Wanted: American Adventure by Visionary Russian Director Timur Bekmambetov

In “Wanted,” James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, and Angelina Jolie tell the twisted and visceral adventure Wes, a 25 year old slacker who hates his life because it sucks. The story centers on the transformation of a “nobody” into an unparalleled enforcer of justice.

Based on the series of comic books by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, the screenplay was written by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (3:10 to Yuma) and Chris Morgan (Cellular), with a story by Brandt & Haas. “Wanted” is directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who made “Day Watch” and “Irony of Fate: The Continuation,” the two most commercial films in Russian history.

From Comic Book to Screen

Cool, unique, experimental, ironic, creative genius are just some of the words that were used to describe Russian-born director Timur Bekmambetov, who is from the city of Guryev in Kazakhstan. Bekmambetovs vision has landed him “Wanted,” his first English-language film, under the aegis of a large American movie studio.

In 2004, Bekmambetovs “Nochnoy Dozor” (“Night Watch”) was released to great success. Budgeted at $1.8 million, it grossed more than $16 million in Russia alone, making it a bigger hit in his country than “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” The sequel to “Night Watch” (the first installment of the trilogy), “Day Watch,” was released in Russia in early 2006. Again, considering its low budget (just $4.2 million). it became a juggernaut, grossing nearly $40 million in Russia.

About the same time, execs at Marc Platt Productions had come across Mark Millar and J.G. Jones first issue of their comic book series Wanted and immediately thought the dark and inventive tale had huge cinematic potential, but the subject matter (a covert band of super villains who has split up the world into factions) needed an offbeat spin. They sought an exciting new filmmaker who would go beyond the limits. After seeing “Night Watch,” they knew theyd found their man. If Bekmambetov could create such a visually stunning movie on such low budget, there would be no holding back his energetic point of view and dark sensibility when given the large-scale budget and vast resources available to a studio-made film.

Producer Platt comments, The cinematic experience of Timurs work and the visual language employed by him are so unique, eye-popping and extraordinary, I knew his was a voice that had to be heard. I had never experienced visual images in that way. I thought by matching him and his ability to create a completely new world with this material, we could create something exciting, experimental and yet accessible for audiences all over the world.

Bekmambetovs producing partner, Jim Lemley, adds, We spent two years getting from the first draft of the script to the shoot. It was important for us to push through a comfort level of what had been seen on film before and come up with ideas no matter how outlandish they seemed on paperthat could visually blow the audience away. Regarding his trust in the directors vision, Lemley says, You could put three people in a room, give them the same camera and ask them to take the same shot. Timurs image would be amazing.

Fantastic Realism

Of his visual imagery, Bekmambetov remarks, It is like 100 ideas are going on inside my brain, all fighting to come out. This makes a new style, maybe something that no one has seen before. I want to put the audience in the actionin the middleso that they go on a journey with the character, not just sit and watch. The directors mantra seems to be fantastic realism, holding that there should be a realistic base to every action and emotion no matter how outlandish the circumstances. His attention to detail gives him something on which to focusa solid way into each scene.

Making my first film in English is not so different from my other movies, claims the director. I just try to communicate with the audience, fall in love with them in a way and make a good movie for thembe a good storyteller for them. The directors approach to filmmaking and skewed tone hardly changed with his
move to an American-studio production. Platt adds, Bekmambetov brings a very strong sardonic sense to his work, which was present in all of his films. Not in a silly, broad way, but in a dark, comedic way that constantly undercuts the earnestness of the proceedings. It is the irony that he brings to the project, both narratively and visually, that gives Wanted a very unique tone.

Black Humor

That black humor is also present in the source material, Millar and Jones graphic novel of the same name, originally published as a six-issue limited series. Acquiring the property that was one of the best-selling independent comic books of the last decade, the filmmakers were keen on obtaining the blessing of the original creators. At the time, Millar had sold the movie rights to Universal, he and Jones were only
up to the second issue. So, while Millar was finishing the series, the studio had almost finished the first draft of the screenplay.

With two parties writing independently, both projects took on separate lives. Millar comments, I was relaxed about this, because the comic book and movie were two distinct entities. Regardless of what they changed, my book would be untouched. But I was pleased to see them going back again and again to the source material, and once they had my entire book in a complete form, subsequent drafts by other screenwriters incorporated pretty much all of the main material. They dropped the super-villain back story from the original book, but everything else works very well.

Before advancing on separate paths, both the graphic novel and graphically violent screen version of “Wanted” started in the same place. The first one-third of the screenplay mirrors the first two chapters of the series, but then diverges. The comic writer feels that although the stories take place in very different places, the tone, the characters, and basic narrative remain the same in both versions.

Millar observes, The first 40 minutes of the film are pretty much identical scene for scene to the book, and I was pleased with that. This wasnt the case with the first draft, but once Timur was attached, he really embraced many of the darker aspects of the material. I thought they might drop some of the more edgy material, but captions, voiceovers, dialogue and entire sequences were lifted straight from the book. One of my favorite scenes transplanted was the opening scene where, suddenly, this guy sees a dot on his head, takes out his guns, jumps out the window and starts chasing after these assassins. Its beautiful that the way its actually shot is almost panel for panel like the comic book.

Not only was the writer impressed by the filmmakers attention to detail, but by how the screenwriters and Bekmambetov expanded upon key scenes from the first two chapters in his series. Says Millar, There were a few scenes where I only had a couple of panels to play with, because you dont really have a lot of room in a comic book. T imur and the guys fleshed them out and made them into cool scenes with gigantic chase sequences. As a nod to die-hard Wanted comic aficionados, Millar acknowledges, Theres all these little Easter eggs that fans of the book will be able to pick up on. The second chapter, for example, is called F–k you, and Timur had a little laugh with this by incorporating the words on a computer keyboard flying toward us when the main scene was brought to life in the movie.

Producer Platt adds, The comic is fantastic and gutsy and it has a real edge to it, and thats what we wanted to build into our script. We didnt want to make something run-of-the-mill. We wanted to roll the dice and try for something special. Where the script follows the comic book, we didnt change a word of it. But, of course, the movie is its own thing. Millar backs it, and thats important to us as filmmakers.

Story about Truth

Not only was it important for the director to honor the inventiveness of the source material, he intended to respect Wesleys search for reality in a world of deceit. This is really a story about truth, sums Bekmambetov. Wesley is trying to escape from a world where people lie and find people who tell the truth. Along the way, he finds you cant do anything about fate, but you can destiny. You choose and you steer your destiny. Something everybody is trying to do.