Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wanted: A Sustainable Escape Vehicle for the Rest of Us

Litchik just got back from the action flick Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman. Impossible movies like this tend to serve one primary purpose: a total escape from the real world. Of course, some would argue that all movies are supposed to do this but not quite in the same way as this genre of film.

Wanted is one of those action films that has one foot firmly planted in reality while the other foot keeps tapping, ever so slightly and quickly, the realm of the improbable but MAYBE possible. LOTR and Raiders of the Lost Ark, though appealing in their own way, would not fall under this realm. Charlie's Angels, Die Hard and Thelma and Louise do fall into this category. The audience knows the setting is in fact our world and this makes it very easy for any of them to completely get swept away in the story, not in a "forget your troubles for 2 hours" way but in a "forget who you are and what you can (or can't) do" way.

James McAvoy plays Wesley Gibson, an accounts manager prone to aanxiety attacks and repetitive stress injuries from his keyboard. He is the epitome of an average guy, an office drone straight from a Kafka novella. What makes him such a great hero is that he is neither a roid-raging monstrosity of a man nor is he an affable but stupid loser. His "power" and his weakness is that he doesn't know who he is, a feeling many of us can relate to. Jolie stars as an assassin who recruits and trains Wesley to join her in The Fraternity, a group of assassins who have been around for 1,000 years, killing those who need to be weeded out. Jolie's character tends to think of it as killing one to save a possible thousand others. Great special effects, interesting plot points and strong storytelling (well, strong for this genre, which is to say there was a plot and some character development) combined to make for an interesting two hours.

And while the movie was entertaining and did momentarily provide that escape hatch, it never lasted more than a few minutes. As the average men in the audience got to morph from regular guy to super assassin and get totally swept up in the fantasy (one guy across from us actually started to drool at one point), the women got to latch onto... Angelina Jolie. No morphing for women, friends, because what they were presented with was the embodiment of impossibility: the male fantasy of the perfect woman. Jolie starts and ends the movie in complete badass fashion; there is no morphing for her as she is already the picture of perfection: sculpted physique, cool demeanor, confident attitude and snappy lines. There is little character development because it becomes painfully obvious that she is not meant to be a full character. Even Morgan Freeman, who has maybe five scenes, is more complex than she is. So women had to choose between being James McAvoy or being upset that they were not Angelina Jolie.

So listen up, Hollywood, this review is for you: women like to escape, too. Women like to see themselves in all sorts of movies, not just "chick flicks." Just like there are average Joes, there are average Janes; throw some of them in the films as well. Hell, be brave, make an average Jane the main character. Let Angelina Jolie train her and keep her clothes on. Let the two characters form a real mentor/mentee relationship that has nothing to do with sex (not that nude scenes ever do have anything to do with sex as most of them are gratuitous). And don't make any of the lessons about how to be sexy or lure a man. Give women an action film that follows (most of) the action film rules: car chases, impossible fight scenes, and a good story line with strong characters (here is where you can veer from the genre rules a bit). Give women another Charlie's Angels but without all the demeaning wardrobe choices meant to draw in teenage boys. Better yet, give women Thelma and Louise but don't make them drive off a cliff. Give them a chance to have a sequel or even a franchise. Give women an escape vehicle where they don't have to choose between James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie; let women do some improbable morphing of their own for a full two hours.

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