Wanted (2008)

2008 #46
Timur Bekmambetov | 110 mins | cinema | 18 / R

WantedDid you see the trailer for Wanted? Did you think the loopy, somewhat Matrix-y stunts — like bending bullets, driving cars into trains, and numerous others — looked cool? Did you want to see more? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, watch the trailer on loop a few times, because 85% of the film’s cool bits are in there.

The trailer is Wanted’s biggest problem by far. Those expecting to suspend their disbelief and be treated to an onslaught of ridiculous-but-cool CGI-aided action trickery may be disappointed, not because it’s not there but because they’ll have already seen all the best bits. Of course, two minutes of trailer can’t cover all of the action present in the film, but it certainly managed to contain most of the flagship moments. Wanted’s other major problem is its pacing. The “Wesley is an ordinary guy with a dull life” opening is stretched thin, the traditional “training montage” is actually most of the second act, and, by the time it’s remembered there was a proper plot too, all you’re left with are a few more recycled plot beats (most notably from a certain popular late-’70s sci-fi sequel). Those points aside, there’s nothing really wrong with the plot — it’s an above-average way of linking the action together.

It’s hard not to recycle in this genre, of course, but the only other place you’re likely to have seen most of the stunts is… the trailer! Ahem — or, Bekmambetov’s pair of Russian fantasy films, Night Watch and Day Watch. The prologue explaining about an organisation that has existed for thousands of years is certainly reminiscent of those films, though here Bekmambetov is stuck with text rather than a full-blooded flashback. Throughout the rest of the film he displays a noteworthy visual flair, and while I’m sure some prefer their action to be done ‘for real’ and not boosted by computers, there’s no way the crazy things he’s imagined could be achieved that way. I have no problem with the use of CGI personally, especially as the ludicrousness of its use here doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.

The cast are all better than the material — not that anyone seems particularly bored or underachieving, just that the screenplay doesn’t tax them. Marc Warren is especially underused, with barely a line of dialogue to his name, though he is awarded a particularly gruesome death. While there’s nothing wrong with most of the elements that make up Wanted, then, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’ve been cheated into paying to see all the stuff you already saw in the trailer with a few other bits slotted in. I spent much of the film presuming it would finish on an open-ended note, as the structure reminded me of films like X-Men and Iron Man: all set-up and origin story, with a perfunctory climax-providing enemy, done with an eye (or, indeed, both eyes) on a sequel. Wanted doesn’t really end that way, which in an age where the franchise is everything is admirable… apart from that the film leading to that ending still feels franchise-friendly.

If you don’t mind your action being computer-aided and as realistic as… well, a comic book… then there’s much to enjoy in Wanted. Except, you already enjoyed most of it in the trailer. Perhaps things will look brighter with a few years’ distance.

3 out of 5

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