After some positive critical reception, my interest crested and broke and I went and saw Wanted. Positive critical reception is probably an overstatement; some reviewers felt, at least, that it is an inventive and intense action movie with a knowingly dumb back-story. A thousand years ago a group of weavers (seriously) founded a secret league of assassins, and now Morgan Freeman as Sloan is directing the deadly order. They work under the belief that their killings are for the greater good.
Indeed, such a plot couldn't take itself less seriously, though it's all delivered stern and straight. And indeed, there are abundant 'holy shit' moments, especially in the first act of the movie. The chase sequence with Angelina Jolie as Fox, driving a Dodge Viper with her legs while she lies on the hood of the car and has a shoot-out with a rogue assassin, I thought, outshone the action in the following two thirds of the movie, despite an increase in scale, until train cars are being thrown about on screen by over-eager digital filmmakers.
Really over-the-top stuff, and I couldn't get caught up in it, as much as I 'Wanted' to... (yay fun with words!). I expected to be impressed the same way I was taken aback when watching 'The Matrix' for the first time. I wanted to ask "how did they do that?" but the intricately carved and curving bullets that Jolie effortlessly sent flying about like little bumblebees out of hell were always so perfect and digital that the visceral wonder was lacking. Ultra-slow-motion blood-spatter in Gaeta-esque bullet-time shots too, were lacking that visceral imperfectness that comes with practical effects. Such is a flaw with many popcorn movies these days: there is no limit to translating imagination into images with the use of modern technology, and we, as viewers, don't really care.
A stage magician can impress because his or her feats seem physically impossible. You saw an empty top hat, and yet, a bunny was pulled from the ether. An assistant was sawed in half. A car disappeared at the wave of a wand. As cynical as we all are, these sorts of practical tricks can impress us because we can't understand how they occur.
But in a movie, when a talking polar bear walks on to screen and starts to breakdance, there is no wonder. We know the bear does not exist, and only skilled storytellers can make us care.
When Keanu Reeves as Neo, in 1999, dodged bullets on a rooftop, with the camera gradually panning around him, I knew it was a physically impossible shot and yet it was not digital. Yes, the set was (though it wasn't evident), but Reeves was not. And so I was amazed. John Gaeta's visual effects team had done something I didn't understand at the time, like a magician convincing you that levitation is possible. The embracing of digital actors, in part, detracted from the sequels. There were no longer any 'how did they do that?' moments.
Jump back to 'Wanted'. In this film, say, perhaps, a train car is sent careening down a preternaturally deep ravine while the world's deadliest assassins battle inside. We know there is no train, there is no ravine, there is no silver bullet whizzing about. How impressed can we be when we know it is all in the mind's eye? Perhaps if we really cared about the characters it would matter.