Friday, September 12, 2014

Rewatch & Reread: Wanted

2008, Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch) -- Netflix
2003, Mark Millar / JG Jones -- download

Wanted the movie showed up on Netflix and I took the opportunity to rewatch it during one of my less than attentive but free periods, making and eating supper. And after that, I had to reread the comic series, which I had remembered enjoying immensely.  I am not sure what has changed in my brain, but, I guess I am not as much a misanthrope as I used to be.

The comic Wanted is by Mark Millar, known for his over the top, ultra-violent stories such as Kick-Ass and Nemesis. With DC he was touted for his work on Superman: Red Son and with Marvel, he had done the The Ultimates. He has also garnered some controversy lately, but I rolled my eyes and assumed it was part of the Outrage Machine.

And then I re-read Wanted.

In a world of super powers, the son of a slain super villain assassin is recruited into The Fraternity. In the 1980s of their world, the super villains banded together to kill all the superheroes and then alter reality so they were remembered only as comic books. The Fraternity now controls the world and raids alternate realities for fun and profit. They are untouchable.

Wesley works a dead end job, his girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend and he has a myriad of anxiety disorders. But when he learns of his origins, who his father is, and that he has super level abilities with weapons and such, he joins the Fraternity with little thought. Oh, there is some initial hesitance about becoming a completely amoral killer, but then he then jumps in with both feet, murdering & raping to his heart's content. Yes, a very extreme end of the Anti-Hero, the misanthropic Mary Sue for all those despondent souls who cannot escape their lives.

I will not address the ultra violence. Violence is, and will probably always be, a part of our pop culture fictions. But the constant use of homophobic slurs, racial slurs and references to rape just got to me.  Sure, these are evil people doing as evil people do, but they are the protagonists in this story. Yes, Wesley is a misanthrope even without being weighed down by the oppression of his life. But he is also the underlying hero in the story, the beaten down worker drone that many many will identify with. Yet he is already racist, sexist and blames the world for his own woes. I find it dangerous to elevate this kind of character, when the Internet these days is rife with basement dwellers finding their hate filled voices, if only threatening violence and vitriol. Wesley is not depicted as a batshit crazy spree shooter who wipes out his school or office; he is seen as an average guy who just finds the power to have his revenge.

It bothers me. There is something very wrong between the lines.

I can now see why the movie tempered the story so much, which bothered me the first time I saw it. Sure, Wesley is still the downtrodden office worker bee, beset by anxiety and oppression. His girlfriend is still fucking his best friend. His boss is still hating on him. And he is still the son of super assassin. But in this world, they are not super villains, just a Fraternity of Assassins who learn of their victims from the Loom of Fate. In the threads of the world, there are people who just have to be killed, to keep the balance, to keep the rest of us in a somewhat safer world.

Wesley is pulled from this by Angelina Jolie, the Fox, in flashy, stylish slow-mo gun fights in public places. This is Angelina as she was just easing into the current stick-figure stage of her physique. I thought my distaste for it would have softened by now, but no, still too skinny. She never quite seduces Wesley but his ability to shoot the wings off a fly, get up the courage to yell at his boss and bash his best friend (Chris Pratt!) in the face with an ergonomic keyboard is seduction enough. He is tasked with the finding & killing of whomever shot his father.

I was disappointed the first time I saw the movie, being rather bored at how toned down it was. I like Bekmambetov's style, the way he shoots a shoot. He handles the curving of the bullets around corners very well, the shooting of a stylized bullet from miles away and the building of a ensemble cast of assassins of different skills & personalities. But everything is so shallow. The assassins are barely there, just names and death scenes. Its all about Wesley and Fox, their prey and the leader, the ever cool talking Morgan Freeman.

Even now, just days after seeing it, it is all fading away. This is Cool Lite, all the rough edges worn off an idea so it is palatable for a general American audience and a director's style toned down so we don't get overwhelmed. Again, we have Sunday afternoon watching fare, good for coming out of the kitchen for the best scenes and not missing what you miss when you walk back in. I guess I am still disappointed.