“Wanted” is a an intriguing mash-up of “Office Space,” “Fight Club,” “The DaVinci Code,” and “The Matrix.” You could be forgiven for thinking that this Angelina Jolie vehicle was simply another sex appeal-fueled shoot-‘em-up loosely based on another graphic novel (Mark Millar’s “Wanted” series). It’s ad campaign certainly suggests so and the film itself is definitely not short on violence; in fact, I would label it ultra-violent. But, this story of office drone Wesley Gibson (played with perfection by “The Last King of Scotland’s” James McAvoy) who finds out that he is heir to a secret fraternity of super-assassins asks some very ethically minded questions, such as: Is it OK to kill one person if you know you will be saving a thousand other people and does absolute power always corrupt absolutely?
The premise is in no way groundbreaking, indeed “Minority Report’s” version of the preemptive strike killing was far more coherent, but the manner in which the fraternity receives the information is unique: The Loom of Fate. Yes, the very same loom that the Fates of Greek mythology continuously cranked away on. It seems that back in the Middle Ages a group of weavers discovered odd patterns in the woof and warp of the cloth the loom was producing and by translating those anomalies into binary came up with a set of names targeted for assassination. The Fraternity members are sworn to carry out the commands of the cloth and follow the code of one death to save one thousand. Now Wesley has been brought in to The Fraternity to find and kill the rogue agent that killed the father Wesley never knew.
I don’t think I’d be giving anything away when I say that the code figures prominently in the finale, but what is surprising is how completely effective the film is in illustrating the rage of the disaffected middle-class male. Much like the protagonists in “Fight Club” and “Falling Down,” Wesley is beaten down by those around him: His over-bearing boss, his whining girlfriend, and his best friend who just happens to be sleeping with the aforementioned whiny girlfriend. Wesley is a cipher of a man (or at least what a man is supposed to be): He apologizes too much, he takes anxiety medication like tic-tacs and evens buys his best friend condoms that he will use with said whiny girlfriend.
Just like Ed Norton’s character in “Fight Club,” Wesley wakes up to his pathetic existence and transcends his everyday-Joe prison through violence, to put it simply. Violence is the true means to self-discovery as we see when Wesley is subject to beating after brutal beating when he can’t answer the question “Why are you here?” Until one day he answers back “I want to know who I am.” (Why can’t more movie men discover themselves through wit like in “Office Space?”) Wesley is initially transformed by vengeance–as is Jolie’s character, Fox–but by the end of the film, there is an evolution toward justice. Although it must be said that the filmmaker draws a very thin line between justice and vengeance.
Unfortunately, it is the violence that muddied the film for me, not the preposterous physics, quasi-history, or questionable super-human abilities. The gun-play was gratuitous and the close-ups of bullets penetrating foreheads even more so; it lacked the artistry of, say, John Woo’s “Hard Boiled.” And while The Fraternity’s whole existence rested on the credo of killing one to save a thousand, that one thousand apparently didn’t include the hundreds of innocent bystanders killed or maimed while they went after their targets. The violence in many graphic novels when brought to the big screen is simply too much; what would be palatable in one static frame of a comic book can become repulsive or desensitizing in hundreds of celluloid frames. And that is a real shame because “Wanted” connects with the audience in a very real way, contemptuously challenging everyone to think about their own existence beyond the cubicle.