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Wanted (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/2/2008

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/26/2008

When I make a new acquaintance, I have a collection of litmus test movies that I like to show them in order to evaluate their tastes (and our compatibility). (The list contains movies like Halloween, Evil Dead 2, Clerks, and The Crow amongst many others.) I've been doing this for years, and I've spoken with others who have similar practices. Yet, I don't think that I've ever seen a movie which contains a litmus test scene...until now. The action film Wanted contains not one, but two scenes which will measure just how dedicated the viewer is to the film. These scenes will cause you to either roar with appreciation, nod in agreement, or turn the movie off entirely.

Wanted introduces us to Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a frustrated and uptight young man. He hates his job, his girlfriend is cheating on his with his best friend, and he's subject to panic attacks. He is essentially sleepwalking through life. Then, one day while he is picking up a prescription, he is approached by a woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie), who tells Wesley that someone is trying to kill him. Suddenly, a gunfight erupts and Fox whisks Wesley to safety. She takes him to a fortress-like textile complex, where Wesley meets Sloan (Morgan Freeman), who explains that Wesley's father (whom Wesley never knew) was a member of The Fraternity, a group of assassins. Wesley has inherited his father's skills and now The Fraternity wants to train him. They explain that a man named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) murdered Wesley's father and now Wesley must stop this man. At first, Wesley is conflicted by this news, but he then decides to undergo the rigorous and brutal training involved to join The Fraternity. But, Wesley will soon learn that despite the money and power, being an assassin is not easy.

Reading through that synopsis, you may be impressed by the names involved in the film, but don't get side-tracked by that. Acting is that last thing with which Wanted is concerned. This is first and foremost an action film. And not just an action film, but an audacious, incredibly violent action film. In fact, I can't believe that this was released as a summer-time tent-pole movie. Wanted pushes the boundaries of its R-rating and it's definitely for adults only.

I mentioned the film's two litmus test scenes. These two scenes illustrate everything that the movie is trying to do, and, again, they gauge how far the audience is willing to go with the movie. The first involves a computer keyboard. When this moment happens, you will either applaud in admiration or roll your eyes in disgust. Wanted comes from Kazakhstan-born director Timor Bekmambetov, who made his name with the films Nightwatch and Daywatch. Those movies gained notoriety not only for their multi-layered (convoluted) stories, but for their outrageous visual style. Bekmambetov brings that visual style to Wanted and really unleashes his imagination. If you are going into this movie wanting a serious film, then you will be sorely disappointed. Wanted is pure adolescent male fantasy, complete with car stunts which defy the laws of physics and mind-blowing gunfights. Everything in this film is heightened to the nth degree and outside of the film's opening scenes of Wesley's office life (which reminded me of Fight Club), it never bears any resemblance to real-life. Bekmambetov loves for his camera to follow bullets and really get inside the action sequences. He also isn't shy about using slow-motion to accentuate scenes. Think of it as The Wachowski Brothers meets John Woo.

The second scene comes about half-way through the film and it involves a loom. This scene sets up the story for the final acts of the movie and it really acts us to suspend our disbelief. Up until this point, Wanted has been sort of an insane grown up version of Harry Potter -- Wesley learns that he's heir to a fortune and a number of super-powers, and must endure hardship to receive those rewards. And while it's certainly busy, the story is fairly straight-forward throughout the first half of the film. But, the scene with the loom changes things and asks the audience to believe something which is very ridiculous. At this point, viewers will either check out completely, or just simply enjoy the mindless action from there on out. This scene leads directly to the final stand-off, which is mind-numbing, to say the least.

Wanted is the kind of film, which, in my opinion, we don't see enough of these days. This is a big-budget, no holds barred, action movie which is only there to entertain the audience. At its core, this movie is very silly, but the action scenes are incredible and are worth the price of admission alone. Flashy and loud, bloody and brutal, Wanted never apologizes for what it is, and it reminded me of the kind of film which would have starred Bruce Willis in the early 90s.

Wanted shoots its way onto DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The movie has come to DVD in several forms and for this review, the 2-disc widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear for the most part, but there is some subtle grain on the picture. The image is free from defects from the source material. I was surprised to see that the image is somewhat soft at times and some skintones appear waxy. Also, the level of detail could have been better. The colors are very good, most notably reds. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track brings us very nice stereo and surround effects which really come to life during the action sequences. The stereo separation is good and the sound of bullets whizzing by us is impressive. Ditto for the subwoofer, which offers deep tones during the explosions and car-crash scenes. Overall, a nice audio package.

All of the extras on the Wanted DVD are found on Disc 2. We get one "Extended Scene" (2 minutes), which offers some nice comic relief. "Cast and Characters" (20 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like. Through interviews with the actors and filmmakers and a ton of on-set footage, we learn about how the actors approached their characters and their experiences on the movie. "Stunts on the L Train" (2 minutes) shows the green-screen work which allowed McAvoy and Jolie to ride on top of a train. (We also learned that instead of the "train" moving, the bridge moves.) In "Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible" (8 minutes), David Tuohy talks about the practical effects for the film, such as the fake train, explosions, and car effects. "Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution" (8 minutes) takes us inside the digital effects in the film. We see the artists at work and we get to see pre-visualizations for key scenes. We also get examples of how live shots and CG effects are combined. "The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life" (8 minute) offers panels from the comic and an interview with Mark Millar, who offers a vague story about where the idea came from. This piece gives us an idea of how the movie and comic differ, but not quite enough. "Through the Eyes of Visionary Director Timur Bekmambetov" (9 minutes) offers a profile of the filmmaker and contains many comments from the cast who praise his work. "Wanted: Motion Comics" (14 minutes) contains excerpts from the comics which parallel eight scenes from the film. This features the comic panels with voice-overs. The final extra is a MUSIC VIDEO for "The Little Things".

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has also brought Wanted to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material and only a hint of grain in shots with white backgrounds. The colors are very strong -- simply look at Fox's red Viper. The image has a very nice amount of depth, which really stands out during the L-train and the other train sequences. The image's level of detail is also impressive, as we can see distinct elements of both the background and foreground with no blurring. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is yet another great DTS-HD track from Universal, whom I consider to be the leaders in Blu-ray audio at the moment. The stereo effects are constant and highly-detailed. Each gunshot, each punch, each car crash is incredibly heightened and detailed through this track. The stereo separation is impressive and it accurately matches the on-screen action. The surround effects are excellent as well, and the rear speakers rarely get a moment off. The subwoofer offers wall-shaking effects which accentuate the action. Can you say demo disc?

The Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD, plus a few more. "Alternate Opening" (3 minutes) actually shows us The Fraternity in action in the past as opposed to just telling us the story. We get to see an assassination in medieval times (the time period, not the restaurant). While it's stylish, I'm sure that they felt that it gave too much away. The "U-Control" feature gives us four options on the Wanted Blu-ray Disc. "Motion Comics" displays the panels from the comic in a picture-in-picture format for the corresponding scenes from the film. "Scene Explorer" takes us inside of a scene by offering access to storyboards, animatics and on-set footage for certain scenes. "Assassin Profiles" gives us an HUD dossier on the main characters which offers biographical information, preferred weapons, and their location in the film. "Picture-in-Picture" simply brings forth interviews with the cast and crew and some behind-the-scenes footage.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long