Friday, July 11, 2008

Review: Wanted - or A Nietzschean uber-mensch shoots people in satisfying ways

Bullets that curve. This could be the tagline and the recurring motif of this Assassin action thrill fest starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie, in this Timur Bekmambetov film (director of Russian runaway phenomenon, Night Watch) based on a Mark Millar graphic novel. Bullets that curve (fired by a gun slinger who slings a gun with enough angular momentum that the bullet curves like a curveball) represents a movie filled with action that bends the rules of physics to the point of breaking, but allowing just enough reality to suspend disbelief on the thinnest of thread, in order to spin ridiculous action into sublime bullet ballet.

In a dense field of action movies filled with Matrix inspired imitators, it is hard to innovate, but Wanted managed to provide three “Oh $#!^” moments in just the opening two scenes, moments where I couldn’t help but laugh at the beautiful absurd awesomeness (for the record, the first three for me were: assassins flying through glass, picking up passengers and driving on buses). And the rest of the movie lived up to that innovation using bullet-time action in new creative ways. It’s no longer enough to freeze bullets on screen, and actors in midair—bullets must fly with style, colliding in mid air, curving gracefully, cars must drive through the air with agility, and a gunman spars with a knife wielding butcher with panache.

Plot and acting are easy to evaluate. They do the job. The story begins with boring mundane ineffectual accountant Wesley discovers—in the classic Cinderella story—that his father is the best assassin in the world, and he is to be trained to avenge his father’s death. The story hangs together reasonably, if not grippingly. Acting is adequate by not being distracting. All are just incidental to provide a skeleton for more action awesomeness.

Along the way, there is some exploration of Nietzche’s concept of Will to Power (inspiration for much of Nazi propaganda), of the uber-mensch, the superman who imposes his will on his environment, as opposed to the mundane lives of most of the world’s sclubs who let the environment impose its will on them (a theme often explored in superhero stories such as most of Frank Miller’s, e.g. Batman: Dark Knight Returns). There’s also some nice loom imagery that simultaneously hearkens back to the Greek Fates, as well as to the invention of punch cards and binary code.

But all of that is just high-minded fluff for a movie that’s really just about wowing its viewers. And at that, it eminently succeeds.

Final Grade: A-

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