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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this over-the-top action film -- which stars Angelina Jolie and is based on a series of comic books, both of which will up its appeal with teens -- is loaded with extraordinarily explicit, extensive, stylized violence, including lots of bloody shootings, beatings, and more (blood and brain matter splatter are shown). The movie's style owes a debt to The Matrix, but it's much more graphic than that sci-fi epic. The film also suggests that the central character's transformation from corporate cog to killing machine is a positive thing to be admired. Also expect lots of swearing, some cigar smoking, and some pretty passionate scenes (including male and female rear nudity).
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What's the story?
WANTED, loosely based on a comic book series by Mark Millar, begins as the tedious, troubled life of white-collar wage-slave Wesley Gibbon (James McAvoy) is invaded by a stylish, sexy criminal named Fox (Angelina Jolie). She tells Wesley that his father -- long thought dead -- was not only killed yesterday, but was one of the world's greatest assassins. Fox wants Wesley to join her group, The Fraternity, so that he can avenge his father, save his own life from his father's killer, and join The Fraternity's secret mission of "maintaining the balance" of the world by eliminating presumably deserving targets named by a mystical device called "The Loom of Fate." But as Wesley embraces his new life and confidence, he learns that his newfound work has consequences, and his new mentors and peers have secrets.
Is it any good?
Wanted is a bold, burly knockout action film that's immensely stylish and superbly shot, but it's also astonishingly violent and graphic. The English-language, big-studio debut of Russia-based director Timur Bekmambetov (best known in America for his Night Watch and Day Watch epic fantasies), Wanted is full of inventive special effects, edge-of-your-seat stunts, and hairpin twists and turns. Wesley, an unhappy office drone, becomes part of a criminal conspiracy that empowers and excites him; the fact that he and Fox kill people named by coded messages from "The Loom of Fate" is a mystical plot device that lends a thin layer of mystical philosophical rationalization to their violent deeds. And McAvoy, Jolie, and Morgan Freeman (as Fraternity leader Sloan) commit to their thin roles completely, and the film has several touches of gallows humor and bizarre bravado.
But when Wesley finds out that all is not as it seems, his newfound life turns poisonous and even more dangerous. The plot's changes and conspiracies are mostly an excuse for hyper-stylized on-screen violence with slow-motion fights and car stunts, curving bullets and beautifully shot bloodshed as Wesley fights to survive. Wanted offers nothing new -- it's clearly aping both The Matrix and Fight Club in its cinematography and sensibility -- but it's so enthusiastically well-made that it's a nearly perfect example of the modern action film. Wanted isn't high art, but it's superbly made trash, and the rare big-money action film that's as entertaining as it is excessive.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of action films. Why does violent entertainment have such a grip on the public imagination? Talk with your kids about the difference between real life and fantasy -- even teens. Point out that consequences exist -- even if it makes you feel humorless. The fact that violent movies stimulate parts of the brain bears some commentary from the parental units. Families can also contrast Jolie's positive public work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations with her professional work in violent action films. Do the two roles fight against each other, or are they simply different aspects of the same person? Which do you think is the "real" her?
- In theaters: June 26, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 1, 2008
- Cast: Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman
- Director: Timur Bekmambetov
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality.