Wanted (8/10)

Visually gorgeous, heavily soaked in style, and all run by an unapologetic “f**k you” attitude, Wanted is pure summer popcorn entertainment at its apex, a sheer bloody spectacle of explosive action, dead-on performances, and a story that’s actually kind of interesting. It’s acted with entertaining vigor and showcases more slow-mo bullet scenes than you can fire a gun at, not to mention a tight and engaging script.

The horny British dude from last year’s “Atonement,” James McAvoy, plays Wesley Gibson, an American office drone in a dead-end, soul-crushing job. McAvoy’s deadpan, tongue-in-cheek narration over the first thirty or so minutes of the movie is hilarious and perfectly tuned to set up the sharp parody of office work life in the US. Think Jim and Pam, only with a few bullets, blood, and a keyboard smashing into somebody’s face for some kick, and you’ve got the idea.

Cue Angelina Jolie, in full-on, tattooed brunette bombshell mode, letting Wesley know that his long-lost father was recently killed and that he’s part of a long line of The Fraternity of Assassins who have sworn to “kill one, save a thousand.” Before Wesley knows it he’s a full-fledged member of the team and is already out and about doing the will of the fraternity to gloriously splashy bloody effects.

Wanted’s biggest strength is its flashy attitude and gorgeous style. Though there may be a few too many slow motion bullets and splatters of blood for some, it’s all conducive to the pic’s sincere desire to kick some serious ass, and it succeeds in spades. Most of the action defies anything you’ve seen before, taking previous conventions of action cinema and overturning them on a whim, widening your eyes, dropping your jaw, and making you squeal in delight.

The storyline, at its core, is a little ridiculous, but it’s aided by how well it’s pulled off. A perfect balance is struck between life-threatening severity and generous winking at the camera. The script is tight and the pacing perfect, and at a mere hour and fifty minutes, not once does it feel like it’s overstaying its welcome. The cast all turn in excellent performances, too.

Angelina Jolie is hot and sexy as always, but she makes sure to give her character a solid extra shot of adrenaline, steaming up the camera every time she’s onscreen. Morgan Freeman finally gives us an interesting performance where he’s not the narrator or some kindly old father figure – as the leader of the Fraternity he’s a serious bad-ass, and some of the deadly looks he gives the camera are downright chilling. Perhaps most surprising, though, is James McAvoy, who tosses away his proper British boy persona like a beat-up old coat and has an insane amount of fun with the character of Wesley Gibson, managing to balance his nice guy side with his killer one and turning in a performance that is blazingly funny and entertainingly intense.

There hasn’t been such a gloriously bloody and action-filled movie that is little more than a bucket of blended style in a long time. “Wanted” is liquid quicksilver entertainment, an homage to the seemingly dead art of pure action. These days, whenever some kind of “pure action!” pic comes along, it’s bogged down by a pretentious story (er-hem, Hitman) or action that doesn’t deliver the promised goods (*cough*Shoot ‘Em Up*cough*). Wanted has neither, and unlike other intense action films, it doesn’t sacrifice taste, suspense build-up, strong characterization, or a solid story, and instead ups the ante in so many ways that it’s likely it will be compared to in the future and held up as an example of what quality action truly looks like. There’s nothing else like it, and simply put, it’s a hell of a good time.

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