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Wanted: Why Mark Millar's Subversive Super-Villain Saga Deserves Another Shot
The original comic by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones offers a voyeuristic glimpse into not keeping our darker impulses in check.
It's a little hard to comprehend, but it's been almost 16 years since the provocative work of Mark Millar arrived on the big screen in the form of Timur Bekmambetov's Wanted (now streaming on Peacock). Based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Millar and illustrated by J.G. Jones (Paul Mounts handled colors), the adaptation stars James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson, an anxiety-ridden loser who finds his true purpose amongst the ranks of a secret and ancient organization of assassins known as The Fraternity.
Thanks to a solid R-rating, Bekmambetov didn't have to pull any punches when it came to the graphic violence and sex of a world where a mystical loom chooses who will die and bullets regularly defy the laws of physics.
On the whole, Wanted is a solid exercise in the ultra-stylized, hyper-realistic action aesthetic popularized by Robert Rodriguez's Sin City and Zack Snyder's 300 (both of which were also based on graphic novels) in the years leading up to its release. At the same time, the film also feels like a disappointing oversimplification of the much-cooler source material. And yeah, we understand how the game works. Sometimes, budgetary restrictions and the desire for streamlined storytelling necessitate that major changes be made. After all, a sentient mound of evil feces (more on that later) and an inter-dimensional heist probably would have been a little too audacious for pre-MCU audiences, while putting quite a strain on the project's $75 million budget.
But now that comic book adaptations are transitioning toward grittier stories, as well as the ambitious concept of an infinite multiverse, we'd like to posit that now is the time to take another crack at Wanted with a show or movie that hews closer to the subversive super-villain saga, albeit without the abrasive mean spirit and thoroughly upsetting instances of sexual violence.
Why it's time for Hollywood to revisit Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' Wanted
In the graphic novel, The Fraternity is an organized crime syndicate of the world's various rogues' galleries. Back in the late 1980s, they all banded together and defeated the scourge of superheroes once and for all. Their goal accomplished, they rewrote all of reality to erase the memory of do-gooders, unceremoniously stripping the world of its utopian, Golden Age veneer and turning it into the seedy, depressing rat race we all endure on a regular basis. Comic books are merely a pale approximation of life before the bad guys pulled off their Crisis on Infinite Earths-style reboot, which turned the likes of Superman and Batman into depressing shades of their former selves. The Fraternity has so much disdain for these tall tales, in fact, that they initiate new members over the burning remnants of "an old Marvel comic."
Five different factions now rule the planet from the shadows, committing any crimes they please — both here and throughout the multiverse — without fear of repercussion. No one is any the wiser, but the immoral Mister Rictus and his right-hand man, Sh**-Head (a literal walking pile of excrement made up of dung from the 666 most evil people who ever lived), want to shatter the status quo into a million tiny pieces and take the super-villain Cosa Nostra public. At its core, Wanted is an inspired riff on The Godfather that swaps mobsters for a wide array of deplorable characters, many of whom are just close enough to iconic arch-nemeses without infringing on copyright.
For all the little winks to classic archetypes and storylines, Wanted brazenly flies in the face of longstanding comic book tradition by handing the keys of the asylum over to the inmates, manically laughing all the while at the medium's outdated presumptions on pure-hearted heroism juxtaposed with the sliding ethical spectrum of our own world.
Why Wanted Was Ahead of It's Time
Let's be honest: superhero fatigue is very real and audience interest has begun to wane in the face of too much content. No two ways about it. The glut of movies and series have made following the ever-growing continuity a tiresome proposition for even the most hardcore viewers (a problem faced by regular comic book readers in decades past).
Rather than remain ignorant of shifting public attitude, though, Hollywood has wisely begun to cut against the grain of traditional archetypes with projects like The Boys, Invincible, Peacemaker, Samaritan, The Suicide Squad, and the upcoming Thunderbolts. These are all adaptations in which the villains and morally ambiguous antiheroes are ruthless, unforgiving, and not so easily defeated. More interesting, however, is that the antagonists either think of themselves or are specifically framed as the heroes of their own story.
An epic crime saga told from the perspective of a reality-bending, dimension-hopping mafia family may have been a tough sell back in 2008, but not in 2024 — not when incendiary figures like Homelander and Omni-Man unexpectedly drop out of the sky to cut right through our preconceived notions of the duties befitting an individual with godlike abilities. Audiences don't always want a protagonist who is pure of heart. On occasion, they want a Michael Corleone, someone who can provide them a voyeuristic glimpse at the other side of the necessary boundaries keeping our darker impulses in check — and now is the perfect time to give it a shot, and also revisit the OG in the meantime.
Wanted is now streaming on Peacock.