Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WIBW @ The Movies: WANTED

The Plot: Based on the Top Cow comic book mini-series of the same name by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Wanted follows twenty-something loser Wesley Gibson as he goes from zero to unlikely hero. Plucked from his boring life by a group of assassins calling themselves The Fraternity, Wesley discovers that his estranged father was formerly the best assassin in the world and that he himself is more suited than he'd ever imagined to take over the throne left by his departed dad. As everyone (except for Wesley, apparently) knows however, some things are too good to be true...

The Review: As a diligent reader and collector of comic books, I found that I was predestined to flock with many of my brethren to Mark Millar's Wanted comics when they came out back in 2004. The story was sort of like Fight Club with superheroes (or supervillains as it were), a concept which I readily devoured having recently discovered other boundary-pushing titles such as The Authority and Preacher. Issues one through five knocked my socks off as I read them, but much to my surprise I found myself extremely disappointed with the sixth and final issue. Despite the quality of the previous five installments of the series, that last chapter of the story threw an unfavorable shroud over the entire saga and Wanted was resigned to the dark, dusty back corner of my memory as an average comic book. Cut to four years later...

As was the case with the Wanted comic book series, I found myself uncontrollably drawn to the feature film adaptation of the story. Despite my so-so reaction to the comic as a whole, the high-flying, balls-out trailers for the movie drew me in like a mouse to a mouse trap loaded with cheese (or peanut butter as the film would have you believe). So did the feature film version of Wanted disappoint in the same way that the comic book series had?

Yes and no.

Wanted starts off magnificently. Just like the comics, the film begins by introducing us to Wesley Gibson as played by James McAvoy. This guy hates his job, he hates his girlfriend, he hates his boss, he even hates his best friend. To put it simply, he hates his life, and the quirky, sarcastic narration his character gives over the opening scenes of the movie appeal to anyone working and/or living in middle-class America. Wesley immediately becomes a likable character with whom the audience can easily associate, perhaps even moreso than with the comic books because here he's not a wannabe gangster. He's just a loser. Much of the credit for Wesley's character goes to Mark Millar and the film's writers, but I give major props to James McAvoy for stealing the show with his portrayal of Mr. Gibson. I'd never seen McAvoy in a film before, but based on this performance I'll be keeping my eye on him in the future. In addition to Wesley's character though, the entire beginning of the film is extremely enjoyable. After meeting Angelina Jolie's character Fox, Wesley is whisked away into an exciting and intriguing life as an up-and-coming assassin. We see him get into car chases, train to fight with both weapons and his fists, and even exhibit some superhuman abilities. So far, so good, right?

The first thing that threw me about Wanted is the method which The Fraternity uses to decide who needs to be assassinated. This doesn't really ruin any plot points or twists, so I'll just come out and say it: they use a loom. Yes, a machine used to weave fabric out of yarn. When this was revealed in the film, in my head I was literally asking myself "What the fuck?!" This idea makes no sense at all. It simply comes off as silly and either uninventive or over-imaginitive, I'm still not sure which. The loom idea certainly didn't come from the comic books, so there's only really one place that it could have come from. That place is the crazed mind of director/co-writer Timur Bekmambetov.

One of the main draws behind Wanted for me was the promise of massive amounts of eye candy and action, which have come to be expected from Bekmambetov based on his previous films Nightwatch and Daywatch, both of which had previously wowed me with their visuals. The problems with both Nightwatch and Daywatch were that in addition to the very cool ideas and visuals in those films, there are also some very peculiar and confusing ideas and visuals which sort of sour the experience. In those movies however, the plot and events within are so odd to begin with that even when some story element or visual nears insanity, it still manages to somehow fit into place. In the case of Wanted, though the film does toy with some outlandish themes and concepts, wildly crazy ideas such as a loom that can magically predict the future and tell you who deserves to die for crimes they've yet to commit feels completely out of place. This is only the first of many plot points which detracted from Wanted's overall worth to me, though.

For me, as soon as Wesley became a full-fledged, functioning member of The Fraternity, the film took a turn for the worse. Gone by this point is the quirky narration, over-the-top humor, and relatable character. Once Wesley is turned loose into the world to track down his father's killer, the tone of the movie goes from fun and light-hearted, yet exciting, to overly dramatic and dark. The plot goes from original and entertaining to stereotypical and uninspired. Even the action scenes from this point forward, which certainly looked good, felt bogged down by the dull tone that the movie had by this point taken on. In a nutshell, I just stopped caring about Wesley and his plight. McAvoy's performance remained impressive, but the events he was involved in ceased to hold any real water for me. In the same way that the ending of the comic book series had let me down, Wanted fizzled out at the end. The only real difference is that while I really liked the first 5/6 of the comic, I really only enjoyed the first 2/5 or so of the film. There are a few moments following the film's climax in which it tries to recapture the fun, comedic approach that it had taken back in the beginning of it's running time, but by this point it had already strayed too far from that tone to bother attempting to capitalize on it again for me.

The Verdict: Despite many huge divergences from it's source material, the feature film version of Mark Millar's Wanted unfortunately falls into the same trap that it's predecessor had: a disappointing ending. The opening of the film and many of it's actors, concepts, and sequences were impressive to say the least, but I can't escape the feeling that all of the best aspects of the movie had been expended by it's halfway point. Had the film's entire running time embodied the fun, exciting, relatable nature of it's opening scenes, Wanted would surely be among my favorite films of 2008. As is, it has already found it's rightful place in the dark, dusty back corner of my memory alongside the comic book series off of which it is based.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Vantage Point: A Retrospective

Vantage Point is one of those movies that deserves for you to catch the last twenty minutes on cable some five or six years from now. At this point you'll think to yourself "I remember when this movie came out. It looked pretty dumb, but it had that guy from LOST in it...oh yeah, Matthew Fox. I wonder what he's been up to since that show ended...Maybe I'll add Vantage Point to my Netflix (or whatever similar service exists in the theoretical future I'm predicting here) queue." Then you'll add it to the bottom of your queue, only to discover it there about a year and a half later, after it has slowly and silently crawled it's way up into your top fifteen, and you'll leave it there because you remember that one time several months ago you caught part of it on TV and you must have had some reason for adding it to your queue.

After a few weeks it will show up at your house and you'll leave it sitting on the coffee table for days, not really all that interested in watching it, at which point you'll consider sending the movie back without doing so. But then you'll perhaps meet a girl (or guy) somewhere, take them on a date, and end up back at your apartment. Of course, you'll quickly realize that you have nothing in common with one another as you look over your DVD (or at this point, roughly seven and a half years in the future, Blu-ray) collection together and bicker over the selection, your guest insulting all of your favorites like A Clockwork Orange and Big Trouble In Little China while singing the praises of whichever moronic summer comedy starring a former SNL "star" came out the previous year which he/she wishes you had on hand to watch.

Unable to decide on one of your own movies, you spy the rented copy of Vantage Point sitting on the table in the living room and suggest that the two of you watch it. Your guest hasn't seen it and neither have you, so you pop it in and sit through it quietly. When the movie ends the two of you will remain on the sofa of your home/apartment, an entire cushion between you, and make awkward conversation about how weird it was that the same series of events in the movie happened over and over as you try to explain that it was actually somewhat daring of the director to take this approach with his film, before he/she makes some excuse to leave which you honestly don't mind accepting as this relationship obviously isn't going anywhere and you'd just as soon go to sleep alone as try to coerce your guest into the sack.

The next morning as you drink coffee in front of your television, you'll eject Vantage Point from your next-gen (or by this point "modern-gen") player and stick it in it's return envelope for mailing back to it's rental company of origin. As you glance at the stereotypically uninventive, photoshopped artwork on the disc while placing it into the protective sleeve which you'll soon place among the rest of your outgoing mail, you'll stop and think to yourself, "Well, it wasn't a great movie, but it was probably the best part of that entire date."

And that, in a nutshell, explains my feelings on Vantage Point some three or four months after having watched it. At least I got my viewing of it out of the way by seeing it in the theater instead of having to go through the unrewarding charade I've unraveled above.