Even more of an unlikely Hollywood action hero than Matt Damon, James McAvoy proves equally adept with this adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novels. An apathetic, spineless Chicago accountant who's bullied by his boss and whose girlfriend is cheating with his best friend, life changes for Wesley Gibson when he goes to collect his anxiety attack medication and finds himself in the middle of a gunfight between two assassins.
One is Fox (Angelina Jolie in effective supporting role) and the other Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), who, she informs him, is the man who killed his father in a bloody rooftop shootout. She also tells him dad, who walked out the day he was born, was actually the sensory enhanced top agent for the Fraternity, an ancient secret society of assassins, led by the enigmatic Sloane (Morgan Feeman in familiar mode), who kill undesirables selected by the Loom of Fate (no, really) itself.
Kill one, maybe save a thousand is their motto.
Now they want him to follow in his footsteps. Seems those panic attacks are actually manifestations of his own super-enhanced senses and, despite never having fired a gun in his life, he can shoot the wings off afly.
Cue Wes telling his boss where she can stick it (a scene that will cause whoops of delight from office drones everywhere) followed by a lengthy brutal training montage primarily involving punched in the face by The Repairman (Marc Warren), healing in some waxy liquid, learning to make bullets curve and surfing the tops of speeding trains with Fox. Finally trigger pulling and payback kick in, which is when Wes discovers everything he's been told may not be true.
Despite the third act twists, plot's not the prime driver here. And while there's a touch more character depth to transformed everyman Gibson than the genre usually allows, an impressively buffed up McAvoy's said the main reason he took the part was because director Timur Bekmambetov's Russian vampire action fantasy thrillers, Night Watch and Day Watch, did things on screen he'd never seen before. Well, he's done it again.
An incredible prologue involving Mr X (David Patrick O'Hara) leaping through a high-rise window, flying through the air guns blazing before being killed by a designer bullet fired (as we see in reverse tracking) from across town is followed by a hyperkinetic chase through Chinatown, Jolie pumping out bullets while hanging upside down from the speeding car roof. The film's barely started and already it makes the Matrix look as exciting as the Flowerpot Men.
From which point you might want an oxygen cylinder to hand. The supercharged action and breathtaking visual effects just don't let up in what is, at the end of the day, a rites of passage self-awakening story that just happens to be wall-to-wall with uber-violence, awesome sound design, incredible stunts, super cool characters, astonishing train wreck and a climactic shoot out that's John Woo, Tarantino and the Wachowskis combined, on speed. Wanted? And then some.