10 July 2008


Your reaction to Wanted will depend largely on how you handle the Loom of Destiny. It's a machine at the center of the Wanted universe and a big linchpin in the plot. It tells the Fraternity, the society of assassins in the story, who to kill next via irregularities in the stitching that are actually coded messages.

If you're confused, yes, it's that kind of loom. A machine that weaves yarn into cloth. This is an action movie about a millenia-old underground society of superhuman killers who restore balance to the world based on the machinations of a device that makes sweaters.

If you can buy that, you're going to love Wanted. Me, not so much.

I had mixed expectations about the film going in. The imagery left me cold, but then the reviews starting pouring in and praising director Timur Bekmambetov for his inventiveness and flair. Apparently, he was given an uncanny amount of freedom, especially for a foreign director making his English-language debut with a big budget Summer flick. And at one point during the film, I thought to myself that Bekmambetov was Michael Bay with a sense of restraint. He has a feeling for when to let a scene breathe versus when to go for the craziness. The first big action sequence specifically is full of energy and excitement, what with a confused Wesley (James McAvoy) being literally swept away at 100 mph by Fox (Angelina Jolie -- really, that's her character name) and her Dodge Viper. Jolie proceeds to lie on the car's hood so she can steer with her feet and shoot backwards at the bad guy. The sequence has a visceral quality that all great action sequences should have -- speed, momentum, a sense of danger.

And then in comes the Loom of Destiny. Which, again, is a machine that weaves yarn.

There's something so obligatory, so plain, so by-the-numbers about Wanted's storyline that keeps Bekmambetov's visual flair from succeeding. The screenplay pretends to be about Wesley's search for an identity, a search ignited by the revelation that his father was the world's best assassin, but all we get is a lackadaisical training montage highlighted by pretty CGI bullets dancing through the air in slow motion. The story then throws away all established themes and logic for the sake of plot twists that are supposed to be eye-opening, but are instead confounding and empty. Basically, the film tramples all over its first half in order to fill the second half with twists that lack sense. Wesley supposedly is following in his father's footsteps, but the film is too busy to note how he feels about this, instead giving us cryptic backstory for Fox and underwhelming lectures about the Fraternity's role in the world. At the center of it all is an air of myth and mysticism in the form of a machine that turns cotton into tablecloths.

For all the spectacular, inventive action, there's just as much that is hollow and superficial. Much is made of the bullet bending trick, especially for what it represents about Wesley's growth, but then that's that, and the plot keeps chugging along. Visually, there's something anti-climactic about watching two bullets slam into each other. Even the big finale is a letdown, involving an overly-elaborate scheme with bombs planted onto rats. I'm not sure if this strategy is supposed make Wesley clever or not, but all it basically accomplishes is to open the front door for him. Speed? Momentum? A sense of danger? No, no... we get bomber rats.

Wanted puts the fate of its characters, plot, and themes in the hands of the Loom of Destiny. The actors acquit themselves well enough, and some of the action is pretty cool, but at the end of the day, things hinge on a machine that knits. Who know who else knits? My mom.

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