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(2008) *** R
110 min. Universal Pictures Distribution. Director: Timur Bekmambetov. Cast: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Common, Kristen Hager, Terence Stamp.


At the center of Wanted's labyrinthine plot is a big room with a big loom, The Loom of Fate. In his very best sonorous tones, Morgan Freeman's elder-statesman assassin Sloan explains to new recruit Welsey Gibson (James McAvoy) that the Loom is a self-starting form of automatic writing presumably coming direct from a capricious, unseen God. Hidden messages ordering hits are transmitted through the Loom "so that we might forge stability out of chaos...The Loom provides. I interpret. You deliver." Of course, anyone who's read a history book can tell you how easily faith in the divine can be manipulated to the selfish ends of man. Quite reasonably, Wesley wonders whether or not he ought to be shooting one man at a time, presumably to save thousands down the line. But if this seriously fucked-up hero weren't to follow his orders, we'd be short one highly entertaining helping of shoot-'em-up, car-crunching action.

The Ancient Greeks saw the loom as the province of women, perhaps as a symbol of their domestic importance in holding together the fabric of society. The textile factory of the Fraternity, a clan of weavers-turned-assassins, shares a similar goal, but pursued with ruthless and deadly efficiency. Worker drone Wesley Gibson lives in not-so-blissful ignorance of these goings-on. He's busy enough  tamping down anxiety attacks at his supremely annoying, dead-end cubicle job. It's not just his boss to whom he can't stand up. In his state of self-loathing, even his ATM machine disses him: "Your best friend is fucking your girlfriend. And you're too big of a pussy to do anything about it. ACCEPT/CANCEL?" But one evening in one of those supermarkets called "The Egg Store," a new life is hatched for this spring chicken when he finds himself in the crossfire between two assassins: Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) and Fox (Angelina Jolie).

In a seriously pumped-up action sequence that just dares you to blink, Wanted shifts into high gear. The shootout/car-chase finds Fox whisking Wesley away to the Fraternity with the explanation that the father he never knew was one of the world's greatest assassins (referring to a gun, Sloan says, "He could conduct a symphony orchestra with it"). Dad's just been killed, and his genetically-gifted son is next. Wesley can learn the ropes and live to see a life of killing, or futilely try to hide from a top-notch rogue killer. Reluctantly, Wesley begins to submit to a training regimen that includes no-quarter knife fights, daily pummelings, and target practice in how to "bend" a bullet's path around obstacles to a target. As his schooling progresses, Wesley reasons, "Finally I have a chance to step into my father's shoes. Grow a pair."

There's a strong element of wish fulfillment to Wanted, with its erstwhile-loser hero telling off his boss, leaving behind Chicago's squalid slums to live above and beyond the "ordinary" and "pathetic," and playing shock absorber to Angelina Jolie's sexuality. He's drawn into his new life for reasons that become clear, then obscure, and then clear again, and we're perversely with him every step of the way. McAvoy gives a shrewdly calibrated, expressive performance, and director Timur Bekmambetov assists with highly subjective use of sound and special effects (also dig the adventurous Danny Elfman score). Shattered-glass junkie Bekmambetov showed serious promise with his Watch films (Night Watch, Day Watch), and Wanted is just the film to make a full-bore crossover to Hollywood. With Jolie in a perfect marriage with her sexpot-killer role (complete with ecstatic moan after besting a baddie), and Freeman a hoot in a juicy role of his own, there's no point in sweating the little stuff.

In point of fact, there's very little "little stuff": the stunning stunts are plenty flashy—with McAvoy's eyes popping and cheeks waggling in slo-mo—the effects ornate but tasteful, and the trick editing jolts the film with extra energy. Though the film uses Mark Millar's graphic-novel series as no more than an inspirational jumping-off point, the film asks to be judged on its own merits, which are considerable. The existential-philosophical feints developed by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan are just enough to elevate the film from mere, if good, action porn to a story that at least considers the consequences of pulling a trigger and how it changes a person ("Who am I now?" Wesley asks himself, and us, at picture's end). Then again, the film's climactic shootout, considered in hindsight, finds the anti-hero's ends justifying some pretty horrible means.

/content/films/3122/27.jpgMost of the overstated, overblown blockbuster movies that we've permanently bought ourselves during the summer months only tastelessly aspire to top the last guy's action flick. But Bekmambetov clearly is working from his own fantastic-action muse. Wanted unapologetically delivers slam-bang action entertainment, and does it while putting a surprising twist on the archetypal heroic journey.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio

Street date: 12/2/2008

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal once more proves its commitment to Blu-ray with a feature-laden special edition of Wanted. Deftly handling the film's photography and special effects (specially designed to blend), the transfer here retains the moody shadows and rich colors without sacrificing a hint of detail; pair it with a DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio track that amps up every bone crunch, train screech and gunshot, and you get an unbeatable AV presentation of a fresh action film: a great way to show off your home theater.

Universal's patented U-Control leads the way as usual on this special edition Blu-ray: accessible either from the U-Control menu or on the fly during playback (with U-Control enabled) are a wealth of enlightening and entertaining extras. Scene Explorer is a very cool multi-angle tool offering three different views (storyboard, animatic, and B-roll behind-the-scenes) of several enabled action and special effects-laden scenes. Assassin Profiles lays out for the main characters "Assassin Dossiers" and, when applicable, "Weapons Room" and "Global GPS Locator," while a Picture in Picture option serves up tons of behind-the-scenes clips and interviews amounting to a video commentary. The Motion Comics found in the "Extras" menu (see below) are also available under U-Control, synced up to relevant scenes.

The "Alternate Opening" (2:38, HD) obviously proved unnecessary, but it's a cool little short film in itself; there's also an "Extended Scene" (1:58, SD) of Wesley's training. "Cast and Characters" (19:58, HD) covers what it promises, through behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Morgan Freeman, James MacAvoy, producer Marc Platt, director Timur Bekmambetov, Angelina Jolie, author Mark Millar, Common, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Marc Warren, Dato Bakhtadze, and Konstantin Khabensky. The prime bit is McAvoy charming with a litany of the stunts he performed himself, sometimes unnecessarily.

"Stunts on the L Train" (2:30, HD) looks at the filming of train stunts, particularly McAvoy performing his own jump from the train over a bridge and back onto the train; McAvoy, stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, and Bekmambetov participate in the featurette. "Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible" (8:27, HD) gives an overview of the film's approach, including comments by special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy, Bekmambetov, MacAvoy, and Platt. "Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution" (8:06, HD) gathers producer Jim Lemley; Bekmambetov; visual effects supervisors Stefen Fangmeier, Jon Farhat, Craig Lyn; senior special effects supervisor Pavel Perepelkin; Platt; visual effects producer Maria Karneeva, editor David Brenner, and Khabensky to discuss in yet moe detail Bekmambetov's approach to melding live action and effects, from conception to finished product.

"The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life" (8:05, HD) is a perhaps overly friendly look at how one vision dovetailed with another to make the film possible; Millar, Bekmambetov, Platt, and screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas all participate. "Through the Eyes of Visionary Director Timur Bekmambetov" (9:05, HD) pays tribute to the director, with MacAvoy, Jolie, Freeman, Platt, Common, Kretschmann, Millar, and the man himself. Using actual frames from the comics, "Wanted Motion Comics" (13:55, HD) presents eight animated excerpts from the graphic novel that inspired scenes in the film. "The Making of Wanted: The Game" (10:01, HD) is a surprisingly in-depth making-of for the video game (sold separately)--the disc also occasionally pops up with "unlockable codes" one can take down for use with the game. A second disc houses a Digital Copy of the feature film for portable playback.

In addition to all of the above, Universal has loaded up the Blu-ray with BD Live options, including My Scenes (allowing the viewer to bookmark and share favorite scenes), My Chat (enabling live chat during synchronized playback with friends old or new), and more. Fans of this action-fest will not be disappointed.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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