USA/GERMANY/RUSSIA, 2008, 110MINS
DIRECTOR: TIMUR BEKMAMBETOV
STARRING: JAMES McAVOY, ANGELINA JOLIE, MORGAN FREEMAN, TERENCE STAMP, THOMAS KRETSCHMANN, COMMON, KONSTANTIN KHABENSKY, MARC WARREN
When a comic book adaptation is announced there's always a worry about what indignity is going to be heaped on a fresh classic this time - are the Wachowskis going to turn V into a capering title with a vintage film fetish borrowed from Wall-E? Will Nick Fury be reduced to chasing after a rogue jet with a rocket launcher? Is Will.i.am involved? All scary possibilities.
However in this respect Wanted has a major advantage in that the original comic was appalling. The usually sturdy Mark Millar's original series was a beta revenge fantasy lauded by fat deskbound neckbeards who would love to be given the means to shoot the popular guys who bullied them at school and force themselves on the popular girls who turned them down. It had loads of swearing like a guy called Shithead and loads of sex stuff like a guy with a killer dick and ended with a lecture from a portly middle-aged Scotsman who used to write for Sonic the Hedgehog about not taking it from The Man. The book ran on shock value, as if the idea of a naughty man being the focus of the comic was enough to make it an instant classic, and it's a damning measure of the industry and its' readers that this seems to have actually happened.
So really that the film junks much of the source material is in this case a plus. Sadly, the comic's best feature was the starting point of supervillains having killed off the superheroes, running the world in secret. Instead the secret society revolves around the Fraternity being group of secret assassins killing those deemed necessary by fate, which communicates with them via looms and scratches out the code of each target. Much of the shape of the narrative is the same - Wesley, well-played by the likeable James McAvoy, is still a cuckolded cubicle droid whose father is part of the Fraternity and seemingly killed at the start of the film, leading to him being found and introduced to the group by the Fox. The latter is played by Angelina Jolie, a good choice of an exotic, dangerous actress and much better than Halle Berry, who the comic version was modelled on.
The broad shape of there being something rotten at the heart of the Fraternity and the fate of Wesley's father is kept but the rest is thrown out. Wesley is taught by Fox to take control of his life as well as becoming an assassin but thankfully this doesn't mean disproportionate retribution and a tedious slide into rape and murder. And that's where Timur Bekmambetov, director of Night Watch, comes in. Under his cameras the plot takes the middle hour of the film off to allow for an ever-escalating series of exemplary, absurd and balletic gunplay scenes, all bending bullets and preposterous sniping.
As such it's a bit of a shame when the plot comes back into things as the film tacks back into a big studio moral compass and has to find a bad guy, with a weak revelation near the end. It leads to an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion that takes the shine off but the journey is respectable fun while it lasts.