By Abe Goldfarb
Abe Goldfarb was so riled up by WANTED he asked me if he could review it for Parabasis. I said yes. Here it is. Enjoy. I sure did:
It’s always sort of amazing when a movie you don’t like affects you in some profound way. Normally, the films that change or touch us are uplifting or intellectually challenging or too beautiful for words or SOMETHING. However, it is safe to say that after watching Wanted, most viewers will know where they stand on a number of topics. Might makes right, for example. Pre-emptive attacks. How much pity we really ought to have for the modern white male. Or screenwriting. Probably screenwriting. Wanted is the most morally vile, structurally inept piece of dogshit any studio has released in a long time, and to discuss why it is requires a certain amount of spoilage. If you’re dead set on watching it, then read no further. Only know that if you love this movie, truly love it, or take some serious enjoyment of it, on some level you hate humanity.
This sounds like hyperbole, but it really isn’t. Wanted hates everything. It hates animals, it hates women, it hates authority (except when it’s in the hands of its protagonist), and it REALLY REALLY REALLY hates you. Seriously, it hates you. The film’s last shot all but tells you to go fuck yourself. Wantedis better than you, apparently. Wanted doesn’t need you. Wanted has nothing but contempt for the soulless sell-out you are. Look inside yourself and you will find that you are wanting compared to Wanted, a film with such purity of purpose that it’s sometimes hard to see it through the layers of idiotic nonsense it’s sitting under, like a slice of cake hidden under ten pounds of coconut sprinkle. See, Wanted knows what’s wrong, man. And it’s not afraid to say it to your face. If you can’t take it, well, you’re a pussy. A big, fat, blubbering, emasculated pussy. You fucking pussy.
(Lest you think I’m overdoing it, the film uses this word as punctuation)
Wanted is the story of Wesley, a corporate wage slave who suffers through his daily existence. He has panic attacks he has to be medicated for. His hot girlfriend is constantly banging his office pal (the bitch!). His boss (an obese woman, the bitch!) bullies him. He’s broke. And one day, it all changes. He discovers that he is, in fact, the heir to the fortune and skills of his suddenly dead absentee dad, a world-famous assassin. Dad, you see, worked for The Fraternity, a group of killers who have, for the last thousand years give or take, killed according to the dictates of the Loom of Fate. What’s that? Shut up, pussy, I’m getting to it! The Loom of Fate is, unpredictably, an actual loom, the weave of which lets The Fraternity know who needs to die in order for equilibrium to be maintained. And they have never missed a target, which has sent their consumer confidence rating through the roof. Why, say, Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot never made the list, I can’t imagine. But hey, the Loom of Fate is the Loom of Fate. If their names didn’t come up, who are we to question it? Anyway, Wesley joins up and learns to kill, fight, and defy physics. Plus, he makes time to beat the shit out of the people who tormented him in his former life. What a guy!
Who’s keeping score on the woman here? One is a faithless, big-titted whore (the film is terrified of sex), and the other is a fat asshole. The other two women in the film do much better than this. One is a nice Hindi woman who gets her head blown off three seconds after we meet her, and the other is Angelina Jolie. This would be great for Angelina Jolie if she had anything to do besides act as a teenage boy’s jerk-off fantasy and a status marker for our hero. Seriously, she makes out with him to make him look cool in front of his ex. And sometimes she shoots stuff. But mainly, she hangs out looking good, shooting some stuff, and showing off her ass. At the end, for the greater good, she shoots herself in the head, leaving us only with the slut and the Jabba. If only she’d shot the protagonist (but more on that later).
Before we get to what’s really wrong with Wanted (I mean, besides its none-too-latent misogyny), let’s deal with the basics. The film is exceptionally well-acted, in its way. James McAvoy is a fine performer, and here he deploys a terrific American accent and surprising physicality. Jolie effortlessly steals the picture by being Angelina Jolie. Morgan Freeman probably had a house payment to make, but he seems to be paying attention most of the time, which is nice of him. It’s lensed with vigor and verve by Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director who made the grandly amusing Night Watch movies. The action is, though frenetic, pretty coherent and easy to follow, which comes as a godsend in the age of Michael Bay, and the choreography of it is often very inventive. In fact, Bekmambetov, with the right script, could probably make a really, REALLY good action movie.
But this isn’t it, and here’s why: The main character is a shiftless douchebag wuss (“just like the rest of you” his voiceover tells the audience; thanks, Wes!) until he discovers his destiny, which is to parade his existential authority by killing for fun and profit. Once he’s found his path, he’s a smug jerk who’s better than you are and never lets you forget it. Because an actor like McAvoy, who I’ve yet to see deliver a false moment (even when playing a fucking man-faun in Narnia), can’t help but deliver the character with fidelity, he’s totally doomed here. He’s playing a irredeemable shit who finds his bliss in being a bully and is continuously patting himself on the back for it. Anyone who identifies with Wesley (and based on box office receipts it’s safe to say a lot of people at least enjoy watching him) should have to undergo counseling and maybe meet a girl one of these days. It’s a character, and a whole movie, that flatters the worst, most narcissistic impulses of the two most noxiously self-pitying groups on the planet: teenage boys and angry white men. And then it shits on all of us by telling us we don’t measure up. The last line of the film, delivered to the camera, is, “I kill people for a living. What the fuck have you done lately?” This would be funny if Wanted had a dash of self-awareness, but no such luck. It MEANS it. Wanted is an attitude in search of a script.
Speaking of which, I’d mention the writers who crafted it, but I honestly don’t feel like it. It’s safe to say, however, that they’ve seen Fight Club and The Matrix. Why? Because the first half hour of this movie steals so baldly from them that it’s a wonder no legal action has been brought up. Wesley’s corporate life is, down to the in-your-head narration, taken wholesale from David Fincher’s masterpiece. And when Wesley has the wool pulled from his eyes, it turns out there’s this grand design that only a few chosen people can see, and he’s one of them; a black-clad superman who can bend the laws of physics. Sounds a lot like…no, never mind. But what Wanted misses is the entire point and perspective of those two films. Fight Club is about the comic-absurdo dangers of white men who think they’re put-upon. Rile them up enough, spiel some dime-store Nietzsche and it’s brown-shirt time. The only way out of it is to, you know, grow the fuck up, and Fight Club is ultimately about the passage to adulthood. Wanted finds liberation in transgression and forgets the part about growing up. And the Matrix films, like them or not, are ultimately anti-authoritarian and pro-community. Once we see what’s really going on, our choice is to either live life as a solitary drone or connect with the people around us and change our world for the better. In Wanted, seeing the truth behind everything means understanding that you’re better than everyone else and lone-wolfing it. Once the film starts telling its own story, it’s so totally incoherent that it may as well go on forever. The film is written as a series of montages passing time between action scenes, and the montages start to blur after about ten minutes. And its major act of rug-pulling is so without logic that it hardly bears discussing. Suffice it to say that, if a certain character or two are telling the truth, nothing else in the film makes any sense at all. And if they’re not, the film is even more reprehensible than it seems to be.
Beyond that, the Loom of Fate? It’s clearly meant to be the hand of God. And all that God says in Wanted is, to quote a particularly listless line reading from Freeman, “Kill this motherfucker.” That’s it. That’s this film’s vision of a higher power. You could say that it’s only one of God’s ways of communicating, but it’s the only one on show in this film, and thus implicitly the only one that exists. And how on earth do these assassins make so much money? They don’t work for anyone, really, they just follow the orders of the Loom/God. Does the Loom pay well? Once they’ve read the fabric do they sell it at a premium? And why is the fine German actor Thomas Kretschmann in this for five minutes, delivering ill-thought-out exposition? And who the hell casts Terence Stamp and gives him nothing to do? And where the hell is it supposed to be set, fucking Elsinore, Michigan? WHAT THE HELL IS WITH THIS MOVIE?!
“But it’s cool! It’s popcorn entertainment! You’re overthinking it!” people will say. No. For once, no. I’m sick of making excuses. I’ve seen enough of the good stuff to know that there is pure entertainment out there that doesn’t demand a “yeah, but…” Peter Jackson makes big spectacles with oodles of action that appear to have been crafted with something like love and intelligence, not to mention respect for his audience. Shoot ‘Em Up is a non-stop action comedy with a sneaky, subversive agenda (it may be the only film to feature lactating hookers and a pro gun-control message) and a real aesthetic. Wanted is corrupt, stupid and boring, a big, fat congrats to anyone who’s ever picked on someone and a huge fuck you to anyone who pays money to see it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film with an uglier soul than this one.
“But hey, car chases!”
Shut the fuck up.