Posted on December 1, 2008 at 7:00 am


Nasty, twisted, pulpy, and brutally violent, “Wanted” is like a cross between Kill Bill, The Matrix, and The Terminator. Angelina Jolie, smokey-eyed and a little bit leaner, plays the assassin who grabs cubicle galley slave Wesley (“Atonement’s” James McAvoy) when he is picking up a prescription for anti-anxiety pills just as a lot of gunfire is about to start wrecking havoc on the pharmacy aisles.

It turns out that our Wesley, who has been inwardly stewing and outwardly doing nothing as he is hounded by his supervisor and cuckolded by his best friend, is, in the grand tradition of heroes from King Arthur to Luke Skywalker to Neo to Harry Potter, the chosen one who must discover his hidden powers. The woman’s name is Fox (“Is that a call sign? Like Maverick in “Top Gun?” he asks) and she takes him to a secret citadel where textiles are woven and assassins are trained. Wesley learns to use guns, knives, and fists. He is often critically injured, but fortunately they have some nifty little healing tanks and a soak or two puts him back on his feet and learning how to shoot around objects and race along the top of the El train. He understands that learning how to do something that makes full use of his unique talents is the only way to know who he truly is.

And the director knows enough to get that part out of the way quickly and get to the good stuff, some low-down and nastily twisted action that includes some bullet-cam shots of bodies that are about to be hit very, very hard. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov of the very successful “Night Watch” movies knows how to make violence stylish without becoming overly stylized, nudging the pulpiest elements into myth.

James McAvoy shows himself as able at nerd-into-action-hero as he was at faun (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and tragic romance (“Atonement”), and Jolie seems delighted to shake off the beatific Madonna role she has played on- and off-screen most recently. She moves like a panther, bringing an ecstatic grace to a ducking move on top of the El train just before it gets to a tunnel. Morgan Freeman is all gravelly exposition and Common has marvelous screen presence as members of The Fraternity. The plot twists are less successful onscreen than on the page and the violence goes over the top but by that time the fanboys will be so satisfied (did I mention that there’s a scene with Jolie getting out of the tub and showing off her tattoos?) that they might not mind, especially with the hint of a sequel.

Related Tags:


Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy Thriller

16 Replies to “Wanted”

  1. OK, I am glad you can find moral dilemmas and viable questions in movies like this. One of my darkest guilty pleasures from last summer was “Shoot “Em Up” and exploration of death by carrots if nothing else. I enjoy the rush of these cartoon-violence films, though I could never admit this to church members or colleagues. The trailers have been intriguing. So based on your review, this movie may get more attention than I might have given it. Thanks.

  2. Jestrfyl, I was also a fan of “Shoot ‘Em Up.” This one is not as good and I was not crazy about the last 20 minutes, but there’s nothing wrong with a good old fashioned chases and explosions movie and this director is — in all senses of the term — worth watching.

  3. Ok the first five minutes of this movie made me leave the show. Rating is not marked right R+ highly suggestive. Why are the tough women viewed as valuable and successful? Killers no less!What happened to virtue?

  4. I am sorry you did not find what you were expecting in this film, Karla. What was it that made you think it was something you would like? I thought the ads accurately portrayed the movie’s tone. I do not think being tough is inconsistent with beng virtuous or valuable, but will not try to make a case for a group of assassins like those in this film having any claim to virtue.

  5. Nell-
    While I ordinarily appreciate your movie reviews, I must differ with you on this one. Why would you give such a film a grade of “B”? It is very difficult to get past the 44 f-bombs, the many uses of the p-word, and the gratuitous sex scenes. Perhaps this would have been an interesting movie if the plot had been further developed. But it just seemed like a film written by a group of high school boys who got to curse all they want, show sex acts in graphic detail, and be as gory as possible. You will be interested to know that as I walked out of the theater, I saw two boys who had also been in the theater, accompanied by adults. The boys looked to be ten and fourteen, and were clearly from separate families. I would have walked out myself very early if my husband had not had a very bad week, so I just endured it and tried to find interesting cinematic details to make the time pass. Never again.

  6. I’m sorry you were disappointed. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and your points are well taken. I try to rate films based on how well they meet their own aspirations for their intended audience, and so gave this one a B because I felt it lived up to its comic book origins and pulp/myth intentions. But it does not match the better films of this genre or the director’s Russian films.

  7. Thanks Nell for your comment too- we need people to clarify what is on the screens especially for 8.00 bucks and food, and sitter…. My comment was to point out the lack of what I felt redeeming qualities to further view the movie.Trailers or not we don’t always get a true sense of what all the movie is going to reveal( no illusions here folks) Why does Hollywood have to be so in your face with violence and graphic sex.. ok I guess I know that one- it SELLS. keep up with the reviews. but don’t down put us down if we differ in opinion. Thanks-

  8. You are so right, Karla, and I am committed to making this a safe space for all opinions on all movies as long as they are respectfully presented. I welcome your comments because the values (or lack thereof) should always be an element of our assessment of a movie, and one of the great pleasures of this site for me is the chance it provides for me to bring great movies with great values to an audience who might otherwise have missed them. Thanks for your comment, and please write again soon.

  9. SPOILER ALERT: as an action fan I liked the movie because of it’s pace and adrenaline rush and that when Fox finds out the truth behind Sloan’s decisions on who to kill is not based on what she believed so deeply and she finds out that she herself should have been killed and takes a stand in what she believes in by killing all members of the fraternity who had been named and herself in the name of her beliefs but I must agree that the language and violence were over done but I also believe that this was an over-all good action movie.

  10. Great comment, Elizabeth, thanks! (I added “Spoiler alert” so people who have not seen the movie yet will be warned that it gives away something else.)

  11. I am intrigued about your comments on Wesley. I think we have, collectively culturally speaking, exhausted the “chosen one” theme. I would like to see a movie with a King Saul (who was also chosen but turned our to be a Royal Turkey) against a King David (sometimes the second choice is the better one). I have not seen this replayed well in contemporary cinema. Well, you might make a case for Anakin Skywalker as Saul and Luke as David, and that would make Kenobi into Samuel the prophet. Hmmm, I may have to play with this a bot. Any other films along this line to suggest?

  12. I LOVED this movie! What a rush from start to finish and I also loved the nerd/geek becomes warrior/self-sufficient defender of what’s right and wrong hero. I must say I was truly Pi**ed off at (spoiler alert) the group who recruits him getting him to off his own father, but this is hollywood and what else should I expect? I enjoyed the soundtrack as well as the gratuitous action/over-the-top violence and adrenaline pumping thrills. One of my favorite scenes is when Jolie picks up McAvoy in that deliciously red sports car outside the drugstore. That is one fine piece of driving!

  13. I agree with you that the red sports care is a highlight, JR! I loved Jolie, too. But the ending was too over-the-top and downbeat for me. Thanks for writing!

  14. You know – to me it would have made for a much more interesting and classy ending had Wesley reached up to his father and allowed him to be pulled back into the train and then had a chat with the old man. They could have then TOGETHER gone after the corrupt Fraternity and ended up as a father/son duo of do the right thing folks who could have been much better at setting up a sequel. I would have been much happier with that ending, as I too was not that happy with the way things ended. Also – what’s up with Morgan Freeman? He seems to really enjoy playing the “I appear to be a good man, only to be revealed as the evil guy”.

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