WANTED (2008) is to urban dwelling white guys what MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION is to young black men, and it's a fascinating "gotcha" dichotomy: the African American ideal is to be a church-going family man; white guy's ideal is to be a sociopathic sniper. Not that you can't be both, of course, like in THE STEPFATHER. Perhaps you don't get Angelina Jolie for arm candy if you go that route, but then again, maybe you actually get to have sex with someone (though for some 'tis better to have Jolie in the bush than have three in the hand).
As the lead "Young King Arthur"-type. WANTED's James McAvoy is pretty soft. Keanu Reeves had it much better. He gets a few winks at the audience (he eschews Reeves' Matrix glasses as if afraid the audience will think he's unaware of whom he's aping) but McAvoy's a non-Neo Neo; he may get a drab cubicle and the black 'second' father and the hot 'mentor' chick in leather with the slow mo guns thing, but he's an accountant not a programmer, and he's too much of a schmuck to even be a good frat boy, let alone a good alterna-rocker bassist. Another problem: he takes forever to wise up; he's still shouting "Are you guys really assassins?!?" loud enough for the whole room of non-in-the-know workers to hear, and the movie's half over already. In V FOR VENDETTA, Natalie Portman passed the time in prison reading lesbian love letters. This guy flails and goes "dude!" like the guy on the acid trip whose actually serious about writing all this shit down because it's so brilliant or seems genuinely afraid when everyone decides to cut him up and eat him. It's like, just let it go, dude. At least he learns to take a lot of punches.
But it all ultimately matters little as McAvoy ends the film babeless and still unbroken, lecturing the audience for their sloth after tastefully dispatching his boss from a Rear Window style sniper scope rifle right from his living room. Take a note, you high school nerds so trampled underfoot: firearms make vengeance sweet!
I don't care about copycats so much as the ever-increasing amount of time it takes in these films to get our average guy to actually wise up and shake off his civilized Clark Kentish stupor. In the old westerns, you'd just throw a guy a gun and he'd be ready; Stanley Kramer came along and made them cowards, and yea, they believed Stanley Kramer, and yea, they became cowards. Each new Neo take progressively longer to mature as he attempts to shucker loose from the Kramer-liberal finger trap.
And what about the slasher movies, the horror movies with the girl cowering in fear and dropping the knife right by the body, etc., screaming and yelling for the sheriff even when the sheriff is a maniac and she knows this? How long before she's suffered enough and there's that "snap"? Wes Craven seemed to think that this "snap" was a bad thing, showing how we're all killers inside as if it's something to be ashamed of, shaking his finger at it (as in the final chilling freeze frame of the original HILLS HAVE EYES) even while rubbing our noses in it. Damn you, Wes Craven! We don't want to be made ashamed of it! We need to celebrate it! What's the difference between suburban dad finding his inner sadist vs. a soldier winning an award on the field of battle?
The dehumanizing tactics of R. Lee Emery in FULL METAL JACKET are there to help the boys survive on the field, for God's sakes. He's trying to snap them out of their drunken civilized stupor, the one where they're oblivious to everything else except girls, TV, and food. He wants them to learn to love the smell of mud as if they're lives depended on it, and they do.
In WANTED, our dumb hero learns to kill but he never really learns to love... killing. He does learn to boast about what a bid widdle boy he is as he issues Columbine-positive declarations to the fourth wall, but in my mind he'll never be more than a little pisher with good reflexes.
It's all interesting in thinking about the shift, a shift that no one even really had the guts to talk about before Sam Fuller or Vietnam. The Killer Inside Me, that Jim Thompson novel is becoming a movie. And you know whose starring in it? Corey Haim! I mean Casey Affleck. Nothing against little boy Casey, per se, but is there be a better emblem of how fucked up our country is getting as it shuckers with the Kramer fingertrap? Back in 1977, would we have tolerated Ron Howard as Darth Vader? Would we have believed Tom Cruise as Captain Quint in JAWS? To reverse the line from SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, pick the whip up and maybe we'll respect what you're saying!