What I mean is this: How is it possible that Wanted -- which comes to us via a graphic novel by Mark Millar -- can simultaneously feel like one of the most cleverly original action scripts in years and recall a slew of hero's-journey adventures? It makes me wanna shout "Wow!" This is a thrill ride of a movie that is smart, surprising, visually stylish and viscerally electrifying. It's crammed with all sorts of action that we've seen before -- car crashes, gun battles, foot chases, fisticuffs, runaway trains -- done up with a ferocious freshness by director Timur Bekmambetov (of the Russian dark fantasy series including Day Watch and Night Watch), in his studio-film debut.
Wanted is The Matrix meets Harry Potter, with a little bit of Office Space thrown in for good measure. (Except Neo's on Xanax and the secret people are stone killers rather than wizards. But there is a red stapler.) See, McAvoy is a nebbishy cube dweller with anxiety issues and a pointy-haired boss who discovers he's heir to a spot in an ancient order of mystical assassins -- they have super-fast reflexes, they can put English on a bullet, and they take orders from ... well, you'll see: it's wonderfully audacious. Jolie is Trinity/Hermione, Morgan Freeman is Morpheus/Dumbledore, and as McAvoy undergoes the training to become a Jedi like his father before him, he'll learn all about forging stability out of chaos and using the Force and....
What's surprising here isn't merely how Bekmambetov pulls off stuff like bullets getting shot around corners or how Millar pulls off how assassins can be mystical -- or even how delicious it is to see McAvoy transform himself from Dilbert to Die Hard.
Be warned, though: The finale is downright gruesome, to the point where it almost threatens to derail the movie at the moment when it could have been soaring. ("Bloodbath" doesn't even begin cover it.) But as wish-fulfillment, "I was born for better than this," Luke-staring-longingly-off-into-the-double-sunset fantasies goes, Wanted is a winner ... and it leaves you with one of the best last lines of a movie in ages. (Rated R)