If no one had told you that Wanted was based on a series of comic books, you probably could have guessed it. The film occupies a very familiar space between the sublimely silly and the oddly profound, using lots of visual razzle-dazzle to trick you into lowering your expectations and settling for little more than a fun ride, and then it hits you with plot twists that make you think, "Whoa." Or at least, "Huh!"
Let's start with the opening titles, which tell us that the film is about a society of assassins that grew out of a secret "clan of weavers" about a thousand years ago. I must confess I giggled at this, as the concept seemed to be a direct nod to the Freemasons and other legendary secret societies, and the notion of muscular, cold-blooded killers coming out of the textile industry rather than those who split and carve stone seemed pretty absurd. But as we get to know these assassins, who call themselves The Fraternity, we discover that they serve a higher calling than mercenaries who work for cash or licensed-to-kill superspies who work for national governments; these assassins work for Fate, and they can decipher the will of Fate in the threads that come from their looms. And then I remembered that the Fates, according to ancient Greek mythology, controlled the destinies of men—and even the gods—by spinning, measuring and cutting the threads of each person's life.
So, there are deeper themes at play here, and the movie, to its credit, is well aware of them, even if it handles them in the pulpiest manner possible. The story itself—credited to Michael Brandt and Derek Hass, who collaborated on the morally ambiguous remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and to Chris Morgan, whose Cellular was one of the more enjoyable gimmicky little B-movies of the last few years—concerns an office drone named Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) who hates his life, and not without good reason. His job stinks, his bank account is practically non-existent, and his girlfriend is sleeping with one of his co-workers, which is something he knows about but is too weak-willed to do anything about. Then, one day, he bumps into a gun-toting Angelina Jolie at the supermarket, and everything changes.
Fox (for that is Jolie's character's name) tells Wesley that the father he never knew was killed recently, and that the man who killed his father is right there in the supermarket and about to kill him. And then, of course, mayhem ensues, as Fox and Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), the man following Wesley, exchange a hail of bullets and send various grocery items spilling into the aisles. The fun continues in the parking lot—where Fox scoops Wesley off the pavement and into her car simply by driving towards him sideways with her passenger door open—and then in a chase down crowded city streets, with cars leaping into the air and everything.
The violence is all very stylized, and much of it is clearly the work of computers; this is the sort of movie in which the bullets that people fire at each other sometimes collide in mid-air in slow-motion, so the film is aiming less for suspense and more for a sort of "Wow, cool!" factor. The Fraternity's members all seem to have been born with some sort of hypernatural ability—it's not quite supernatural—that gives them super sensory skills, super reflexes and even a sort of super power: by whipping their arms out at an angle as they fire their guns, they can "curve the bullet" so that it goes around other objects and hits the intended target. So you watch the movie not so much to be impressed by all the stunts and suspense, but to see what sort of audacious, over-the-top move the filmmakers are going to come up with next.