By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 20, 2008 at 6:16AM
Wanted is a stylish R-rated, violent adaptation of the comic books by Mark Millar and J. G. Jones. Producer Marc Platt matched up the comics with a series of screenwriters (Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan) and director Timur Bekmambetov, the established Russian auteur of the stylized, over-the-top horror thriller Nightwatch and its Daywatch sequel, huge hits. Bekmambetov doesn't just do action, he said last night, smiling slyly. He also released a recent hit romantic comedy.
Bekmambetov's WMA agent Mike Simpson was over the moon because this is the kind of director Hollywood studios fantastize about--a Tim Burton with visual flair who can do action. Bekmambetov could do a Mission: Impossible or Bourne movie (that's Universal) if he wanted to. It was Universal that had the guts to put him on a actioner (Universal's official budget is $80 million)--and lured reliable stars Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman to support James McAvoy. The ads sell Jolie, who's terrific, but McAvoy carries his third American-accented picture--sans dialogue coach. He gives the movie a believable center. And yes, these people are playing actual characters. The movie breathes.
And it delivers action on a Bourne or Matrix level.
Suspension of disbelief is required. But the direction is so controlled, precise, detailed and inventive that you go for the ride. Bekmambetov has another plus: his own visual effects house in Russia, like Peter Jackson does in Wellywood. The f/x by Bazelevs are superb. Jolie and McAvoy skip along elevated subways, do metal-bending aerial car stunts, and boast special skills that enable them to alter the laws of gravity. SPOILER ALERT: Just when I was wondering when they'd stop working so hard and get sexy, the movie delivers a major kiss. And there's a stunning train derailment off a mountain abyss.
Assuming Wanted plays widely when it opens June 27 (a lot of arguments Thursday night were about whether it was a two-or-four-quadrant movie), McAvoy is signed up for two sequels. But, he predicts, "There won't be more than one. I don't want to do action movies." Bekmambetov was mum about whether he would return. (They will likely have to pay him.) He's setting up something called Saga, I hear. (Is it a movie version of the videogame?)
Universal could have a big summer. Marvel's remake of The Incredible Hulk dropped dramatically on its second weekend, but should be steady as they go. Next up is Guillermo del Toro's $100-million sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which closes the LA Film Fest. The movie musical Mamma Mia! has global pull with women thanks to its long-touring theater show. And Rob Cohen's (official studio budget is $150 million) reinvention of the Mummy franchise, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, shot in China with Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and an army of Terra Cotta warriors, opens in August. A test screening this week yielded a positive AICN posting.
What these movies have in common--and this will be an interesting test of what the box office will bear--is that "they all know exactly what they are," says Universal co-chairman Marc Shmuger, "and who they're for."
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]