God give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor,---men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue,
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking:
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,---
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land, and waiting Justice sleeps!

Josiah Gilbert Holland, 1872

Wanted is a comic book which was, as Wikipedia so succinctly puts it, "loosely adapted" into a movie of the same name. Both are primarily action-focused, with relatively weak plots - so, really, the plot having been wildly changed between the two isn't that big of a deal.

There will be minor plot spoilers (with warnings) below; and fairly comprehensive plot spoilers in the plot section at the end.

The Comic

Wanted was written by Mark Millar, penciled and inked by J. G. Jones, and colored by Paul Mounts. The stock quote for Wanted, describing it as "the Watchmen for super-villains", is alleged to come from someone at the London Sunday Times. I say alleged, because I can't seem to dig up any first-hand evidence of this quote, nor the name of the writer. I can only hope that's because they're so ashamed of being utterly wrong that they've taken up sheep herding in some obscure and distant land. Not the part with the crook, the part where you run around and bark at the sheep, and then are mauled by wolves. Watchmen, after all, was actually pretty damn good.

Wanted isn't terrible. The art is good, the premise is interesting, and the action is good. The plot, however, fails to tie things together in any sort of interesting way, and the final package doesn't quite deliver. It's worth reading if you're bored, don't mind action without much depth, and don't have to pay for it. Otherwise, don't bother. Comparing that to something like Watchmen is, well, ridiculous.

Minor spoilers follow:

Wanted is a sort of dark, violent bildungsroman for the feckless main character, Wesley Gibson. Hauled away from a life he hates - from his job, to his girlfriend, to his best friend - by The Fox, he is informed that his supervillain father has been murdered. Wesley stands to inherit millions, provided he becomes a supervillain himself, and bodyguard to The Professor, a key figure in The Fraternity. Said group of supervillains has slaughtered or subverted every hero or superhero in their reality, and they essentially rule their world. The rest of the story follows Wesley's reactions and actions in regards to The Fraternity, its members, and his father's murder.

The Movie

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, with James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson, Angelina Jolie as Fox, and Morgan Freeman as Sloan, Wanted was released in 2008. The movie is slick action, with an acceptable plot. If that sort of thing appeals to you, it's well worth watching. It's well put together, without ever really dragging, and the mostly excellent special effects (aside from one vehicular sequence) support keep the action entertaining.

The thing that most struck me on rewatching Wanted was how similar several large parts of the ending action was to Equilibrium - and how, despite the obviously higher budget and slicker effects, how inferior Wanted was in terms of choreography and overall impact of the action sequences. While I think that Ultraviolet proved that Kurt Wimmer shouldn't be allowed to make entire movies without adult supervision, his grasp and original presentation of action sequences is fantastic, and I'd love to see that combined with someone who can reliably make good movies.

Minor spoilers follow:

Wanted once again has Wesley being snatched from a life he loathes by Fox, this time with a no apparent strings inheritance of millions, and an introduction to The Fraternity, this time a group of assassins who follow the oracular interpretations of Sloan, vaguely equivalent to the comic's Professor, in taking out targets to make the world a happy place. Drawn back in not by force, but by his desire not to suck, Wesley begins training to hunt down his father's murderer, and the rest of the movie follows from there.

The Plots

Massive spoilers to follow!

The biggest differences between the two are the nature of The Fraternity and their stated purposes (and thus Wesley's nature and purpose, as he becomes one of them) and Wesley's father.

In the comic, The Fraternity is, by its very nature, an evil group. They've banded together to slaughter any force of good which could stand in their way, and now they slaughter innocents, steal, rape, and generally rampage their way across the globe. And, since this is comics, across several alternate globes as well. Wesley starts by killing random strangers, and works his way up to everyone who's ever pissed him off.

In the movie, The Fraternity is presented as a group for good, and this appears to have been historically true. However, Sloan has subverted the group for his own purposes - essentially, ruling the world, as in the comic. Wesley can only be convinced to kill anyone at all after Fox's personal revelation (no, not that one) convinces him that anyone selected by fate to die must really be evil.

Wesley's father in the comic has faked his own death in order to force Wesley to become "manly" and take control of his own life, while in the movie, Wesley's father is still alive, and has rebelled against the group upon finding it evil. Indeed, Wesley's movie father wants him to have the normal life that his comic book father wants to get him the hell out of.

Overall, the plot of the movie is fairly standard Hollywood fare, and for fairly obvious reasons (the protagonist shooting his former best friend's energy drink is OK in a movie; killing his former best friend because he feels like it is not.) While the changes are fundamental, and the premise of the comic is more interesting to me, the movie's actual execution is superior, and preferable.

Film Wanted
Year 2008
Rating ★★★☆☆
Summary Fun entertainment despite its implausibly silly plot.

Nineteen ninety-nine was a good year for films, not least of which were Fight Club and The Matrix. Evidently it took nine years for Timur Bekmambetov to go all the way from watching these inspirational films to finally releasing his own imitation of them. I couldn't get more than a few minutes into Wanted before I got a feeling of déjà vu. Everything's a copy of a copy of a copy...

As far as orthodox Hollywood films go, I can't really fault Wanted. I don't know how faithful the movie is to the original comic, but the screenplay writers strictly followed the monomyth to good effect. It's great fun to identify with a character who goes from being a corporate drone to becoming a member of an elite secret club, discovering along the way that he'd been destined for greater things all along. The overall message of empowerment, of taking back control of your life, certainly has to be a good thing, as inspirational as it is entertaining.

Although Wanted is nowhere near as good as the films that inspired it, it's still a fun story in its own right, complete with its own interesting twists and turns. However, the basic premise of the film is so silly that I spent all my mental effort trying to suspend my disbelief, leaving me with very little brainpower left over to actually enjoy the film. I'm going to spoil some of the plot now, so if stylised violent action films are your thing, you should probably go and watch it before I rip it to shreds. Go ahead, I'll wait.

It's my belief that Hollywood performs one of the main functions of religions much better than the original religions themselves do, namely to inspire people with stories of fictional characters who fight for what's right, overcoming the odds -- and their own self doubt -- to thwart evil, growing as people along the way. The monomyth, as told by countless Hollywood films, goes as far as to take the essence of countless cultures' stories and use that skeleton as the basis of new stories, fleshed out in novel and interesting ways. Thanks to the work of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, the essence of what makes a story popular has been well articulated.

However, I think that although the monomyth is great for things like pacing a story, the writers of Wanted took the whole religious aspect of it a little too literally. The two scenes that let this film down are the training and backstory exposition scenes, and the problem isn't one of pausing the action for a bit. The actual original ideas that make this film unique are the idea that some monotheistic god talks to someone via binary encoded messages hidden in the seemingly innocuous mistakes of a loom -- yes, a weaving loom -- and the idea that you can shoot bullets in a horizontal curve.

I'm all in favour of using drugs or psychotic delusions to create works of entertainment. I love the stories of the undoubtedly temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia influenced writer Philip K. Dick. Even if I can suspend my disbelief for films like Scanners and The Truman Show, though, there comes a point where you just think that no, there's no way this character can be anything other than plain crazy. This works well with films like Donnie Darko where that's half the point, but Wanted makes the mistake of presenting its arbitrary schizophrenic plot as both being true and also as being a serious matter.

Some kind of all-seeing deity, whose power is impotent enough to warrant sending humans to do his or her dirty work, really is meant to be talking to the mentor character via the medium of slightly imperfect weaving.

Yes, weaving.

Why not use a more obvious medium that someone would discover even if he wasn't predisposed towards looking for a pattern where none exists? Such as sending a telegram? Speaking in elaborate, subtle codes that are commonly misconceived as background noise is only a viable medium for fictional gods (see The Bible Code), not real ones.

I caved in and freezeframed the loom scene, confirming that the secret code is, in fact, ASCII. On an interesting sidenote to hackers, it seems that this infallible god has no need of error correction, merely padding out the seven bits per letter with a leading zero. (Apparently this loom is an eight-bit system.) Curiously, despite using ASCII for a thousand years before its invention in nineteen sixty-three, this god nevertheless shuns its fancy modern advantages such as punctuation, spaces, and lower case letters. I can't say I'm surprised, as gods are notorious for being luddites, which seems appropriate given the loom motif.

Even with my limited knowledge of the sciences, I also find it impossible to entertain the notion that the rules of physics only apply because "people believe in them," which is essentially the other message of this film. The first Matrix film gets away with this only because it's set in a simulation where the rules of physics don't apply, not the reality that's been pretty well understood since Isaac Newton's time, let alone Samuel Colt's.

Other than these bizarre, arbitrary ideas, this film's pretty good. A little violent at times, although nowhere near as over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek as the previous year's Shoot 'Em Up, which is a shame. It even seems to rip off a joke from its spiritual predecessor. (Unfortunately for Wanted, the joke worked a lot better in the original film. Take note: if you're going to steal an idea, you should improve it.)

There's even a vague mention of order versus chaos, a motif which is explored much more fully in next month's embarrassingly superior blockbuster The Dark Knight.

In short, this is a fun film if you're in the mood for watching people shoot at each other in increasingly implausible ways, but make sure you turn your brain off on the way in.

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