DVD Review #26: Wanted (2-Disc Special Edition) (2008)

March 11, 2010 at 9:35 AM | Posted in Action, Based on a Comic, DVD Reviews | Leave a comment

Angelina did all her own stunt splaying.

Preface:
Wanted is one of those comic book movies that nobody knew was a comic book movie. Like 30 Days of Night or 300 or other movies that start with threes. This one has people with unexplained powers, but is more about car crash and gun-porn than powers. It certainly isn’t about any kind of story.

(Cont.)

Summary:
Wussy Wesley hates his job. He hates his girlfriend. He hates his cat. He hates his very bestest friend. He has anxiety attacks and no money. Then he meets Fox (Angelina Jolie) and his life is changed forever. No, he doesn’t get a sex change and become an Angelina Jolie impersonator. But he does meet the “Fraternity,” a secret society of assassins who tell him to shoot the wings off of flies. Does he want to join them? Yes, because he has nothing better to do. The truest motivation a hero can have. And he hates flies’ wings.

So he goes to their secret lair, a sheet factory, where they punch him in the face and stab him, put him in wax or something, and force him to shoot corpses. Then they punch him in the face some more, hit him with overpasses, and make him thrust his hand into industrial machinery. All of this is actually very important training to become a fan of The Karate Kid and Fight Club. But Wesley hates those movies.

Finally, he asks the right question. Who am I? This allows him to ascend to the next level of assassin training: getting punched in the faced, stabbed, forced to thrust his hand into industrial machinery, and raced on top of trains. And also trying to curve bullets by sort of shooting like a complete spaz and just wishing the bullet would curve and still hit its target. One he has succeeded, he is told the mysterious mystical secret of the Fraternity by Morgan Freeman (not “Fox”). A thousand years ago before whenever the story is told, a mysterious, mystical secret cult of sheet makers discovered binary-coded threads that told them to kill people, so they did. The magical bedspread gives Wesley his first assignment: some guy. So he kills some guy after Angelina Jolie says it’s possible the guy might be a jerk, either now or eventually.

Wesley also kills some other guy, and then Fox makes out with him to make his girlfriend jealous. Suddenly, the man who killed Wesley’s father appears and is chased. Wesley shoots some guy, but it is not some guy who should be shot, but some guy he works with who likes rats. Everybody is sad.

In the monastery where the Fraternity was born, Wesley tracks down a guy who makes special bullets and also talks to sheets. He sets up a meeting with his father’s killer. And then a huge-ass car/train chase/crash sequence happens. Wesley talks to the killer and finds out the truth: the secret society of people who kill whomever magical textiles tell them to kill are actually EVIL! Wesley returns to the secret hideout and kills everyone… in the entire world. Or just everyone in the building. Then he berates the audience.

Review:
While this is not a case where I would defend the source material’s superiority, the drastic deviation between the two can still shed some light into the setbacks of the movie. The original comic is about a group of supervillains who have killed all of the world’s heroes and are, for some reason, allowed to roam free and secretly rule the world. It’s a lowbrow, foul-mouthed anti-superhero comic with shades of Fight Club. The movie is about a kid who joins a group of assassins who claim to work for the good of fate, but turn out just to be lawless villains after all. Where the comic character’s father sets up events to give his son the same macho-ass life he himself had, the movie character’s father wanted exactly the opposite. These motivational gaps aren’t some great crime perpetrated against comicdom, but they help to clarify why the movie doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Sort of like taking Superman and making him a flightless guy in a black suit whose insignia turns into an edged weapon.

The film is just an excuse to have a big orgy of ridiculous violence and impossible action, and it can do nothing but succeed at that. But where I found a twisted joy in Shoot ‘Em Up, I couldn’t fully buy into Wanted‘s unclear agenda and sandbox attitude. Shoot ‘Em Up works because the lines of bad and good are pretty clear. You know you’re supposed to root for the good guy and hate the bad guy. You know the hero isn’t a saint, but you want to see him get the girl and save the baby anyway. While Wanted‘s Wesley is perfectly acceptable as an unlikely protagonist, it’s hard to really care too much about what he’s doing when you know he’s only doing it because he has a boring life. He has no particular morals (like the amoral comic character), but is presented as a good guy anyway. And it’s simply impossible to rail against Morgan Freeman, who is incapable of playing any kind of bad guy except a loveable one.

Like actual superhero movies, Wanted follows the formula to a degree, taking fifty minutes to set up the story and the powers before letting the hero fly. But the “Code of the Fraternity” doesn’t work well as motivation, especially when it’s so vague. “Kill one and maybe you save a thousand,” is a terrible motto, because it has that disingenuous “maybe” in it. Fox’s little sob story goes some way towards making us believe in the hero’s journey, as does the thin premise of Wesley’s assassin father needing to be avenged. However, it’s easy to feel that the plot is shallow when not one single person is saved at any point, and the hero’s “moment” comes when he kills some people he doesn’t know, but in a cool way. At that point, it’s obvious the movie’s only agenda is to be cool, but that there are no deeper levels beneath that. Not even the usually requisite dorm room philosophy.

Where the cast and characters are concerned, James McAvoy does a decent job portraying the loser-turned-badass Wesley, even if he yells as annoyingly and as often as Kirsten Dunst screams in the Spider-Man films. Morgan Freeman is his unchanging self, completely ineffectual as the last-second bad guy, and incapable of delivering sudden Samuel L. Jackson levels of language. Jolie as “Fox” is sadly the shortcoming of the near A-list cast, as her character has a brief backstory and not much else. She has hardly any lines, most of them not memorable, and no motivation that doesn’t eventually seem like she might have just made it up. Her look isn’t particularly stylish, a far cry from the foxy character in the comics who seems inspired by pre-Catwoman Halle Berry, and made impossible on film due to the existence of post-Catwoman Halle Berry. I must say, Jolie is looking a little old here, and quite skinny as well. Not the best combination for her fifth or sixth high profile action movie. While she certainly brings the action, she just doesn’t seem to come off the screen, condemned for the film’s duration to be stuck in her flat, lifeless character. Even the grace of her nude scene reprised from Tomb Raider with a wider angle isn’t saving anyone in this story.

The effects are naturally the main draw of this, despite the marketing gimmick of Jolie’s ass, and they are as near flawless as ever need be. Even the CG rats are far more lifelike than anything Rhythm & Hues has created on screen. There are certainly no complaints in the effects or action department. But even though the eye candy promised is delivered in full, the hollow footing of the plot leaves no room for emotional resonance, or honestly anything beyond a superficial desire to see more. Don’t get me wrong, the premise of curving bullets, looking at Angelina Jolie’s ass, and flipping cars to save the world is cool, but it’s hard to get past the mystical clan of weavers who discovered binary-coded names in some purposeless cloth and decided that it was Fate telling them to assassinate people. The appeal of the story would have worked better if it had been as honest as the comic about the idea of getting to do whatever you want. For my money, Jumper is more successful at presenting lawless joy through superpowered spectacle, and Shoot ‘Em Up is better at showing us guns and action in a new way. Wanted takes some of these themes in different directions, and ends up going nowhere as a result. As ever, I am unimpressed by amazing sights if they’re not backed up by amazing writing, whether in characters, story or just dialogue – even if I’m still mildly entertained.

Ultimately, I would rather see a movie about a loser kid who becomes a supervillain and gets to do whatever he wants, all the while knowing that it’s evil and wrong and still not caring. Who wouldn’t want to see that? Perhaps they can re-adapt the comic in the opposite direction for an entirely different movie. As it stands, this is just The Matrix without anything to say, but with a better sense of interesting action tricks that can be pulled off by a secret team who has special powers than is present in the Matrix sequels. All Trinity did was ride a motorcycle the wrong way down a highway and not get killed. However, like the Matrix sequels, this is more a jumbled mess of cool ideas than a coherent story.

Commentary:
There’s no commentary, which isn’t exactly surprising considering the director’s fickle relationship with the English language, but it is a disappointment. The only other recent comic book action movie I own that did not include commentary is Iron Man, which was because the studio didn’t schedule a session. I don’t count The Dark Knight, because I’m not convinced that was anything but a continuation of a viral marketing campaign.

Extras:
The included extended scene is two minutes of nothing much. It’s just the corpse shooting scene with some extra comedy, followed by a line added to the “training” (i.e. getting punched).

“Cast and Characters” (20:00) – This imaginatively titled feature is about 80% redundant, telling you who the characters are and what role they play in the story when you already know. They don’t get into the comic origins, or further explain anything. The 20% of content would be in the behind the scenes footage and whatever you take away from the interviews.

One of the dumbest features in a long time, “Stunts on the L-Train” (2:31), shows virtually nothing coherent behind the scenes of one stunt in the movie.

“Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible” (8:28) shows very briefly how they did alot of the special effects in the movie, without much detail. This is HBO kind of stuff.

“Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution” (8:06) is more interesting than the previous features, but still too short.

In “The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life,” another eight minute feature, we get a decent mandatory comic book origin feature.

“Through the Eyes of Visionary Director Timur Bekmambetov” (9:04) is a basic look at the director. You don’t get any real insight about his style or influences beyond what you see in the movie. I still don’t know who this guy is or where he came from or how he got the movie or why it was made in Russia.

Fourteen minutes of motion comics are included from scenes that inspired parts of the movie. Similar to the Tim Story comic on the Incredible Hulk DVD, but narrated.

This is really… weird, but Danny Elfman does a proper rock song for this movie, and a mashup video is included for it. No, not Oingo Boingo. Just Danny Elfman. And it’s really kind of unfair, because as far as I know, he doesn’t have an album you can buy. It’s a great song, albeit a cocktease, but the main menu might make you sick of it.

Finally, there’s a ten minute feature about making the video game spinoff. It’s mildly amusing for something you may never play.

A bunch of Easter eggs are also thrown in, but they’re just cheat codes for the game. I don’t know how to find them except on a computer, and I also have no use for them.

The only real Easter egg is the “Code of the Fraternity” on the main menu, which gives you two minutes of James McAvoy goofin’ around if you enter “01010111.” I have no idea if there are other codes.

Pretty unimpressive materials for a special edition. No extended looks at training the actors, or in depth footage of how they did the amazing car stunts. No special material about the stunt drivers, or documentary about wire-pullers. No exclusive bonus about how they had to put makeup over Jolie’s tattoos and then cover her with totally different and pointless tattoos. No gallery or posters or Easter egg comparing the director to Borat. Just an hour’s worth of material on the movie with some other supplementals thrown in. And as always, the digital copy is worthless. I mean, I suppose you could wad your chewed up gum in the paper that has the unlock code on it. But otherwise, it’s just a gimmick that’s going to expire within a year and waste space you don’t have on your iWhatevers.

The upside of the lackluster bonus disc is that the two-disc version costs about the same as the regular version if you buy it used. And it has a loverly o-sleeve with puffy bullet and golden logo, if you’re into that. Of all the features, the motion comic probably has the most entertainment value, so you might as well choose this version if you already tend to gamble in the secondary market.

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