Wanted: When The Action Genre Takes Itself Too Seriously

Wanted is a film with a serious identity crisis. It has enormously silly plot points, surreal special effects, and Morgan Freeman saying “Shoot this maddafucka!” It also is totally committed to a tale of a man hoping to stand out in New York City, hoping to make a name of himself, hoping to be (wait for it) wanted. However, the different styles never blend. It borrows liberally from The Matrix and Fight Club, seeming like the bastard child of the two. It wants you to take the world of the film seriously, but it also winks and nods at you with caricatures, visual gags, and a general silliness, like the film LONGS to be a fun romp but is being forced into this sub-genre of serious action films against its will.

While watching Wanted, I kept longing for Shoot Em Up. That was a film with ridiculous stunts, gratuitous sexy women, heroes and villains chewing the scenery to pieces, and a sense of fun that lets you immerse yourself into its R-rated Looney Tunes antics. They even draw a direct comparison, with hero Clive Owen chewing a carrot at all times, and villain Paul Giamatti calling him a “wascally wabbit.” It was unapologetic, never attempted to achieve sentimentality or tried to make a statement on the world at large. I’m sure the fact that a film so ridiculously violent can still be filled with such evident joy does make a statement on society today, but the film never forces you to think unless you want to. The action genre should be allowed to have fun, and shouldn’t force unpleasant seriousness or cliched satire into a flick where it doesn’t belong.

Beware, because spoilers will follow, so if you want the silliness to remain a surprise, stop reading here.

Wanted has cars flip over one another, bullets fire from halfway across a city with pinpoint accuracy, and recovery baths where stab and bullet wounds heal in hours. But silliest of all, the assassins take their orders from a magic loom. Yes, like a loom that sews fabric. It writes code into fabric, and the leader of the assassins’ fraternity translates it. Only one time does anyone ever question the magic loom, and a quick story by the hot Angelina Jolie about something that allegedly happened when the loom wasn’t followed leaves the character satisfied. Funny, since my first response would have been, “Are you sure that’s actually what happened?”

Don’t get me wrong, somewhere in the action film genre, there can be an enjoyable film that has a magic loom giving assassins orders. But not a film that dwells in unpleasantness, brutal violence meant to make us wince, and satire of working drones searching for identity. There are many, many terrific films based on incredibly silly concepts. Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich… the list goes on and on. The trouble with a silly concept is it requires incredibly smart writing, to fully explore all of the possible questions and tangents that a silly concept comes with. The absolute worst thing to do is to automatically assume that everyone in the audience will immediately buy your silliness and will accept it as quickly as your unquestioning characters. Granted, it’s only a two-hour movie, but there couldn’t have been one more moment of people doubting the powers of this loom? Even at the end, there are characters who choose to kill themselves when they are told their names came up on the loom (they don’t even see it themselves– they are simply told). Maybe the director assumes the typical action moviegoer are as good as believing what they’re told as assassins.

There’s not enough commentary to be effective as a satire, not enough exciting stunts and sequences to be effective as an action film. Maybe if The Matrix, Fight Club, and the countless other films this one evidently borrows from didn’t exist, this would be a more revolutionary vision. Instead, it’s a derivative, unpleasant summer action film, fine for violent escapism but unmemorable in every regard. At least Morgan Freeman had fun saying that line, it’s more than I can say for my experience watching the film.

~ by russellhainline on July 7, 2008.

One Response to “Wanted: When The Action Genre Takes Itself Too Seriously”

  1. i still can’t believe i paid to watch that movie.

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