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James McAvoy in Wanted

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

TIMUR Bekmambetov’s Wanted – based on the graphic novel series by Mark Millar – is very much a case of style triumphing over substance. But action fans won’t mind as this fast-paced thriller certainly delivers on bloody spectacle.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a 25-year-old loser who is clinically depressed, tied to his desk and unable even to care that his girlfriend is regularly having sex with his best friend. His life is transformed, though, when a mysterious assassin named Fox (Angelina Jolie) informs him that his estranged father has recently been murdered and that he holds the key to gaining revenge.

She subsequently recruits him into the Fraternity, a secret society that trains Wes to avenge his dad’s death by unlocking his ability to “bend” bullets and defy the laws of physical prowess. But as he learns more about the Fraternity and its enigmatic leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), its motives become less clear and Wesley must quickly decide who to trust before becoming a target himself.

From the beginning Bekmambetov dazzles with his visionary style, drawing on the bullet-time technique of The Matrix trilogy and the balletic quality of Face/Off-era John Woo. As a result, some of his set pieces are breathtaking in their audacity, including a breathless car chase early on and a slaughterhouse finale that really does excite.

Just occasionally, the action feels so heightened that it deprives the film of any real sense of danger or realism, while also highlighting its lack of logic (it pales by comparison to the standard-bearing Bourne franchise). But viewers prepared to indulge its fantasy element are rewarded in many different ways.

Story-wise, the plot contains some interesting late twists as well as a glib sense of jet black humour that is most effectively realised during the early sequences involving Wesley’s gradual awakening.

And the film also boasts some strong performances, with Jolie looking suitably sultry and building on the good work she did in Mr & Mrs Smith and Freeman bringing his usual sense of calm and authority.

But it’s really McAvoy’s show and he yet again demonstrates his diversity by anchoring the film with a genuinely endearing anti-hero. It’s a performance that combines brave physicality (he did many of his own stunts) with disaffection, humour and rage that’s as fearless as it is utterly convincing. He, more than anyone, ensures that Wanted remains a highly watchable guilty pleasure that keeps you on its side no matter how ludicrous things become. And that’s no mean feat given Bekmambetov’s capacity for mayhem.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 111mins
UK DVD Release: October 20, 2008