The message from Wanted, a violent blockbuster based on a comic-book series, is that anyone can be a superman.
Even stressed-out office drone Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) can, though he doesn't know it until Angelina Jolie bursts into his life, spraying machine-gun fire pell-mell, somersaulting over police cruisers and driving a car into the side of a passenger train. Jolie, a trained killer named Fox, works for an ages-old, secret fraternity of assassins who, as boss Morgan Freeman explains, are guided by "the loom of fate". No, really! They read the names of the guilty in wefts of cloth, and execute them using their supersensory powers, not to mention bullets that bend around corners. Now Wesley will be recruited to their number, once he's been through a vicious course of beatings and intimidation the likes of which make Mossad look like a scout troop.
With its scenery-trashing mayhem and Matrix-style shoot-'em-ups, this could be dismissed as any old action movie with Nietzschean pretensions. But I'd also like to dismiss it as heartless, antisocial, impudent and repulsive. For starters, the level of violence is grotesque even by modern standards; director Timur Bekmambetov (of the dreary Night Watch) makes a fetish of ballistics, following the gleaming bullet's trajectory as it whistles in slo-mo towards the poor, frail flesh of its victim.
And when Wesley, the worm that turned, finally nails his first target, there's a horrible leer of complicity between him and Jolie, as if to say: "Isn't killing people a lark?" That the film can then display a sense of superiority is not only moronic, it's irresponsible. Having caused a whole train-wreck, at the cost of an untold number of lives, and personally dispatched all of his enemies, Wesley crows in voiceover, "Six weeks ago I was ordinary and pathetic – like you."
Well, cheers for that, but if by "ordinary and pathetic" you mean "not a psychopathic monster who kills people with magic bullets", then I'll take that as a compliment.
The only real point of interest here is the spectacle of McAvoy attempting the transition from actor to movie star. When he's undergoing his initiations to become a top assassin, you can sense a kind of parallel grooming at work, with Freeman (playing a godhead, as usual) and Jolie watching to see if this Brit squirt has what it takes to dine at Hollywood's top table. He has bulked up the muscle, of course, and can fake an American accent. The question one would like to ask McAvoy, though, is why would he want to, if this is the kind of future awaiting him? The crafty intelligence and wit he displayed in Starter for 10, State of Play and even Atonement are nowhere evident here.
I suppose the money is good, but isn't it a bit early to start coarsening himself?