June 27, 2008

Wanted

In his Guardian review of Wanted, Peter Bradshaw writes that the film "plays like a party political broadcast on behalf of the misogynist party." I don't disagree with this assessment--it's a truly, truly awful movie--but sadly I don't share Bradshaw's surprise at the film's misogyny.

Bradshaw goes on to write that in the film "womankind is represented by irrelevant sleek babes and obese comic foils, an ugly whorehouse aesthetic which really does sock over its contempt for femaleness very, very powerfully indeed." While this is true, it's hardly unusual. The film gives us three female characters--lead antihero Wes (James McAvoy) begins the movie with both a nagging, cheating girlfriend (Kristen Hager) and a bitchy, always-eating, "comically obese" boss (Lorna Scott), both of whom he resents and immediately ditches when he finds out his other options, coming back only to insult and humiliate them further, in case the viewer missed out on the hatred of them the first time. For the majority of the film, however, the only female character is Wes' assassin trainer, Fox (Angelina Jolie).

And though Jolie has her fair share of badass moves and I did get a little thrill out of her kicking her reluctant pupil's ass, she really doesn't shine here. Nothing about her character sets her apart as a heroine, rather than just another soldier who can also be used as bait sexually. As Bradshaw points out, she "did the assassin role with considerably more wit and charm in Mr. and Mrs. Smith." This role is certainly nothing like that one. What it does remind me of, however, is Jolie's embarrassing appearance in Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Even if Jolie had excelled in the role of Fox, though, there would still be a problem with her playing it. As Racialicious' Latoya Peterson explains, in the graphic novel on which the film Wanted is based, Fox is a woman of color (you can see her as she is drawn here). Yet, whoever made the movie's casting decisions decided not to use an actress of color, but instead gave the part to Jolie. This is bad enough in and of itself, but is compounded when you realize that the movie's major villain, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), is also its only major black character. The character of Sloan doesn't exactly exist in the comic, but the comic villains are not black. So what we have is one of the film's only moral and upright characters, and only strong female, turned from black to white, while the villain is turned from white to black. Not hard to see the racism there.

Not only does Wanted fail all possible Heroine Content tests for both racism and sexism, it's just a bad movie, and it's a rip-off. For the first twenty minutes you are watching Fight Club, only not as good, and then you start watching The Matrix, only not as a good. It's a frustrating waste of time and an insult to the everyone involved in it. Skip it.

Other commentary:

5 Comments

I saw a couple people comparing the graphic novel to Fight Club, too... but I actually thought that one of Fight Club's strengths is that it takes this idea of hyperviolent masculinity and points out its flaws. *Wanted* doesn't do that at all.

Huh. From the picture linked, I think Halle Berry would have been the obvious casting choice.

After Catwoman, I doubt they could have sold that.

Halle's already ruined one female comic icon (technically that catwoman was totally made up) - no need for her to destroy more.

From what I could gather the Fox character did at times use her sexuality to ply her murderous trade. The writers even wrote it that way, but when Jolie was on board, she changed quite a bit of the character, and made her quieter and more reliant on her skills. She viewed the character as the Lou Gosset to James's Richard Gere.

It's a tough call, but were it any other woman, of any ethnicity, she would not have the pull to be able to change the script that way. So what's better: a more european looking Fox who is closer to what I would like to see a female character as, or a woman of color who would have been much more stereotypical? I can't definitively say...

And Bradshaw's review really bothered me. I hated when he called her an "honorary male". It bugs me as much as the word tomboy, because inherint in that is the idea that no matter what gender these traits are in, they are male; period.

I do agree with what he said about her role as Mrs. Smith. It was filled with more charm and wit. But I would say so what? Those adjectives are about pleasure predominently. It was an assasin film, but a humorous one, with a strong romantic plot. It makes sense there.

But she is not trying to be pleasurable in Wanted. This is a snippet from Entertainment Weekly's interview of her:

EW - I was describing the plot of Wanted to a friend and she said, "So instead of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this is just Mrs. Smith."

AJ - Maybe this is Mrs. Smith after she killed Mr. Smith, went into depression, and got very, very, very moody. Fox is not happy, and she's not easy to be around. She was interesting to me because she isn't the love interest and she isn't having fun with it like the Tomb Raider. She's darker.

Maybe the film stinks a whole lot, but I know I appreciate what she was going for, and wished there were more roles for women like this.

Also, last comment, really more of a question. Because I was thinking about the whole ethnic switcheroo. And as we grow more diverse as a nation, I guess I wonder where certain people fit in that spectrum, and where we should put them.

Fox was based on Halle, and Halle is technically a woman of color, but half-european. Should the role have gone to another inter-ethnic person? And does it matter what kind?

And what about those who are removed from their 'minority status' but not so removed that it can't be seen. Dean Cain actually commented on this. He's a 1/4 Asian (from his dad's side) and said that he grew up with his mom's family, so the culture was kind of foreign to him. But he said he could clearly see it in his face, and in his features. Technically, Angelina ain't all white, but she's 1/4 native-am; and she looks it - especially in certain shots. Do they not count as people of color? Is it just based on others' perceptions? And if it is, is that something we should be continuing? What would be the standard anyway?

And just to bring this back to Wanted, you can't even go by the comic perse. Maybe that one was more consistent, but the Storm character has been drawn to look as light as the French actress in Rush Hour 3 to as dark as Grace Jones and everything in between. How do you choose?

thanks guys!
d

Hi! First time posting (I actually found your site through your review of Buffy season eight).

I don't disagree on the overall misogyny of the film, except to say that most of the male characters were portrayed pretty poorly as well. Is the "best friend" presented as any more complex a character than the "girlfriend"? On the other hand, I don't think the casting is really indicitave of racism so much as star bankability. I think the casting of Angelina Jolie was simply because if you can get Angelina Jolie in a movie, you do, from a studio perspective, which doesn't necessarily justify the choice but doesn't, I think, have anything to do with race. And Sloan, Morgan Freeman's character, is, yes, the main villain, but he is also designed to be likable and knowledgable and trustworthy for 2/3 of the movie. Morgan Freeman was brought in, I suspect, because he is one of the biggest stars of his age, and because he is so good at playing the trustworthy mentor--i.e. he was chosen entirely for non-racist reasons.

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