Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wanted: Great Entertainment

The August issue of Details Magazine contains the following quote: "James McAvoy made out with Angelina Jolie, and you didn't." Frankly, I don't need Details to tell me that my fantasies haven't played out quite as expected, but the first trailer I saw of Wanted made me lean back and go "Whoa."

It was lust at first sight; all that violence; all that action; all that Angelina. Even the aforementioned McAvoy seemed to fit the part, and when you add a deep-voiced superstar like Morgan Freeman to the mix, you have a truly intriguing story, cast, and overall movie you just HAVE to watch.

Imagine to my surprise, then, that Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch), was actually based on a miniseries written by Ultimates scribe Mark Millar and drawn by Alex Ross wannabe J.G. Jones (Final Crisis). Even more astounded now, I decided I had to see both, starting with the sure-to-be-fantastic movie.

One thing to remember with Wanted: The Movie is very much based in reality. Even the opening sequence, where we see man leap through a plate glass window out of a high-up office tower over to ANOTHER tower a few hundred yards away to eliminate his would-be assassins, you hardly feel like you've left the modern-day world. This is also true when you see people shoot bullets out of the air, curve bullets or do other fits of daring-do... normal people wouldn't be able to do these things, but our heroes can.

And that brings us to McAvoy, playing the role of Wesley Gibson. Wesley is like you or me. He hates his job. He hates that his best friend is fucking his girlfriend when his back is turned. He hates his father for abandoning him at eighteen weeks old. He hates his ergonomic keyboard. He takes medication for severe panic attacks. Okay, maybe not QUITE like you or me. Wesley is used to being pushed around. He's never been the assertive type, used to being stepped on and never sure how to stop it. Along comes Fox (Jolie) who tells him his father was killed in our opening scene not too long ago, and after a bit of wild driving, she brings him to the Fraternity, led by the great Freeman as Sloan, who would train Wesley to be good enough to kill the rebel assassin who killed his dad.

First of all, the action sequences are fantastic. The only real hiccup is the driving scene with Jolie and McAvoy being chased by the bad guy (King Kong's Thomas Kretschmann) in which the camera gets a little too close and obscures some of the action. Besides that, though, the movie's action scenes are flawless, constantly letting blood and bending the fabric of reality to make everything both believable and unbelievable at the same time. I always knew Jolie could act, and McAvoy is fantastic as both the sniveling worm he starts as and the hardened killer he becomes. Other strong performances include Kretschmann and Common, who plays one of Wesley's trainers. Sadly, it seems that Morgan Freeman mails in his performance, though it didn't hurt the movie any with him at only half-strength. There are also some scenes that are a little TOO out there (animal rights activists will have trouble with a couple of scenes, though a slight reminder that this is just a movie should alleviate those concerns) and ridiculous, but nothing that detracts from the final product.

In all, Wanted is a fantastic movie. It's got acting, action, mythology and just plain bad-assness, all the while rooting itself in the real world in a completely believable fashion. I highly recommend it to any who haven't watched it yet. And if you have, make definite plans to pick it up on DVD, which it probably will by this Christmas.

I wish there were an easier way to compare the movie and the graphic novel well. I definitely liked the book, but I LOVED the movie so much more. However, it's hardly an even playing field, as the two mediums are so different that their disparate traits outnumber their similarities by a wide margin.

First of all, the majority of the story takes place in New York City (in the movie, it was Chicago). It starts off the same though, with anger and violence ripping through the first few scenes before we even get to Wesley. It's obvious from the start that there are some issues that take place in the book that don't place in the movie (racism, gender degradation, homosexuality, even excess violence).

But probably the most pointed difference between the book and the movie is that in the book, the Brotherhood are in reality a league of super villains. (Note: That wasn't a spoiler, if you read the FIRST ISSUE you'll see I'm right; they lay it out up front) Years ago, they organized, teamed up on the population of super heroes, and killed all of them. Then they wiped the memories of these heroes from the minds of the populace and now they run the world like a black-curtained Illuminati. As a member of the Fraternity, you can destroy, kill, rape, and rob with impunity, never being blamed for your actions. And Wesley's in since his dad was The Killer, a super assassin who never missed. Obviously, this changes the whole scheme of the universe, but I still liked the movie's ability to ground in reality, while the books seems far-fetched and full of holes.

Jones definitely loves his celebrity faces, as the main characters in the story look like Eminem, Halle Berry and Tommy Lee Jones. His art is actually very good, though some flashback sequences are drawn by Dick Giordano (The Phantom) and don't work as well. Jones is definitely the superior artist, and the vulgar and violent undertones are done well here.

Disappointing though is Millar's writing, which doesn't adopt the redemption story in the movie and instead the message the book seems to be trying to get across is "Fuck the world". On top of that, uninspired characters (Sucker, Fuck-Wit and Shit-Head are some such villains who don't amount to crap) and a general plot malaise don't quite live up to the clever dialogue and occasionally hilarious one-liners. If this had been more like the movie's story, instead of ANOTHER super-hero story, it might have been a little more original and stood out from the acres upon acres of indie super stores that exist out there today.

I picked up the Assassin's Edition of the Wanted novel, which includes some fantastic concept art, storyboards, covers, character dossiers and creator interviews. These are almost worth the price of admission alone, but I guess it depends on how much you like extras.

So there you have it! For once, the movie is BETTER than the book! Who'd a' thunk it? I hope you enjoyed this review, we're looking forward to the next Latest Issue!

33 comments:

Megmo Eskimo said...

Ahhh…and I thought I was the star of your fantasies. Well I guess Kirima will just have to play the lead role in someone else’s dreams :o

But hey, at least it IS Angelina who does look hot in this, shows her acting prowess, and kicks mucho ass. And I concur…I always knew she could act (as evidenced in Girl, Interrupted and she was good in the fluffy Mr. & Mrs. Smith) but I have not seen her act THIS good. I am also impressed at any actor who cuts their lines (that’s right, she cut her lines) in order to portray her character’s detached personality more accurately. I have always purported the notion that a truly great actor does not have to verbalize a word but can rather say everything in their facial expressions and body language…which Jolie does nicely.

McEvoy did a fantastic job, as did Common. I also agree that Freeman was not on par with his usual acting abilites. I thought the ending was fantastic and I usually feel cheated or that the director and writers gave up by the end of an action movie. Danny Elfman’s music and song selections (particularly his opening song “Little Things” and NIN’s “Every Day is Exactly the Same”) set the tone of rebelling against the daily grind.

The only thing I would disagree with is that I believe that the movie’s message was a mélange of redemption AND “fuck the world”, hence the last quote of the movie. But I do not believe it is fuck the world as in every one is a lost cause or every one should perish, but rather fuck the world you know and break out of your own monotony to become something better.

brian said...

This movie was ok, but I think you two are going a bit overboard with the hyperbole. Jolie was good, not great though. McAvoy went from annoying me to impressing me with the drop of the hat. Common didn't really do anything. I guess I'm Matrix'd out because the slo-mo bullets didn't do much for me. I did love the ridiculousness of it all and thought the train crash was a wonder to behold. This movie is in the same vein as 'Crank' and 'Running Scared'; two movies I also enjoy. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie. It's just that I pretty much forgot about it an hour later. It can't even lick clean the jockstrap of 'Doomsday', perhaps the greatest movie ever made (speaking of hyperbole).

In a summer with 'Hellboy 2', why are we even still talking about 'Wanted'?

Gianni said...

We're talking about Wanted because I hadn't gotten around to talking about Wanted yet. Now I'm sated.

Megmo Eskimo said...

Hmmmm...I don't go overboard with hyperbole (I don't care for cliches) but I DO enjoy going overboard :)

And Brian, "licking jockstraps"...so THAT'S what you have been doing with your weekends and why you haven't been able to play poker!!

brian said...

"but I DO enjoy going overboard :)"

Sounds like a dirty euphemism to me.

steve said...

three cheers for the Latest Issue! and three cheers for Jamie McAvoy, who's impressed me in everything I've seen him in (ah, if only the timing had been right - what a Peter Parker he'd have made!).

steve said...

also, there's hardly any NEED to tell us the movie was better than the book! The movie is ALWAYS better than the book! Ever read plan "Planet of the Apes"? Hell, even the Marky-Mark remake is better! Ever read "The Birdman of Alcatraz"? The book will put you to sleep, but Burt Lancaster in the movie will rip your heart out! Ever actually read "The French Connection"? Snoozeroo. Every Bond movie is easily better than every Bond book. Take your pick of excruciatingly awful 20th century novels: "Cold Mountain"? "Memoirs of a Geisha"? "Shipping News"? "Snow Falling on Cedars"? ALL train wrecks as books, all extremely good as movies.

Who actually wants to slog through READING Tom Clancy? And yet, who doesn't love the movie "Hunt for Red October"? John Grisham couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag, but three movies based on his books are quite good. Robert Graves' book is murderously tedious, but the mini-series "I, Claudius" is one of the best sustained performances ever put on film. Ditto "Brideshead Revisited," ditto "Upstairs, Downstairs," ditto "All Creatures Great and Small" ... hell, ditto "Lonesome Dove"!

Let's face it: books are for LOSERS.

steve said...

Or, to put it in terms the naturally-combative readers of The Latest Issue will readily understand, i.e. that of the Klingon blood-challenge: name me ONE book that was better than the movie made from it! ONE!

Kevin said...

Both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian were better in book form (and I liked the movies).

Just off the toppa my head.

steve said...

But they AREN'T better! The books of Narnia are so wretchedly twee and curly-tongued precious they're nauseating! The movies crackle with an entirely modern (and adult) sensibility!

brian said...

Any movie version of 'War and Peace'is better than that execrable novel.

Megmo Eskimo said...

Brian, when DON'T I utter a dirty euphemism???

Megmo Eskimo said...

To answer your challenge Steve, here is a list of books that were better than the movies:

Les Miserables (all adaptations)
Dune (both the original & remake)
The Fountainhead
White Oleander
Harry Potter

In each of these, the movies may be good but the books surpass them. The exception is the movie adaptation of 'The Fountainhead', which is awful!! Gary Cooper is a piss poor Howard Roark and Patricia Neal is NO Dominque Francon.

Gianni said...

I'm willing to agree with you on some things: Both Jurassic Park movies and Starship Troopers were better on the screen than on paper. But I defy you to tell me that the Lord of the Rings books were NOT better than the movies, great as the movies were. A little too much "Oh, Mr. Frodo," "Oh, Sam," for my liking. The books were better and more descriptive, even though the movies were fantastic by themselves.

brian said...

Gianni, I actually disagree. My problem with 'The Lord of the Rings' novels is in the pacing. The first book is fantastic, until we get to the 'elf council' scenes which last like 200 pages. The 2nd book is, by far, the best with the helms deep battle and Shelob. Perfectly paced. Unfortunately, the 3rd book is a bit anticlimactic. The story is over within the first 100 pages and then we have the strange return to the shire with the human conflict. I don't know, I liked the movies more. It's probably just me. If you disagree...I stick 'sting' up my ass.

Kevin said...

The Narnia books are delightful. The movies lose the charm, while trying Hollywoodize them.

Same pretty much goes for the LTR movies (which in many ways went downhill fast after the first one). The books have intelligence, charm and uniqueness that the big action movies lack. Who cares if the pace is slow? They have to walk across vast distances on an arduous journey - isn't a slow pace appropriate at times?

Jurassic park was better as a book, in my opinion. Not that I really gave two shits about either.

brian said...

it's not so much the "slow" pacing as the slightly odd pacing. I can deal with a slow pace. Don't get me wrong, I still love the books. Just love the movies a little more. There's a spot on my mantle for both, however.

regarding my "sting" comment. Hmmm, coulda worded that one a little better.

brian said...

I never read 'Jurassic Park', so I can't disagree. However, Crichton lost me when he wrote the sequel 'The Lost World' as a sequel to the movie and not his original novel. How else to explain (spoiler alert!!!) Goldblum's quirky analytical scientist-type character surviving to be the star of 'Lost World' when he was killed in the original novel?

brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin said...

There is one thing that the Lord of the Rings movies got completely wrong. Unfortunately, it's absolutely crucial.

It's Frodo.

Frodo is chosen with his task for a reason. He is pure of heart. As a hobbit, he is by nature unambitious.
Then there's the thing that the movie missed.

He's crafty, he's intelligent. He is truly Bilbo's nephew. More introspective, sure, but more grave is his burden. This is why he's Gandalf & Aragorn's 'ace in the hole'.

In the book, when he meets Faramir, a battle of wits ensues, where Frodo has to explain his presence so far from the Shire without giving away his secret cargo. In the movie, nothing of the sort occurs - they throw in an unnecessary additional battle scene.

By the third film, your good and sick of Frodo and his constipated 'oh the burden' close-ups, not to mention the long, loving stairs between he and Sam. In the books, you're with Frodo all the way - in some ways, you are Frodo. In the movies, he's more whiny and irritating than anything else.

Books 3, movies 0.

steve said...

I was never for a minute Frodo in the books, because the Frodo stretches (and boy, are they long) were such unabashed wallows in nostalgia (not just that hobbits are simple folk, the implication goes, but that ALL of us were simple folk, once upon a time) are so contemptuous of complexity or modernity that I just wanted to strangle him the whole time.

Same thing with Harry Potter, who's only able to read and write out his precious Latin-mangling spells because of the boring old normal education boring old normal people gave him.

And Les Miserables? You MUST be joking! Have any of you actually READ that disaster?

brian said...

Also, the movies took out any mention of Tom Bombadill. How dare they??

Yeah, the movies also changed the character of Faramir (a change I actually think worked for the better) by making him tempted by the ring. Gave his character a little more depth I thought...and, in the end, we still got to see that he was stronger than his brother.

Kevin said...

No, I liked the book's Faramir much better. Less overblown drama, more smarts, thus more contrast with Boramir.

Steve, of course you're not Frodo...

You're clearly Gimli. Stubborn, yet hairy.

Gianni said...

I was wondering when someone would mention Tom Bombadil. Hey, nonny nonny! Time to write a new entry!

Kevin said...

Funnily enough, the Weta folks did create an image of Mr. Bombadil...

...For the LOTR card game.

brian said...

looks kind of like Bob Hoskins. Cool.

steve said...

you've GOT to be kidding! The Faramir in the books is a pale SHADOW of the Faramir in the movies! Everything about the movies is superior to the books!

steve said...

I thought I got to be Arwen ....

Megmo Eskimo said...

As a matter of fact Steve, yes, I DID read 'Les Miserables' and all of the books on my list for that matter. It is a wonderful piece of literature in that it draws you into the tangled world of charity, nobility and rebellion in the face of poverty, despair, and cruelty through Hugo's his deft character development and commentary on society in the French Revolution.

And yes, as much I love the LOTR movies, by the end, I was ready to vomit all over Elijah Wood's portrayal of Frodo.

Megmo Eskimo said...

And Harry Potter is a wonderful protagonist. He is smart, innovative, brave, and a loyal friend, yet he (understandably so) at times gets frustrated and depressed with his heavy burden of his role to play in the prophecy.

brian said...

Frodo would shove sting so far up Harry Potter's ass that the tip would come out his mouth. This implies something nasty about where most of Frodo's arm would be, but whatever. I'm talking movie Frodo versus movie HP. The HP from the books isn't even in this discussion.

Megmo, your description below sounds like a rip off of another character...hmmm...could it be Frodo?

brian said...

"Megmo, your description below..."

I meant to say "above". It was "below" when I was typing the damned thing and I got confused.

Megmo Eskimo said...

Brian, you're right, my description of the Harry Potter from the book (and I am talking about the one from the books and not from the movies) does sound exactly like the words many people use to decribe Frodo. While I concur that Frodo does possess the qualities (I am referring to Frodo in the movies, not the books since I have not read them yet) of loyalty and friendship, he did not show any cleverness or ingenuity (as someone already stated that this was the problem w/ the movie portral of him). And Steve took a potshot at Harry Potter, hence my rebuttal.

Lol...Brian I get confused about above and below too...but only in bed, as Gianni can surely attest to :0