‘Wanted’ movie review: Angelina Jolie a blast in Prague-shot action movie

After box-office and critical success with what has been called Russia’s answer to The Matrix (in Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch), director Timur Bekmambetov makes his English-language mainstream debut (not counting a couple little-seen B-movies) with Wanted, a film owing even more to the Wachowski Brothers. 

Tale of a young man discovering superpowers (of a sort) and being drawn into a secret society of assassins is hyper-stylized, hyperactive, and often an exhilarating experience, but also leaves one feeling curiously empty. While this is perfect action fare for undemanding crowds, let’s not kid ourselves around; it’s as soulless as the cinema of Michael Bay.

James McAvoy stars as Wesley Gibson, a young man bored with his mundane existence who gets zero results when he types his name into Google (yet I get 3 million results when performing the same experiment. Nevertheless…) 

In the midst of his doldrum life and anxiety attacks he’s approached by Fox (Angelina Jolie), who tells him his father was a top assassin, recently assassinated, but the conversation doesn’t go much further as said assassin is standing right behind them. 

A gunfight and car chase later and he’s brought to Sloan (Morgan Freeman) who provides some exposition about an ancient society of assassins called The Fraternity that I didn’t really follow (or care to). Regardless, they seem to have the ability to slow down time to thousandths of what a normal person sees to carry out their tasks, and Wesley is one of them. 

Soon he’s shooting the wings off flies and throwing some mean curveball bullets, on his way to tracking down his father’s killer. Frankly, this kind of gun-fu was a lot more fun in Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium. And you better believe a good portion of the running time is devoted to “cool” bullet-time effects for the billionth time post-Matrix.

What I found missing here was heart, soul, and characters or a plot I could care about. The message here is about doing something with your life, yet what exactly is Wesley doing by the end? Much, yes, but much ado about nothing.

But this is a wild ride, and I had some fun with the nonstop car chases, explosions, gunplay, and trains plummeting down cliffs, even if the film lacks the pulled-together visual scheme that the Wachowski Brothers brought to Matrix and Speed Racer and Bekmambetov brought to his previous films. 

A lot of the effects seem to be thrown out there just for the sake of it; we frequently see two bullets collide mid-air, but what’s the point? Are the characters deliberately trying to deflect each other’s shots, even as they fire at the same instant in time?

Coming off some exceptional performances in award-winning films (The Last King of Scotland, Atonement), McAvoy is rather bland as our hero; though he brings some nice touches to the character, he simply lacks the weight and presence of an action star. 

Jolie has a lot of fun as the femme fatale and lights up the screen whenever she’s around; Freeman is wasted in the same perfunctory mentor role he’s been sleepwalking through over the last fifteen years. The rest of the cast is also wasted, save for Bekmambetov standby Konstantin Khabensky.

Danny Elfman’s music is vibrant and pulsating and very nearly saves the film as it drives everything along at an electric clip. 

Visual effects and tricks are nice to look at but frequently seem to disobey the laws of physics and gravity; I’m not asking for realism in this kind of movie, but it too often feels as if I’m watching a cartoon. 

The film approaches the self-satire of Crank and Shoot ‘Em Up, which could be a good thing, though that isn’t exactly what the director had intended here.

Film was (partially) shot in and around Prague and Barrandov Studios, with some of the best location work done at Krivoklát Castle.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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