I think it’s safe to say that just about anything can be adapted into a film. Even in this little obscure corner of the Internet, quite a few adaptations have been reviewed as they’ve passed through my mailbox or browser. Starship Troopers is the adaptation of a novel. The Mutant Chronicles adapted a tabletop role-playing game. In The Name of the King had something to do with the video game Dungeon Siege . …I think. These adaptations run the gamut of being generally faithful to their source material, to preserving the spirit of the original while rewriting a good portion of it for one reason or another, to bending the franchise over a rail and gleefully going to town while making obscene gestures at the fan base. Wanted falls into that middle category, adapting a comic book for the big screen in way that might not be terribly recognizable to the comic’s fans but is still charged with enough of the original’s spirit to not descend into an incoherent disappointing mess. Like X-Men: The Last Stand did. I still have nightmares…
If anything can disperse the aforementioned nightmares, it’s this. ‘Wanted’ indeed.
Wanted was a short-run comic book series penned by Mark Millar about a down-on-his-luck office schlub named Wesley Gibson who has his hum-drum life of corporate drudgery interrupted by a sexy foul-mouthed assassin named Fox who informs him that his father, the greatest killer of super-beings who ever lived (appropriately dubbed ‘The Killer’) has died and left his son a substantial fortune. To earn it, Wesley must embrace his destiny of super-villainy, overcome years of self-deprecation that anybody who spends any time in a cubicle can tell you is a side-effect of office work and kill a whole lot of super-heroes. There are a lot of super-powers thrown around the pages of Wanted, but Wesley’s power is, simply, making people stop breathing. With bullets. Lots and lots of bullets.
The film adaptation does away with the super-hero motif, making it more a straight-forward badass action flick and less an examination of what a super-powered world would be like if the super-villains had won the seemingly endless struggle between good and evil. Wesley is still an office schlub, Fox is still hot, and there are still lots and lots of bullets. However, instead of joining a fraternity of super-villains, Wes joins a fraternity of assassins who use their work to ensure the tapestry of fate does not come apart at the seams. They get their orders from a magic loom. And no, I have no idea how that thing works.
I wish I looked that good working a desk job.
Much like the comic book, this movie is less about the “what” and more about the “who.” Wesley as a protagonist is someone with whom just about anybody can relate, and like his blonde comic-book counterpart, we actually find ourselves cheering for him as he breaks free of his corporate shackles, learns to curve bullets and embarks on a journey to discover who he really is, because that quiet mousy pushover in that cubicle is not him, or who he wants to be. This journey of self-discovery is a bit more violent than most, but it’s still a journey worth taking.
The other thing Wanted has going for it are moments that worked just as well in the comics as they do on the screen. There’s the moment where Wesley shoots the wings off of flies, moments where he lashes out against his co-workers, the moment where his pseudo-mentor Morgan Freeman drops the F-bomb and the moment where Angelina Jolie as Fox walks around dressed only in her tattoos. Some new elements that take the place of super-villainy have moments of their own, like the moment where Wesley curves a bullet for the first time or uses a car in a very interesting way to get a shot on his target. They’re the kind of moments that make me smile, even upon reflection.
Angelina Jolie and the luckiest car in the world.
The biggest problem Wanted suffers from is that these moments are not necessarily directly related to one another. They are, instead, strung together with a plot that has all of the tensile strength and cohesion as a slightly frayed string of dental floss. In losing the super-powers, Wanted also lost a lot of its color and charm. The graphic novel had me rolling or cheering just about every other page. The film manages a few laughs and a smile or two, but isn’t quite the same. It is, in essence, the generic corner store version of your favorite soda pop – it’s still fizzy and tastes kind of similar, but you can tell the difference.
Seriously, hearing ‘Red’ drop his Precision F-Strike on us is worth the price of admission.
Wanted wavers a bit on the line between recommended watching and something you should skip. What puts it just barely in the positive column is the very self-aware nature of the film. Unlike some other adaptations out there, it’s ashamed of neither its source material nor the idea of taking the piss out of itself. Cleolinda Jones, in the preface to her Wanted in 15 Minutes, says that this film is “outrageous and stupid and funny and knows it“. James McEvoy is having just as much fun here as he did playing Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, if not more. Of course, in Narnia he didn’t have the chance to make out with Angelina Jolie. I had fun watching Wanted, and reading the graphic novel again afterward was even more fun in light of this adaptation, which makes it a success for me and earns a recommendation. It’s not the greatest badass action film out there – Shoot ‘Em Up is a better self-parody of the genre – nor is it the best comic book adaptation film to date. That honor belongs to Iron Man and the only thing endangering it is coming out on May 7th. Because if anything is going to dethrone Iron Man, it isn’t going to be Wanted – it’ll be Iron Man 2. And I cannot wait for that.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.