Tuesday, December 10, 2013

WANTED (2008)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, psychological*

"For the first time, Wesley-- you're in control."-- Sloan, WANTED.

Even though the above quote is spoken by a character who will prove to be the hero's primary antagonist, his words define a world of difference between the source graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones-- reviewed here-- and the 2008 film, a Russian-American production directed by Timur Bekmambetov and scripted by three writers associated with the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise.

Though the film WANTED deals with far fewer marvelous entities than the graphic novel does, I've argued that the main reason for the film's alterations were due to the need for "narrative clarity:"

The WANTED movie chose to use super-assassins-- a bunch of ordinary men transformed into a cult of killers by a secret organization's rituals and weapons--because that was the easiest narrative concept to put across in a two-hour film. The WANTED graphic novel, however, began as a proposal to DC Comics, which would have taken the old 1970s SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS concept and cranked it up for the ultraviolence audience...

However, the changes were more than cosmetic. The Millar graphic novel is one I deemed to be little more than the manifestation of an "idiot id," in that the protagonist's concept of self-actualization is that of being able to go on spree-killings whenever he pleases, because he's the biggest badass in a world already dominated by super-villains.  As I said in that review I have no problem with an author who decides to flout morality in all respects, as with the Marquis de Sade.  But such defiance pales a bit when the only motive behind all that anarchy is just another form of "conspicuous consumption."

The film, in a far more sophisticated manner, allows for the existence of altruistic motives while not losing sight of the original story's goal: to show a pathetic wage-slave actualizing himself by becoming the greatest badass in a world of badasses.  Thus pathetic Wesley Gibson (James MacAvoy) endures a humiliating wage-slave existence for just as long as it takes to pound in the suckitude of his life-- all in a much breezier manner than one sees in the over-obvious Millar-Jones work.  Then Gibson is initiated into a world of chaotic violence by two gun-wielding assassins.  One, he is later told, is "Cross," a master assassin who killed the father Gibson never knew, and now seeks to kill Gibson as well.  The other is the sultry female killer "Fox," who draws Gibson out of apparent danger and initiates him into the world of the Fraternity, a thousand-year-old cult whose assassins murder people to keep the world safe from evil.  Gibson doesn't entirely buy into their raison d'etre-- getting mystic messages about who they kill from a gigantic loom, whose threads are supposedly attuned to the will of Fate itself.  However, after the Fraternity members demonstrate that he possesses untapped powers of badassery inherited from his father, Gibson can't wait to ditch his dull compromised life and embrace the life of a super-assassin.

In the graphic novel Gibson becomes a super-killer with a modicum of training.  But as noted above, the film is more about the elusive feat of control, so the training becomes a more significant narrative element in the film.  In keeping with their name, the brutal members of the Fraternity "initiate" Gibson in a variety of ways-- beating him, knifing him, forcing him to risk his life in dangerous stunts.  But the violence not only serves to arouse Gibson's killer instincts, it also breaks down his false expectations about life.  Given that the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise might be subtitled "Zen and the Art of Maniac Auto-Driving," the film similarly gives Gibson's training sequences the feel of an anarchic version of the teleseries KUNG FU.  Of course the feats that Gibson and Fox can accomplish-- causing bullets to bend in their flight after being fired, flipping cars so that they spin in the air like pinwheels-- all belong to the realm of gosh-wow fantasy.  In addition, while I critiqued the graphic novel for its "paucity of imagination," Bekmambetov and his team make their super-assassin's world into one with great visual humor.  Even a car-chase scene that would be grindingly obvious in most American films is punctuated by moments of weird humor, as when Cross must give chase to Fox and Gibson by stealing a truck full of bobble-head animals.

I won't dwell on the specific twists and turns of the plotline, except to say that at least they have the potential to surprise an audience, in contrast to the lame "gotcha" featured in the GN.  Where Millar and Jones simply create a group of characters who have no altruistic impulses, the script for the film presents the notion of the "Loom of Fate."  One never really knows if the Loom has any genuine power to target persons who deserve to be assassinated.  But because the script leaves the Loom ambivalent, one can view it as every ideal that has ever been used as a rallying-point for violence-- and each individual can decide how far that applies in the real world. 

Though some critics read this film as being little more than a paean to violence-- which it is, in part-- it devotes a fair amount of attention to bringing human dimension to Gibson's Quest for Fearlessness.  Fox, who is a rather flat character in the graphic novel, is imbued with a puckish sense of humor and an enigmatic feminine viewpoint, and both characters are well essayed by James MacAvoy and Angelina Jolie. 

Because the emphasis here in on excitement rather than on the elision of all heroism, I view the 2008 WANTED as belonging to the "adventure" mythos, whereas the GN conforms better to the mythos of the "irony."

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