I’m sure glad I ignored the critics and went to see Wanted for no other reason other than wanting to see some heads eat some bullets as a little Rage Therapy to purge my various anxieties and stresses from living life under 21st century global capitalism. Indeed, Wanted was everything I wanted it to be. There was absolutely no shortage of bullets penetrating skulls, nor any shortage of ways in which I could Hate the System and vicariously overthrow the powers-that-be by indulging in a little (okay, A LOT) of cinematic violence.
Sure the acting sucks. Angelina Jolie is a skinny freak whose sole acting talent consists of pouting her lips and feigning sultry with her eyes. Yeah she’s an anorexic abomination whose arms are the width of spaghetti, but it was still nice to see a woman wield a gun and kick some ass. I could get over her anorexic non-acting and enjoy watching her wield some automatic weapons.
Morgan Freeman was his usual Morgan Freeman self because Morgan Freeman never plays anyone but Morgan Freeman – the wise old black man sage prophet figure. Except in this case he proves to be an Evil Old Black Guy, and he says motherfucker once, which is kind of refreshing.
And that other guy? James McAvoy? I understand some people love to hate him, but he’s just filler. He gets the job done in the role he is given and that’s about it. But do you know what? I didn’t give a shit that the acting blows. This is not a movie about stellar acting.
This is a movie about the sentiment (taking some motherfuckers down) and the action (exploding brains, righteous car chases, and crashing trains), and in that regard Wanted delivers the goods. The bad acting washed right over me as I hungrily gobbled up the next sweet action sequence and the next slow motion bullet piercing flesh. And why did I so greedily gobble up the violence in this movie? Because ultimately it is a kind of over-the-top rail against capitalism and in a way (albeit an unrealistic way) a call for violent revolution.
Speaking of “getting the job done,” the job that needs to get done in this movie is freeing ourselves from the yoke of capitalism and the impotence it forces on us. Funny that not a single review I read of this movie refers to the Big C Word, but dang if this movie isn’t about the poor worker bee labor slaves needing to break free from the stranglehold Capitalism has on their lives. It’s all about rising up to take the motherfuckers down with guns and exploding rats.
The movie opens with the worker drone Wesley Gibson sitting in his all-too-realistic cubicle surrounded by stacks of paperwork and drowning in his lowly position of “accounts manager” for some generic suffocating employer. Wesley is the Everyman of the Contemporary Worker touting his motto: “Like everybody else, I just keep waiting for a lotto ticket out of my boring existence and into a life that means something.” Wesley downs his anti-depressants, pushes paper, and feels himself being erased by the system. Wesley speaks to the hordes of worker bees (myself included) who will flock to the multiplex to watch this movie and find, if not solace, at least temporary relief watching Wesley bust out of his pathetic life and take revenge on the very system that is strangling him. By allowing us to identify with Wesley as he assaults the system with bullets and rage, Wanted is a kind of call to revolt. It is a plea to rise up, become an assassin, kick ass and bring the fuckers down, or at least it is a plea to spend two hours of our lives indulging ourselves in what it would feel like to engage in violent revolution. Not that we are all going to pick up a gun and start assassinating greedy evil fuckers in boardrooms, but the movie sure gives us an outlet to live the fantasy. It’s a kind of Rage Relief Program, and participating in the fantasy for a short window of time feels pretty good.
The movie provides us with a kind of Cliff Notes tour through capitalism. It opens in the workplace (the invisible labor of capitalism), then moves to the supermarket (the distributor of goods and mechanism of commerce), and then finally to the industrial factory (the very roots of the capitalist machine). When we discover that the fraternity of assassins (supposedly the good guys) is located within a textile factory, I was a little bothered by this revelation, wondering how this would fit into my Anti-Capitalism read of the movie. How can the very source of capitalist production of labor be the central housing of the “good guys”? Thankfully, the movie does stick with its ideological stance, and the textile factory turns out to be the source of the problem and not the solution. Whew, so my theory held. Indeed, the industrial factory, with human labor woven into its very structure, is where the problem was born, grew out of control, and wrought havoc and murder! Go figure. We won’t talk about how the movie itself is driven and distributed by the very system it critiques or how it is utterly absurd to think that a movie based on a comic book could be a call to revolt. We work within the confines of the system that binds us, and those confines delivered a movie like Wanted to the big screen.
This is not to say that the movie is overly subversive or revolutionary. It’s more like Therapy for Surviving Capitalism. We watch a movie like this to feel better for a couple of hours, to dump our anxieties, stress, and rage into the action on the screen. I, for one, identified more than I’d like to acknowledge with Wesley’s cubicle and his deficit bank account. When he kicked his work prison in the face and literally told the boss to “go fuck herself,” I was right there with him as was every other “worker bee” in the audience. This movie is a call to bring down all the “bosses” and take control of our own lives. I was right there with every single punch that was thrown, knife stuck in a gut, bullet flying from a gun, and every insane car stunt and train crash. Every act of violence in this movie feels like a straight shot of vicarious freedom, which is a good thing since the entire movie is nothing more than a tapestry of stylized violence. Bullets flying through skulls, rats strapped with explosives, violent Russians swinging dead meat, fists and feet pummeling flesh, hands shredded by factory equipment – the movie slams us scene by scene with a relentless barrage of explosive violence that leaves us feeling orgasmic and invigorated. I say orgasmic because in this movie the violent act is the sexual act. There is not one single sex scene in this movie (thank goodness because I hate Hollywood sex scenes) because this is not a movie about needing intercourse to get our rocks off. It’s about the orgasm of exploding heads. Every time a bullet slowly travels across the screen, enters a skull, and explodes in a spurt of blood and brains, we experience a sweet little death with it. This movie is about getting our jollies in taking revenge on every motherfucker who is pulling our strings, and it feels good.
It feels good because it delivers a tightly orchestrated frenzy of action, violence, special effects and swift editing. Sure, if you can’t see any value in a pure action (with shitty acting), then this isn’t the movie for you. But if you can imagine action itself as being a “living presence” and the star of a film, then Wanted is spectacular. Seriously, this movie has some of the best vehicle crash and chase scenes I’ve seen. The car chase scenes are glorious. When the cars penetrate buildings and trains and each other, we feel the thrust of their vehicular power and gasp with pleasure. And the train crash scene? I don’t care if it’s computer generated. It is awesome, and watching this giant massive transportation vehicle plunge car by creaking car down vastly deep and scary canyon is a sweet experience. So who cares about shitty acting? The cars, the trains, the rats, the guns, the knives, and blood spurting from bodies are the real stars in this movie.
Speaking of sex and trains, I should mention that Wesley’s motivation ultimately is from his desire to combat his impotence – an impotence that has been imposed on him by Capitalism, mind you! In its own way, Wanted is the perfect cinematic marriage of Freud and Marx. Wesley’s dad is supposedly dead, and his new father is “the system” which has emasculated him. He does not need a “human father” when his life is governed by the Capitalist Empire which has rendered him completely impotent. Wesley has no sex in the movie at all because he has no penis. His penis has been replaced by a “job.” He can’t fuck because he’s on anti-depressants, which he takes to alleviate his anxiety about being just another invisible cog in the wheel. He spends the duration of the movie trying to reclaim his penis by a) quitting his job and telling the system to go fuck itself; b) replacing his penis with a gun; c) avenging his father’s death; d) killing his father, and e) becoming his father. The Great Oedipal Moment of the film is the giant showdown when he inadvertently kills his own father in the giant train crash scene. He and his father are literally joined inside this Giant Phallus as it fails to penetrate the hole of the vagina (the tunnel). The out-of-control phallus comes undone, derails, splinters and crashes before it is allowed to successfully penetrate the cave. Wesley begins to take ownership of his phallus by killing his father, but before he can become truly virile he has to kill the Big Boss of the Industrial Factory (Sloan), the evil motherfucker (to use his own words) who exploits his laborers (the assassins) for his own profit and power. So it is a combination of killing the Father Figure and killing the Capitalist Prick that liberates Wesley. It’s important to note also that in the end, Wesley is stripped of his financial assets but maintains power outside of the economic system. Likewise, he ends the movie alone –without the threat of the vagina or the competing phallus. In the final assassination scene, he uses Post-Its (the very tools of the system that has castrated him!) to nail his enemy. Brilliant! So really Wanted is a sweet marriage of Freud and Marx with a lot of gorgeous violence and vehicular madness.
Is Wanted a call to arms? Of course not. The movie is too silly for that. I am not going to propose that some mass-produced multi-million dollar Hollywood Summer Blockbuster is a call to revolution, but I will say that it great Rage Therapy for Life Under Capitalism. For two hours, the movie gives us a place to dump all our stresses and anxieties over the system that is fucking us over. For a brief window of time, we can fantasize about the rush we’d get by taking down the motherfuckers who are strangling us with their corporate interests. Violent revolution is a nice fantasy, and when it comes with great car crashes and lots of exploding heads it’s even sweeter. Sure it’s totally unbelievable and over-the-top, but it was fun and gave me a little boost to get through another week or two of living under the fist of the system.
Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.