in the proposed sequels. It doesn’t have the depth and power of the Night Watch and Day Watch movies. It’s kind of a let down to see Timur doing a pure Hollywood action flick I will admit, but it’s still good simple popcorn fun. Call it a guilty pleasure movie. Knowing what he’s capable of, though, I have hopes that the sequels will be better. Fingers crossed.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment