A Forgotten Angelina Jolie Action Blockbuster Is Killing It On Netflix
This Angelina Jolie action movie is killing it on Netflix, but we think it would be better left forgotten.
Angelina Jolie has had a backward career, in a way. Where many actors start off in generic action movies and thrillers and hope to achieve critical acclaim later, she did the opposite. By the time Angelina Jolie took her most iconic role as the titular ass-kicking video game heroine in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, she had already won two Golden Globes (for the John Frankenheimer miniseries George Wallace and the HBO movie Gia), a Screen Actors Guild Award (Gia again), and an Academy Award (for Girl, Interrupted). Angelina Jolie followed her early reputation for intense, nuanced acting with a series of pretty forgettable action flicks, and one of them is currently making a comeback on Netflix. The 2008 film Wanted starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy is currently one of the top ten most-watched movies on Netflix, and we’re going to break it down a little.
2008 was one of the more significant years in modern cinema, but Wanted is not one of its well-remembered components. The Dark Knight exploded expectations of what a comic book movie could be (as well as the world’s box offices), while Iron Man revitalized Robert Downey Jr.’s dead career and kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull demonstrated there was a limit to the appeal of nostalgia (the limit is CGI monkeys), while Kung Fu Panda (also starring Angelina Jolie), Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and WALL-E showed there was plenty of room for animation in the mix.
So where was Wanted in the mix? The Angelina Jolie mystical assassin incel fantasy action movie ended up #15 at the box office, just below Slumdog Millionaire and edging out The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a strange triumvirate of films if there ever was one.
Wanted stars Angelina Jolie as Fox, a high-ranking member of the Fraternity, a secret organization of assassins run by Morgan Freeman. The Fraternity keeps the world relatively in order by following the order of the Loom of Fate, a literal loom that spells out the names of those who are foretold to cause death and destruction. In order to prevent that, the Fraternity preemptively kills them, usually in slow-motion heavy sequences of extreme death and destruction. However, we do not learn any of this until about 20 minutes in, after we have been introduced to the ostensible lead of the film, a depressed cubicle drone named Wesley (James McAvoy). In a graphically violent call to adventure, Angelina Jolie recruits Wesley to the Fraternity after the death of his father, revealing that he is secretly one of the most important people in the world, rather than a meek pushover being cuckolded by Chris Pratt.
Chris Pratt (in one of his many early roles as a fratboy jerk) having sex with his best friend and coworker James McAvoy’s ridiculously unpleasant girlfriend is a recurring thread throughout the film. After Angelina Jolie inducts James McAvoy into the Fraternity, the film essentially becomes a long adolescent male wish-fulfillment fantasy, in which a low-status peon is revealed to actually be hyper-competent, deadly, and virile. It is frankly astonishing how many scenes in the movie have a character reacting with borderline arousal at the changed James McAvoy threatening them, screaming in their faces, or beating them up. In the second act of the film, the fully trained James McAvoy returns to his old apartment and beats up Chris Pratt. When his ex-girlfriend unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse regarding his sexual prowess, Angelina Jolie steps in to make out with McAvoy for no apparent purpose other than to make him look super awesome in front of his ex. As they leave, the bloody Chris Pratt mutters “he’s the man” in awe. That’s Wanted in a nutshell.
Wanted was adapted by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan from a comic book miniseries by Mark Millar and J. G. Jones, and directed by Timur Bekmambetov. The original series was much more concerned with comic lore, with the Fraternity being an organization of supervillains who have managed to kill or defeat the superheroes of the world and rebuild society in their image, which the movie jettisoned in favor of the more simple and elegant idea of a thousand-year-old magic loom that tells the future. Mark Millar is also responsible for movies like Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service, all of which share a central plot of an undervalued white man learning he is super special and he is allowed to do violence without consequence. The subtext of all these movies is pretty consistently toxic, but Wanted does Angelina Jolie a particularly poor service.
While James McAvoy may be the ostensible lead of Wanted, Angelina Jolie was by far featured more in the advertising and promotion of the film (particularly a shot of her naked body as she walks away). The film’s poster prominently features Angelina Jolie (in a bizarrely contorted pose), with McAvoy distinctly in the background, which is telling. But her character has probably fewer than 20 lines of dialogue in the film (many of which are repetitions of the same phrase), and real personality or desire in the film other than to build James McAvoy up both as an assassin and as a certain kind of uber-masculine action hero. Wanted pulled in an impressive $342 million at the box office and plans for a sequel immediately went into development, though they seem to have stalled at some point. But as highly commercially successful Angelina Jolie action movies go, this one is better left forgotten.