If you like your summer popcorn movies to be bloody, frenetic, energized, adrenaline-pumping and utterly bananas, “Wanted” is the movie you’ve been awaiting. A movie whose defiance of logic and physics feels both sublime and ridiculous (if not downright giddy), this very loose adaptation of the comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones is an R-rated delight for fans of flipping cars, outrageous shoot-outs and secret societies secretly performing horrible secret deeds.
The society in this case is The Fraternity, a centuries-old guild of assassins who keep order and balance in society by taking out potential wrongdoers. (It involves coded messages that turn up in woven fabrics — don’t ask.) “Wanted” begins with the spectacular assassination of an assassin (it involves several skyscrapers), which leads to the recruitment of Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) into The Fraternity.
Wesley happens to be a sad-sack office drone, who allows himself to be pushed around by his obnoxious boss, his cuckolding girlfriend and his traitorous best friend (the very funny Chris Pratt, who resembles a pre-Bruckheimer Ben Affleck). He’s also constantly taking medication for what he thinks are panic attacks, but are in fact episodes of increased heart rate that will allow him to perform superhuman feats of agility and marksmanship. The assassinated assassin, we come to learn, is the father who abandoned Wesley soon after birth.
Wesley learns this when the beautiful and dangerous Fox (Angelina Jolie) comes sweeping into his life, saving him from a rival gunman while driving her sportscar across the sides of city buses and hanging off the hood as she fires off two weapons. Fox brings him in to the Fraternity’s lair, where Wesley meets the Repairman (Marc Warren), Gunsmith (Common) and Sloan (Morgan Freeman), all of whom will teach him to develop his talents and skills as a member of the group.
For the first half hour or so, “Wanted” feels a touch familiar — sort of like Edward Norton’s “Fight Club” character getting an invitation to Hogwarts (if it were a society of super-assassins and not a wizarding academy) and then undergoing a “Karate Kid” training montage — but this latest film from Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (“Nightwatch”) soon finds its own path and provides one surprise after another.
What “Wanted” also does is to make the most of its computer-generated fakery. So many CG movies bore us because they don’t take full advantage of the new reality they’re capable of creating. But “Wanted” throws established reality out of the window, giving us killers who can flip cars upside down to shoot at people through sunroofs, race each other across the tops of elevated trains, and make bullets travel along sine curves rather than in straight lines. (And not to give anything away, but “Wanted” refuses to follow the rules of Hollywood summer tentpole movies; prepare to let the plot jolt you at least one if not more times.)
The film’s not an acting showcase, by any means, although McAvoy’s American accent is mostly convincing and Jolie’s woodenness serves her and the character well. Like Jolie’s performance, “Wanted” is slick, sexy and ridiculous; if only the latest Indiana Jones adventure had been half as thrilling.