Wanted (UK - BD)
Leigh Riding checks out the delirious James McAvoy actioner on Blu-Ray...
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) lives every day as the last¬—uneventful—and shall continue to do the same the next day. Eking out his existence in an office cubicle, he's going nowhere. He's on a cocktail of anxiety pills, he knows his girlfriend's cheating on him with his 'best friend', his boss hates him, and everybody's quite willing to tell Wesley what he already suspected—he's a nobody. One day he meets Fox (Angelina Jolie), who informs him that his long-lost father was a member of a secret society of assassins called the Fraternity, but has just been murdered by a rival killer. Wesley inherits his father's place in the Fraternity, but before Wesley can learn to end the life of the man who killed his parent, he first has to learn how to start living his own.
When Wanted was approaching theatres, I was one of the sceptics. It seemed to do everything wrong; it veered wildly away from its source material (Mark Millar's anarchic graphic novel of the same name), James McAvoy seemed poorly cast as an action lead (‘the faun! The bloody FAUN!!!’), and the production was allegedly rather troubled. Imagine my surprise when it eventually turned out to be one of the most stylish, enjoyably daft and downright entertaining action movies since Face/Off. Yes, it's a product of its influences, but not as much as detractors would have you believe.
Of course, there are plotline similarities with The Matrix, and Wesley follows a similar arc to Thomas Anderson, however Wanted doesn't suffer from the same delusions of grandeur, and has a humorous sense of the absurd that the Wachowski piece lacks. One of the biggest criticisms is the supposed aping of Fight Club, but again this is a slight misnomer. Yes, the two main characters share the same qualities; the internal monologues, frustrations with the day to day grind, mundane working conditions and the dissatisfaction with consumer culture. However, while David Fincher's film focuses on the loss of masculinity, Timur Bekmambetov concentrates on the same theme that runs through his previous film Night Watch, namely that the geek shall inherit the Earth.
For all the talk of Wanted being a watered-down project from Bekmambetov, the director manages to cram in quirks, unorthodox visuals and an amoral tone that very rarely makes it through the Hollywood studio system. Although not nearly as anarchic as the comic book (which for instance contains a scene where Wesley, newly freed from social ethics and boundaries, walks into a police station and massacres everybody inside purely because he has the power to), there are still sequences in the film that are usually either toned down or removed by nervous studios.
One such scene is the now notorious 'train' sequence, where the massive loss of innocent life is not only throwaway, but also mainly due to our hero Wesley, who walks away from the incident with no sense of guilt or consequence. Although some complained about the lack of moral centre in the movie, I personally appreciate it when a movie doesn't try to appease the test audiences. Bekmambetov also gains kudos for importing his eye for visuals from his Russian output, with great moments such as bullets travelling through the air engraved with 'GOODBYE', a keyboard smashed across the face with the dislodged keys spelling out a rather defiant expletive, and a very impressive climax where Wesley exacts an incredibly inventive carnival of death upon his enemies. Wanted is not lacking in ideas.
The cast also help elevate the movie beyond the usual cookie-cutter actioner. McAvoy is a very strong lead, playing both sides of Gibson superbly. When we see Wesley aimlessly wandering to work whilst being shunted about by the crowds (accompanied by the 'Wesley theme', Nine Inch Nails' very apt 'Every Day is Exactly the Same'), one can't help feeling for him. The transition from insecure nobody to unstoppable killing machine is convincing (despite a slightly wavering American accent), and the Scot handles the action like a pro, with little of the stiffness that thesps usually bring to the genre. I care about Wesley, and I want to see him overcome his obstacles, and that's the key to why I loved Wanted so much. Jolie is solid in a far smaller role than she usually takes, and Morgan Freeman brings his usual gravitas to the table as the head of the Fraternity. The supporting cast is also solid, with Night/Day Watch star Konstantin Khabensky impressing with his first American language character—especially since he can't speak a word of English in real life. The colourful cast really elevates the movie.
Of course, Wanted is not perfect. There are concepts in the film that are frankly too bizarre for some to take in, such as the Foundation's hit list being written within the dropped stitching of tapestries, and there are occasional lapses of logic in the film's mythology; for instance, there is a scene where Fox uses a gun with a hinge that can shoot around corners, which would be all well and good if it wasn't for the fact that she can curve her bullets in mid-flight. There are also some action sequences cribbed from Bekmambetov's earlier works, most notably the acrobatic cars that first appeared in Day Watch. These are just niggles however, and can be easily forgotten about. The bottom line is, Wanted works for me, both despite of and because of its unconventional approach to a mainstream Hollywood actioner.
It has to be said, I'm a bit of a standard DVD purist. It's only very recently that I've upgraded to Blu-ray, but so far the releases I've seen have been back catalogue titles and the results have been less than impressive, with little to differentiate from standard DVD. However, this is a new release, and I must confess, I am very impressed.
Compared to my standard version of Wanted, there is much to recommend. Presented in 2.35:1, the 1080p transfer is highly detailed, with smaller intricacies such as engravings on weaponry and arcane tattoos are very clearly defined. Colours are a little rich, but then again so is the standard version, so perhaps Bekmambetov was aiming for a comic book pallette. There are some occasional grainy images to be sure, but these are mostly evident in the composite CGI images, but this defect is as old as the hills and is more a problem with the source material than it is the transfer. There is no evidence of motion blur even in the more active sequences and black levels are nice and solid. A cracking transfer, but I'm sure Blu-ray has even more to offer.
Again, I am very impressed with the leap in quality from the standard DVD. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the track rocked the house. The film has a rather inventive sound design, and is sold very well throughout. While there are startling moments such as when Wesley's father shatters through an office block window, sending shards tinkling round the surrounds, there are also some unorthodox moments such as dropping out only the massive explosion effects in the climax, which gives an unusual edge to the action sequence.
The score by Danny Elfman is quite a departure from the style we most associate with the man, but is no less effective and is lovely and clear in the mix. The same goes for the source music, with the recurring 'Wesley's Theme' pumping it's synth sound in a pleasingly rocking manner. Speaking of bass, there are some thundering moments during gunplay that rattled objects in my living room. The action sequences on the whole are very impressive, with bullets bouncing around the surrounds like nobody's business. The only thing I would have liked was a deeper mix on the car chase; the engines seem a little wimpy. It's minor quibble, and on the whole it has to be said I am finally sold on Blu-Ray.
Coming after the hugely disappointing standard version (which contained just two six minute feaurettes), the BD version is a great improvement. There is a BD-Live link available, but the content hasn't yet gone live online at the time of going to press. However, there is still enough left for me to tinker around with, such as the My Scenes folder, which is essentially a customisable bookmark option, which is intriguing as I've never seen one on DVD before, but fairly redundant. Sadly there's no commentary option available, which is a shame as Bekmambetov has been absent from an English language chat track ever since Night Watch.
Also included is U-Control, which offers up to four chapter specific options at one time. The first is Motion Comics, with the PiP giving a comparison with the original comic. Next up is Assassin Profile, which gives breakdowns of anybody in confrontation including profiles and weapons specs, making the film feel even more like a video game than it already does. Scene explorer opens up a triple window detailing pre visualisations, storyboards and rough takes, and all are selectable in a bigger format. PiP rounds things up, which offers scene specific vignettes of on-set banter. As I've never dealt with BD like this before, I found it really opened the feature up for me.
Although offered in HD, the more standard features are less innovative, yet still informative. Of particular note is the Alternate Opening (02:38), which is very reminiscent of the opening to Night Watch's medieval battle sequence, and it's a shame it can't be integrated into the movie here. The extended scenes (01:38) are simply longer line readings of Wesley's training sequences, and are quite dull.
Cast and Characters (19:58) is the usual talking heads segment, which while not exactly an EPK, offers a fairly shallow skimming over of the cast's experiences on the production. Stunts on the L Train (02:30) is a fairly short feature, but it does show how game McAvoy was with filming action. Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible, Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution (98:27)details the amount of green screen work that went into the film; needless to say, it's a fair bit. The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life (08:06) has Wanted creator Mark Millar talking about the genesis of the story and subsequent transition to film. The Scot is pleasingly straight talking, and in all this turns out to be the best feature.
Through The Eyes of Visionary Director Timur Bekmambetov (09:05) is really the only feature that contains the director discussing the movie, and is frustratingly short, although it's interesting to see him enjoying the making of the film more than detractors say he did. The Making of Wanted the Game (10:01) is basically a promotional video based upon the development of the game. I don't mind, because the game (a sequel to the film) appears to absolutely rock. Also hidden away on the disc are several Easter eggs, all containing cheat codes to the game. Although I'm sure this isn't the most features packed Blu-Ray disc out there, there is enough here for me to be mightily impressed by what the format has to offer.
I am fully aware that Wanted has its detractors, people who dismiss the film as pure silliness and absurdity. That absurdity is exactly why I bought the film going in, and came away satisfied. The fantastical elements of the film are what made it so enjoyable for me. Rather than view the film as a Matrix style 'epic' actioner or a popcorn Fight Club, all of the more whimsical elements such as the looms made me look at the film as a kind of uber-violent fairytale. That would of course mean nothing if the film had no heart, and that's what McAvoy brings to the table. While there are elements of the film that adhere to mainstream Hollywood traditions, there is a hard edge to the action and obscure flights of fancy that really highlights the dearth of imagination in action fimmaking. Wanted is simply my favourite Hollywood modern day action fantasy since the original Matrix. Give it a chance, and it may be yours too.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 1st December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1, German DTS 5.1, Italian DTS 5.1, Japanese DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1
Subtitles: Danish, Dutch, English HoH, French, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: My Scenes, Alternate Opening, Extended Scene, Cast and Characters, Stunts on the L Train, Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible, Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution, The Making of Wanted the Game, Wanted Motion Comics, The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life, Through The Eyes of Visionary Director Timur Bekmambetov, U-Control, PiP, Easter Eggs
Easter Egg: Yes
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Common, Marc Warren, Konstantin Khabensky, Thomas Kretchmann
Length: 105 minutes
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