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.