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That's what Wesley Gibson's life is. He grew up fatherless, and clearly feels the loss. And now he's a peon among scores of other peons in an office full of gray cubicles. His boss is demeaning, demanding and acts like an overgrown middle schooler. Wesley goes home each night to his girlfriend, and leaves each morning knowing that his best friend will be over to have sex with her while he's gone. His bank account and his self-esteem are both heavily overdrawn.
But a quick trip to the drugstore for another refill of his antianxiety prescription changes all that. A beautiful woman next to him in line tells him that his dad didn't simply walk out on the family more than two decades previously. Instead, she says, he was pulled underground as an assassin and lived the gangster life until he was shot to death on the rooftop of Chicago's Metropolitan Building, betrayed by a friend and colleague—yesterday.
Then a gun battle breaks out right there in the the toothpaste aisle.
The beautiful woman is Fox, who, after the two dodge enough bullets to survive the assault, recruits Wesley into the "Fraternity" and begins to train him to avenge his father's death.
The Fraternity is the modern iteration of a secret society begun by a band of weavers (yes, weavers) a millennium before. Wesley's education in assassination takes place in an aging textile mill. There, he and the audience discover that the assassins' targets are "chosen" by "fate" and revealed through a code in the cloth being crafted on the mill's giant looms. The operation's boss, Sloan, reads the codes and hands out the assignments. Wesley's job is to get good at knocking off targets while waiting for the name of his dad's murderer to come up on his hit list.
At least, that what his job seems to be.
Wesley is obviously worse off for having grown up without a father. In a roundabout way, his listlessness, aimlessness and lack of self-possession underscore the importance of fathers in the lives of their sons. It's also worth noting that Wesley recognizes his apathy as a problem and strives to do something about it. (Unfortunately, he doesn't solve that problem in a healthy way.)
A couple of characters take risks or make heroic sacrifices for the good of others. One is ultimately condemned for lying and taking advantage of others' credulity. Wesley expresses remorse when he is responsible for the death of another Fraternity member.
As the sole reader of the code, Sloan puts Wesley in his place using a biblical analogy: "Like an apostle, your task is not to interpret, but to deliver." In other words, Wesley doesn't get to second-guess the assignments Sloan hands him. If fate says a person should die, the person dies. No questions asked.
At first, Wesley struggles with the idea that an unknown force is telling him to kill seemingly innocent people. But Fox defends the idea of trusting fate, saying that horrible things have happened when the messages in the code were ignored. Wesley is assured that the code is fate's way of "maintain[ing] balance in the world," and "forg[ing] stability out of chaos." Wesley is also told that it is his "long-awaited destiny" to join the Fraternity.
During one of Wesley's training exercises, Sloan demands that he curve the path of his bullet around an obstacle and into his target. The technique Wesley uses to succeed seems to be half fancy gunslinging and half Jedi mind trick, as Sloan encourages him to "use [his] instincts."
In the office, Wesley's boss is deliberately profane in an annoying, flippant way. She once exclaims, "Holy s--- on an altar!" A corrupt Fraternity member speaks of breaking the code and using the member's services for selfish purposes: "We can take the Fraternity to heights reserved for the gods of men."
Wesley lives with his girlfriend, Cathy. We see them sleeping in the same bed on several occasions. Then, when Wesley goes to work, his best friend and co-worker, Barry, sneaks over to his apartment during breaks and lunch to rendezvous with Cathy. Their trysts are shown twice. Once, audiences see his naked backside as he has sex with her in a standing position. (The view of her body is mostly blocked by his.) Another time, he is shown atop her, still dressed in his shirt and tie. From his sexual movements, it's implied that he's stripped off his pants. We also see him buying condoms and hear him comment on their erotic qualities.
Just as abrasive and crude as Wanted's sexual scenes is its sexual dialogue. And the f-word is used multiple times in a sexual context.
Fox is shown emerging from a healing bath. We see her fully naked backside (complete with all of Angelina Jolie's real-life tattoos and some fake ones added for the sake of character development). Wesley and Fox share a prolonged kiss aimed to make Cathy jealous. Fox wears revealing outfits and once, in a short cocktail dress, plays out a prolonged gunfight sequence sprawled on the hood of a car.
Wesley's journey from milquetoast accountant to topnotch assassin takes him through a barrage of brutal training exercises. A fellow sharpshooter named the Repairman punches him in the face again and again. (His nose and mouth are beaten to a pulp.) Another assassin called the Butcher stabs clean through Wesley's hand while training him to knife fight. Wesley returns the favor by slashing the man's neck. Fox pushes Wesley off the roof of the textile mill onto the top of a moving train. When the train enters a tunnel, Wesley is smashed, head-on, into the tunnel's frame.
All of this turns out to be no big deal because the Fraternity possesses a secret paraffin-like formula with astounding healing powers. Soak in the wax bath for a couple of hours and your cuts and bruises magically heal. This process allows Wanted to beat its characters to within an inch of their lives, rinse, and repeat.
Beyond the hand-to-hand combat, the film revels in its shooting scenes. There's target shooting. Car chase shooting. Shooting in a drugstore. Shooting on a train. Animal carcass shooting. Shooting to wound. Shooting to kill. Shooting people who are already dead. Wanted employs the slo-mo effect made popular by The Matrix in which audiences see a bullet in great detail as it hurtles toward its target and makes contact. Blood and flesh fly as it enters the skull of its victim. Sometimes it even backs up and we see the scene in reverse.
And the slowed down shots aren't just trotted out for climactic moments—they're constant.
One assassin obliterates several innocent bystanders en route to putting a hole in his desired target. A woman is shot in the forehead and slumps to the ground, her blood spattering on the wall behind her. The assassin leaps through a plate glass window and takes out several more victims as he falls onto a lower rooftop. Other victims are shot at point-blank range, and one person commits suicide. (We watch from a distance as the bullet strikes home.) Sloan holds a gun to Wesley's head and threatens to kill him if he doesn't shoot his assigned target first. The shooting crescendos to a climactic spree in which at least a dozen people are gunned down and a whole building is practically destroyed. The dead are shown lying in puddles of blood.
There's still more: Besides the shooting, there's the chasing. Early on, Fox demolishes a Dodge Viper as she rushes to bring Wesley to the Fraternity headquarters. She shoots out her own windshield, climbs onto the hood, commands Wesley to drive and proceeds to fire at her foe with two guns simultaneously. Hanging precariously over the edge of the Viper's hood, her head narrowly misses a run-in with a city bus. Later, Wesley and another assassin chase each other through a moving train, which screeches to a halt on a high trestle before plunging into the gorge below.
Violence and the assassin's way of life are glorified by Sloan, who admonishes Wesley, "Insanity is wasting your life as a nothing when you have the blood of a killer in your veins."
Crude or Profane Language
At least four-dozen f-words mix with the bullets. Two-dozen s-words trail along, too, as do a dozen abuses of God's name (one paired with "d--n") and a few misuses of Jesus' name. Other crude words and phrases crop up plenty of times, with "p---y" being a script fave.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Barry makes reference to crushing up a "morning-after pill" and slipping it into the breakfast of a girl with whom he's had sex ("Can't be too safe"). Wesley pops pills to control his constant anxiety attacks and pours beer in his cat's food dish.
Other Negative Elements
When Wesley hollers at Fox to "call the police" after the drugstore shootout, she responds by crashing her car into a police cruiser. Feeling empowered after discovering that he's got the genes of an assassin, Wesley tells off his boss, ending his tirade with, "Go f--- yourself."
Fate. Destiny. Identity. Justice. The art of war. There's no denying that Wanted fires off quite a salvo of philosophical themes. But it's also obvious that these weighty matters aren't the (bullet) point of the film. They're just a thread loosely holding together what the filmmakers are really proud of: bombastic action sequences, a high body count, larger-than-life effects and the sex appeal of Angelina Jolie. Oh yeah ... and a little bit of ironic Office Space-style humor.
Lest audiences be tempted to take the film too seriously, it takes a decidedly deconstructionist turn at the end and disavows any profound morals you might have theretofore begun to assemble in your mind. What we're supposed to remember, Wesley proclaims, is him taking control of his own life. That's the point. That's the punch line. That's life's highest goal. That's the reason I sat through 109 minutes of blazing guns, bloodshed and profanity. But that's not what I Wanted.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson; Morgan Freeman as Sloan; Angelina Jolie as Fox; Terence Stamp as Pewarsky; Thomas Kretschmann as Cross; Common as Gunsmith; Kristen Hager as Cathy; Chris Pratt as Barry; Lorna Scott as Janice; Marc Warren as The Repairman; David O'Hara as Mr. X; Dato Bakhtadze as The Butcher