I just watched the movie Wanted with James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman.
And while it was obviously an action movie, with a few awesome unbelievable action sequences (getting the guy into the red Porsche was amazing), at the end of the movie, I was left wanting.
I set out to analyze the movie, having just been through a bunch of stuff trying to work out why my current plot doesn’t work. (I’m stuck right near the beginning. Which is unusual for me, but with a bit of digging, I worked out what I was doing wrong.)
And, to my surprise, I discovered I could pinpoint exactly when the movie stopped working.
It’s a shame really. Taken as a whole, the show was really good. Setup was excellent, storyline was brilliant. The dark moment of the soul was good. Wanted stopped working right at then end at the Final Showdown with the Big Bad.
*NOTE: Spoilers from here! Unless you don’t plan on seeing Wanted, or really don’t care about the ending, don’t read on!!
What is Wanted about?
In the movie, Wesley goes from snivelling trainwreck to assassin, trained to eventually kill the man who killed his father. Problem is, the target he is given? Well, that actually IS his father. And he kills him. Then finds out.
So, we discover the baddie of Wanted is actually Sloan, played by Morgan Freeman.
Wesley uses a massive pack of bomb-mice (don’t ask, it was kind of icky actually), to blow up Sloan’s headquarters and then breaches the building, killing off the redshirt assassins, and making his way up the scale til he is in the room with Sloan, and his top six or eight assassins.
Angelina Jolie’s character, Fox, kills all of the assassins in a wonderful act of heroic sacrifice, leaving only Wesley and Sloan.
So now, there should be a showdown, right? Between the Big Bad and the Protagonist? Because not only has Sloan lied to Wesley, he ordered him to kill his own father, and for that, Sloan had to die. He’s a bad man, deciding for himself who should be assassinated, instead of letting fate decide (via the code in a weave from a mystical loom… again, don’t ask).
But Sloan doesn’t die. He disappears. Wesley, broke, broken and alone, wonders what he’s supposed to do next.
Wesley kills Sloan in the very next scene, outmaneuvering him in the same way his father outmaneuvered the assassin at the beginning.
So, Wanted doesn’t Satisfy
We didn’t get that sense of exhilaration and achievement, because the Big Bad Showdown didn’t have a payoff. The actual demise of Sloan felt like a letdown.
They should have ended it with a slightly more upbeat look at Wesley moving along, perhaps collecting a dossier of Sloan so he could track him down.
Or, it should have ended with an assassin showdown between Sloan and Wesley, with Wesley coming off victorious after a battle royale. That’s what we… Wanted. (Did you see what I did there?)
It’s a storytelling lesson for everyone. Give your audience what they expect. Storytelling structures like the Hero’s Journey are not rules, but they are roadmaps. Whether it’s a book or a movie or a graphic novel, you ignore the underlying structure to your peril.