Part subversive comicbook thriller, part satirical Hollywood actioner and, most surprisingly, part dramatic study of identity, purpose, and principle, director Timur Bekmambetov’s ‘Wanted’ has divided audiences as fiercely as its source material did when it wrapped up its six-issue Top Cow Comics run in 2004. Originally penned by acclaimed comic writer Mark Millar, Bekmambetov and three screenwriters managed to retain the tone, themes, and characters of Millar’s miniseries while exorcising the comic’s superheroics, costumed villains, and backstory. The result is an over-the-top action extravaganza that takes sharp detours through ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Fight Club,’ and ‘La Femme Nikita’ to deliver the snazzy, high-energy story of a cubicle-rat who discovers his calling in life.
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is stuck in a dead-end office job, a loveless relationship, and a daily grind that leaves him disillusioned and plagued by severe panic attacks. But when a not-so-chance encounter with a gun-toting killer named Fox (Angelina Jolie) culminates with his induction into a ancient organization of assassins called the Fraternity, Wesley begins to discover his true lineage and accept the mantle of a father he never knew (David O’Hara). With the guidance and training of Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the current head of the Fraternity, and a variety of skilled weapons experts (played to great effect by Marc Warren, Common, Dato Bekhtadze, and Konstantin Khabensky), Wesley must learn the art of killing, track down the rogue assassin (Thomas Kretschmann) who murdered his father, and come to grips with his role in the Fraternity.
It doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes to figure out if ‘Wanted’ is for you. From the high-flying shootout that opens the film to McAvoy’s first kinetic encounter with Jolie, you’ll either dig Bekmambetov’s heightened sense of reality and exaggerated style or hate every second you’re forced to endure his sick glee. Personally, once I adjusted to the balance the filmmakers struck between grounded physics and the superpowered antics of Millar’s original characters, I had a great time watching bullets bend and track across the sky, marveling at the sheer scope of the various chases and gunfights, and keeping up with the twists and turns of the screenplay. I particularly dug the classy reveal of the Fraternity’s origin, didn’t give a second thought to the story’s healing baths and inhuman leaps, and was continually amused with the audacity of the action and the sharp wit of the dialogue. I’m sure it helps that I was already a fan of Millar’s miniseries and characters, but I don’t think familiarity with the source is necessary for anyone to enjoy its adaptation.
What is necessary is a complete suspension of disbelief. ‘Wanted’ has little interest in sidestepping plot holes, strictly adhering to anything but its own internal logic, or creating anything that resembles the real world. In fact, as long as you’re not distracted by Bekmambetov’s unorthodox methods and madness, you’ll probably be pleased with the unexpected attention he gives to character development, plot cohesion, and pacing. There are at least three major twists in the tale, but each one is perfectly integrated and used to change the direction of the entire story, rather than to simply shock or jar its viewers. Despite the tenacity of the visuals and the gory abandon of the script, the story emerges as Bekmambetov’s focus and the entire film is elevated as a result. Better still, the actors really seem to buy everything the director is selling -- McAvoy remains on point through three different tonal shifts, Jolie manages to craft a compelling character out of what easily could have been a clichéd femme fatale, the supporting actors convincingly sink into their roles, and Freeman… well, who doesn’t enjoy hearing Morgan Freeman drop the F-bomb?
While some people will surely toss ‘Wanted’ into the same pile as drivel like ‘Transporter 2’ and ‘Crank,’ its precise prioritization of substance over style allows its characters and plot to shine. Don’t get me wrong, I know some of you will despise this film -- it’s certainly not for everyone and I wouldn’t scoff at anyone who simply couldn’t immerse themselves in Wesley’s world. However, despite its mad-hatter action sequences and its often unlikeable protagonists, ‘Wanted’ is one of the best over-the-top actioners I’ve seen and offers comic-film fans an entertaining and decidedly R-rated change of pace.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal is releasing ‘Wanted’ in two flavors: the first is a 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray and the second a 2-disc Deluxe Collector’s Set. The regular version hits the market in a standard BD keepcase and includes a film-n-features disc alongside a digital copy disc. The Collector’s Set costs a bit more, but will appeal to fans and Christmas shoppers everywhere. The same discs come bundled in a slick, gold-embossed black box housed inside of a plastic slipcover (designed to appear as if it’s been pierced and shattered by a bullet). Inside, you’ll find an attractive photo booklet, a series of movie stills, and a heavy, acrylic-framed film cell. In all, it’s an attractive set that, in this collector’s opinion, is worth a few extra bucks.
’Wanted’ features an arresting 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that renders every bead of sweat, strand of hair, and spatter of blood that litters the screen with clarity and precision. From the opening gunfight to Wesley’s suicidal third-act assault, the high definition image boasts impressive fine detailing, realistic textures, and sharp edges (achieved without a hint of intrusive edge enhancement). The film’s vibrant colors are spectacular as well -- reds are warm and bold, skintones are natural, and blues, in particular, are a sight to behold. More importantly, contrast is comfortable, delineation is revealing, and black levels are deep and inky. Despite a thin veil of steady grain, I didn’t detect any significant source noise, artifacting, or DNR to speak of. In fact, the transfer’s attributes come together to create a clean, three-dimensional image that produces the coveted picture-window effect on more than one occasion.
The only scenes that tax the transfer a bit are those set in the Fraternity’s textile mill -- the fine threads running from floor to ceiling look hazy at times and shimmer at others. Considering a few errant shots are soft and a pair of night scenes aren’t as well resolved as the rest, ‘Wanted’ isn’t quite the flawless demo material I had hoped for. Nevertheless, it still offers a stunning presentation that, aside from a handful of minor distractions, stands up to the best transfers on the market.
It’s a rare treat when I’m forced to find time in the middle of the day to review a film simply because its audio presentation would otherwise wake up everyone in my house. ‘Wanted’ arrives on Blu-ray with a reference-level DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that had a tussle with my sound system and won. Dialogue is crystal clear, perfectly prioritized, and deftly spread across the front speakers. LFE support is outstanding, injecting hearty thooms and bottomless rumbles into an already hyperactive soundscape. Gunshots, explosions, and careening metal hit with palpable force, while subtle environmental ambience, immersive interior acoustics, and transparent pans make the sonics startlingly believable. When time slows, an implosion of sound convincingly drowns out Wesley’s surroundings. When it speeds up, the chaos erupts into every channel with oh-so-accurate directionality and pitch-perfect fidelity. And dynamics… ah, I could go on and on and still fail to explain how engrossing and enthralling the audible experience actually is.
Suffice to say, ‘Wanted’ is one of the best sounding discs on the market and a front-runner for best high-def audio track of the year. It not only enhances every scene of a bombastic actioner, it does so with refinement, precision, and aggression. Even those who hate the film itself will be suitably bowled over by this DTS HD MA track. Kudos Universal.
The Blu-ray edition includes all of the significant supplemental material that appears on the concurrently-released DVD (minus a yawn-inducing Music Video mash-up), presents all but one of its video featurettes in high definition, and adds an exciting collection of exclusive features and creative options. I was especially pleased to find that Universal had included U-Control tracks and a traditional menu with access to the disc’s individual features.
’Wanted’ may not be for everyone, but I found it to be a charming, unexpectedly complex, and thoroughly entertaining actioner that, quite frankly, was too much fun to miss. The Blu-ray edition makes the film even better with a striking video transfer, a reference-level DTS HD Master Audio track, and a healthy collection of standard and exclusive supplements. While I would definitely suggest newcomers rent the film before committing cash to a blind buy, those who decide to purchase ‘Wanted’ won’t be disappointed.