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Wanted (2008) -vs- Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

Beau DeMayoThe Smackdown

Angelina Jolie loves guns.  On top of knowing this, I have a sneaking suspicion that studios love Angelina Jolie with guns because most men do.  Who wouldn’t want to see the gorgeous wife/mistress/girlfriend of Brad Pitt kick into high gear and kick ass while shaking her own?

So, while a million wives and girlfriends hold their lovers closer now that the “Wanted” DVD and Blu-ray is out, let’s entertain these men’s ultimate fantasy — a movie smackdown where one Angelina Jolie with guns faces off with another Angelina Jolie with guns.  When such doppleganger femme fatales clash, who comes out on top?  When the smoke clears, will it be “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”‘s Jane Smith or “Wanted”‘s Fox that’ll have women checking their boyfriends’ internet histories to avoid becoming the next Jennifer Aniston?

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The Challenger

“Wanted” is an interesting case of comic book adaptations.  Michael Brandt and Dennis Haas adapted Mark Millar’s graphic novel while MIllar was finishing the series.  The result was a screenplay that barely resembled the comic series, which focuses on a world where disgusting villains have massacred all superheroes and now move on to fighting one another. The film “Wanted” focuses on Wesley Gibbons (James McAvoy), a nerdy pushover recruited by Jolie’s Fox to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Fraternity, a organization of ambiguously powered assassins who literally read the threads of fate to determine their targets.  This “Loom of Fate” allows the Fraternity to keep good and evil in check.  With Jolie’s help, McAvoy must take out the man who killed his father, the notoriously ruthless Cross.  Highly flawed, Wanted is nevertheless an ultra-violent rookie film that’ll thrill action buffs with its obligatory set pieces and bombastic stunts.  This movie is about action more than story; expect it and just enjoy McAvoy and Jolie tearing through bad guys in frenetic, stylized combat.

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The Defending Champion

Written by Simon Kinberg, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is a film student’s thesis turned summer tent-pole power flick turned celebrity love scandal.   The film follows a a couple stuck in a loveless marriage, living totally separate lives in suburbia.  What the couples do not know is that the other is  a highly- rained assassin working for a rival organization.  When the couples are hired to take ne another out, far-fetched hilarity ensues in this romantic comedy wrapped in action movie clothing.  Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie have instant on-screen chemistry, and both are extremely believable as modern day assassins with flawed, quirky personalities.  This credibility helps anchor the rather contrived and implausible plot the movie relies on to make a rather smart metaphorical exploration of marriage.  It is literally a battle of the sexes.  Exciting and sexy, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is an enjoyable movie for both men and women as long as they get past the two characters’ obliviousness.

The Scorecard

Believability and action are the variables of this fight.  In “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt make a sizzling on-screen couple, not just because of their looks but also their talent.  The two totally sell the cookie-cutter couple routine, ambling through their domestic life with pails of resentment and boredom.  However, when the couple have to turn on the heat, they make you sweat.  When the couple needs to make you laugh, they make you piss your pants.  These actors are having fun with these roles and it shows on screen.  This chemistry is essential for a film that focuses on marriage and on the romantic dilemmas between couples. In “Wanted,” Jolie and James McAvoy’s chemistry takes a backseat.  There is no sexual angle here, although the film seems like it wants to endorse the typical action movie love sub-plot. There are moments of flirtation.  However, these moments straddle a line between romantic and motherly in a way that’s all too uncomfortable for my taste.   Most likely not intentional, this murkiness probably resulted from a lack of attention rather than a lack of taste.

Now, the chemistry between Jolie and Pitt lubricates the outrageous premise of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” — that a bored couple lives secret agent lives without the other knowing.  The couple sells it.  We are so invested in the warring spouses that we want to believe — will believe — that premise in order to continue enjoying their kinetic journey.  Thus, believing the premise is a small price to pay when these movie heavyweights argue, fight, and make-out for two hours.   There’s no such magic trick in “Wanted;” the leads do not make us root for them.  Jolie is unsure as McAvoy’s love interest.  And McAvoy seems too confused most of the movie to even notice the attraction.  One scene, where the character’s kiss, seems out of place and forced.  Being this the case, when the “Loom of Fate” enters the picture with its mysterious weaving ways, we find ourselves questioning how a gigantic loom can “weave” out the future and designate people to be killed in order to maintain the ambiguous and oft-repeated word: “balance.”

Both movies excel in action.  “Wanted”‘s action is intentionally over-the-top, embracing its kinship to the comic book genre.  McAvoy and Jolie double-flips cars while shooting targets, survive catastrophic train crashes, and curve bullets around corners. In “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the couple uses all types of quirky, fun gadgetry to take one another out.  However cool and ambitious “Wanted”‘s action, “Mr. nd Mrs. Smith”‘s  action operates on two levels.  The obvious is the point-A to point-B plot, where the couple must outrun the bad guys while steering through chaotic streets in a bullet-riddled minivan.

However, these action sequences operate on subtext as well.  While outrunning the bad guys, the couple argues about who should drive, who can drive better, and if the other knows where they are going.  Even in the midst of battle, these assassins are in the end your typical married couple. All the action in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” serves as a metaphor for common relationship issues.  Each action sequence is motivated by a miscommunication, a common feature of any relationship.  In this way, the typical toils and troubles of a married couple manifest on screen as slick, humorous action sequences.

The film’s climatic gunfight serves as a wonderful moment of couples coming together for a common goal, reunited and reconciled. “Wanted” simply doesn’t have this texture.  Part of me wonders, does it even need to?  Probably not.

The Decision

This one’s simple.  “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”serves entertainment on all levels, but  also serves up a real connection with the audience by exploring common relationship issues. “Wanted” exists in its own world, taking its bombastic action for granted and paying little attention to character relationships.  “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” fires on all cylinders while “Wanted”…well, is found wanting. Women:  Fear “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” more than “Wanted.”

2 Comments on Wanted (2008) -vs- Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

  1. Saw this film over the July 4th holiday at San Francisco’s Metreon theater with both of my sons for an afternoon of action-flick male bonding. Beau, I think your review nails it and may even be too kind to “Wanted.” I thought it was a mess of what I like least about comic book and graphic novel to screen adaptations — they throw all logic to the wind and it’s only about style. The problem for “Wanted” is that some of what might work in a comic book simply falls apart on the screen in terms of credibility and character. The film started strong enough, I guess, with McAvoy’s character’s life of not-so-quiet desperation. But the rules this “Fraternity” played by were so preposterous that with every passing minute I checked further and further out of the film. As an aside, as the film carried on, I began to notice more and more how McAvoy’s vocal inflections sounded suspiciously like Tom Cruise’s own stylings. Listen, this film was technically full of eye candy, but as far as mind candy goes, it’s a big pass. Give me Brad and Angelina in this Smackdown any day.

  2. While I thought both films where very enjoyable. I’m going to have to disagree. I loved Wanted, and Mr and Mrs. Smith loses its re-watch value every time you watch it. (in my opinion)
    Wanted is more of a philosophical look at life. While Mr and Mrs. Smith was just a “What if you and your spouse were assassins, but neither knew it. (idk, its just my opinion)
    Review for Wanted on my site. 🙂

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