I don’t really know why I own this movie, but I do.
I remember seeing it in theaters, thinking it was mildly entertaining, and then, for some reason, deciding that I would like to have a copy of it on my movie shelf for the rest of my life. Alcohol may have been involved. Things get hazy. It’s a serviceable Star Wars-type hero journey with a lot of swearing, blood, and gunplay. It fails to connect emotionally on any level and never rises above its innate silliness, but for two hours, things go boom and James McAvoy puts on a halfway decent American accent. There are worse ways to spend my time.
McAvoy plays Wesley Gibson, a nobody office drone with a terrible girlfriend who cheats on him with his terrible best friend all while his terrible boss lords over him for not doing his work (which he doesn’t do, by the way). He also has panic attacks. He’s a completely pathetic creature, and his voiceover bemoans his existence. One evening he goes to the drug store to pick up his panic attack medicine and a mysterious woman, Fox (Angelina Jolie), speaks to him and saves him in a gun battle with a man she says killed Wesley’s father.
Now, here’s where the movie fails to connect right at the beginning. Part of Wesley’s opening voiceover is that his dad left when he was seven days old and he doesn’t care about the old man. And then, Fox shows up, telling him that that man over there killed Wesley’s father the week before, and Wesley now has a mission he cares about. This disconnect between Wesley and his father never gets addressed. There’s no work done to show how Wesley actually feels anger at the death of the father figure he never knew, or met. Of course, this isn’t the point of the film, the action is. However, that poor construction is definitely part of the film.
So, the action. Fox brings Wesley into the Fraternity of assassins. His father was one of the greatest of them, and they all have the ability to bend the path of bullets while also having access to magic healing baths that fix all wounds. After a few weeks of training, Wesley is as awesome as anyone else in the Fraternity, and he and Fox are off to kill some people. Who do they kill? Well, this is where it gets silly. The Fraternity’s actions are determined by the Loom of Fate…a large loom that speaks in code based on the missed threads on a sheet. This is just a stupid as it sounds, and the fact that the movie treats it with such somber tones is odd at best. That we have Morgan Freeman as Sloan, the leader of the Fraternity, acting his butt off to convincingly sell this nonsense makes it no better.
There are double-crosses and reveals, leading to Wesley turning on the Fraternity in an orgy of violence that is amusing in how far it will go. Exploding rats, guns firing through someone’s skull, and other extreme forms of violence are completely disconnected from any emotional reality but have a certain galling charm to them. I can’t take seriously the scene where Sloan very seriously throws bits of cloth around at his assassins to prove a point, though.
This was directed by the Russian action director Timur Bekmambetov, and he’s just honestly not a terribly good director. His Night Watch movies from Russia were pretty much unwatchable trash, and his best movie is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which is, well, it’s kind of okay. This is in that same realm but handles the emotional aspect even worse. What this movie has going for it really is the outrageous violence. It’s a thin enjoyment that manages to pass the time but leaves little lasting impression beyond the shock value.
If I hadn’t bought this movie way back when, I’d probably not ever consider adding it to my shelf. As it’s already there, though, I watch it from time to time for some purely brainless entertainment. It doesn’t really work, but things go boom for 2 hours.