Wanted (US - BD)
Gabe Powers enjoys a head damaged trip around some curving bullets...
Anxious, and abused office clerk Wesley Gibson is berated by his overweight boss and generally disrespected by everyone around him on a daily basis, including his girlfriend, who’s sleeping with his best friend. One day a sexy minx named Fox contacts Wesley and informs him that his father was a professional killer that belonged to an ancient organization called the Fraternity and killed by the skilled and powerful Cross, a hit man that has betrayed the Fraternity. Under the tutelage of the Fraternity Wesley prepares to face his father’s killer.
I know we’ve talked about this little thing called ‘The Hero’s Journey’ before. In fact, I seem to be bringing it up more and more often lately. The Hero’s Journey is most often attributed to George Lucas’ Star Wars movies, but it’s not as if he created the concept, or was even the first to exploit for modern means, it’s just so easy to attribute the cliché to him. Wanted is like a dirty New Hope, or a dirtier Matrix if you’d rather. It concerns a simple man thrown into an extraordinary world where he is fated to become a hero. Along the way he meets teachers who train him in a special brand of combat. Luke learns to use the Force, Neo learns to bend the Matrix, and Wesley learns to break the rules of physics in other ways. At the very end of this story the Journey is slightly fiddled with, but overall there’s no meat on the bones of Wanted’s story.
But speaking of breaking the rules of physics, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov is behind the helm, so the story is immaterial anyway. Timur was the fellah behind the super fun, easily misunderstood, and equally Hero’s Journey concerned Night Watch and Day Watch, two films I adore despite a sizable twinge of guilt. Bekmambetov has been called Wachowski-lite with good reason by many better critics, but I actually prefer his goofy, pulpy visual overdrive to the more self-important anime attribution of the Matrix movies (though the Brothers did kind of go the other direction with Speed Racer).
Wanted’s visuals follow the precedent set by the Watch films—they make no sense unless you’re entirely willing to suspend just about every ounce of disbelief in your body. Bekmambetov’s style isn’t immediately original, but it’s immediately recognizable. The most over the top moments are similar to other moments we’ve seen in big budget action (Timur really likes to cut into super sol-mo way too much), but there’s a colourful whimsy missing from the films of more popular and ‘original’ directors. Quite often the scope of the silliness in the visuals undercuts the ‘realism’ of the adaptation, leading one to wonder why they didn’t stick to the super villain angle, and bringing up a few more questions than normally comfortable in disbelief straining entertainment (the opening action scene exhibits far more superhuman abilities than the rest of the film, which screws with the calibration a bit)
Thank God for that R-rating though, I don’t know if I would’ve enjoyed the overbearing daffy action as much had it not been as gory. There’s a great dark humour in Bekmambetov’s violence, and it’s good to know that someone’s still making escapists action entertainment for grown-ups. I actually think it could’ve been taken a lot further (the gun through the face shot had me giddy), but the comics would’ve probably garnered an NC-17 if directly adapted (too bad there was no unrated version—yet). Some of the more traditionally funny comedy misses the boat. The early satire of American office life is like Fight Club for dummies, and in the hands of a less skilled actor Wesley may have been an entirely irredeemably whiney hero. His narration is not on par with Ed Norton’s, but it’ll do for the most part.
Bekmambetov seems to have taken the phrase ‘eye candy’ pretty literally, given his proclivity for candy coloured visuals. This 1080p transfer is expectedly clean, but excels in its colour representation. There’s pretty much nothing realistic about any of film’s look, even seemingly simple shots of people wondering around daylight Chicago. The pallet is warmer than that of real life, and the colours Bekmambetov intends us to see leap out of the screen. Check out the reds of the butcher’s meat, the cool whites of the healing room, and the steely blues of the interrogation room for further proof.
Here’s a fun game, listen closely to the Wanted soundtrack and count the heartbeat stand-ins. The heartbeat is an important element to the story, and the sound designers have hid it all over the track, from the literal, to the figurative. The one advantage Bekmambetov’s films seem to inarguably have over his competitors is their sound design, which pound for pound almost rivals even the awesome purity of the Star Wars films. Wanted is a symphony of audacious sound effects, and some of the volume choices come out of nowhere. One prime example is comes during the film’s big car chase, where the sound builds to a slow motion shot of Jolie narrowly avoiding being smashed by an oncoming bus. The music and effects don’t simply cut out as catastrophe is averted, they are replaced with a multi-channel rush or Jolie’s over-stylized exhale.
I’ll start this section off with the U-Control extras, which includes in-scene motion comics, a scene explorer option, assassin profiles, and a making-of PiP option. The comics and PiP option didn’t work on my Profile 1.0 player, but were available elsewhere on the disc. The assassin profile option gives on screen specs for the tools of the trade and, the assassin doing the deed on screen at any given time, and offers a GPS locater option as well. Scene explorer, as in the case of the Hellboy 2 and Incredible Hulk discs, offers three more viewing option for specific scenes (usually action scenes)—storyboard, pre-vis, and pre-effects footage.
The standard extras begin with the film’s alternate opening (in HD), a very pricy looking bit of chicanery that sets up the mythology of the film in a much grander manner. The two and a half minute scene would’ve made a more smooth transition from Bekmambetov’s Night Watch films, but ultimately is too tonally different from the rest of the film. An amusing extended scene follows, which appears to have been deleted for reasons of too much humour too early in the film, rather than pacing.
‘Cast and Characters’ is s reasonably informative featurette focused on the major characters and the actors playing them. It’s similar to the kind of EPKs that usually play on pay cable between movies, but is pretty spoiler heavy, pretty much running down the entire film in twenty minutes. It’s followed by ‘Stunts on the L-Train’, which sort of speaks for itself, and runs only a few minutes.
Quickly afterwards we move to the first of two nine minute special effects featurettes: ‘Art of the Impossible’. This bit concerns the physical effects, which actually concerns more of the overall SFX than you’d probably think. There’s a lot more green screen removal than computer generation here. ‘From Imagination to Execution’, in turn, concerns the in computer creations, of which there are still plenty. It’s pretty cool, and a little surprising that Universal was willing to go through Bekmambetov’s Russian effects crew (unless you consider the reasonable $75 million dollar budget), and for the most part nothing is lost in the transition.
‘The Origin of Wanted’ is a nice eight-minute lesson plan for those of us that may’ve missed out of Mark Millar’s original comic. The super villain angle of the original book isn’t hammered home, but Millar himself gives a few hints. Millar states his influences, which don’t include Chuck Palahniuk, curiously enough. Also ignored is the obvious fact that the Fox character is based visually on Halle Berry, not Angelina Jolie. A collection of motion comics augments our knowledge of the comic. Here us novices can see plainly that the characters of the comic are not ‘assassins’ but ‘super villains’. The motion effects are minor, but the production is decent, and the voice acting better than average (though Millar’s aggressive dialogue doesn’t sound too hot aloud). There are eight in all, running a total of about fourteen minutes.
The extras are completed with a nine minute featurette concerning director Bekmambetov called ‘Through the Eyes of a Visionary’, which is downright silly in its overstatement of the man’s skill set and vision, and a look at the making the sequel video game. No trailers, strangely enough.
I really couldn’t call Wanted a good movie, but I enjoyed it enough, and am happy it represents an important lynch pin in director Bekmambetov’s career. Perhaps with the surprise success of his first Hollywood production the hyper-surgurized Russian can complete his Night Watch trilogy in style, or even move onto something more original. The Blu-ray passes all the tests, so fans should be happy.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1, German DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1
Subtitles: Danish, Dutch, English HoH, French, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: 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 Egg: No
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Common, Marc Warren, Konstantin Khabensky, Thomas Kretchmann
Length: 105 minutes
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