Legion of Loom

[Hyperion reviews 4 super-killers action movies, with varying degrees of recommendation.]


WANTED was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Let me just say that right at the top. My sister and I went, and somehow managed to enjoy the evening, even though a couple in the row behind us brought a small child. (Also, according to my sister, the woman nursed the child during the movie. I felt that decorum precluded me from looking, but the half hour my sister spent watching makes me wonder what I missed. Also, in case you are interested, here are the trailers we saw beforehand.)

Where was I? Oh, yes: WANTED. Sorry if I was distracted, but according to all the movies I’m reviewing today, it really shouldn’t matter. This is chiefly because all of the films, while variously entertaining, do not center around tightly woven plots that require your full attention. Secondly (WARNING: HYPERION IS ABOUT TO DRIVE HOME A PHILOSOPHICAL LIFE LESSON), it really doesn’t matter, because, if I learned anything watching these four films (besides the fact that Hookers and Hitmen go well together), it is that life is Nihilistic, so why bother?

Maybe I am giving Nihilism short shrift, and lack-of-god knows we don’t want to do that. I invite you to edumacate yourselves a tad on Nihilism, with this handy-dandy Wikipedia link. But basically (and please, Nihilists, if you can stop gang-raping elk, correct me if I’m wrong), according to Nihilism there is no right and wrong, there is no greater point to existence, so, do whatever the hell you want.

That seems bleak, I know, and maybe it is, but it helps understand movies where the bad guys win, we root for them, and moral context be damned. In case you’re confused, a show like The Sopranos would not be Nihilistic, for, while we root for Tony and his crew, we intrinsically understand he’s a bad guy, and pretty much deserves whatever happens to him. On the other hand, a movie like FIGHT CLUB is pretty much the mantra for modern Nihilism. I love FIGHT CLUB, but you couldn’t really watch the movie with any formal moral structure.

It’s interesting I bring this up, because it leads me back (FINALLY!) to WANTED. Watching the film, I felt a strong sense that I was seeing the love child of FIGHT CLUB and THE MATRIX. Certainly from the amorality of the FIGHT CLUB experience, and the first person narration, but also from the visceral love of violence. There have been a spate of popular movies lately that have absolutely embraced a more orgiastic almost pornographic interpretation of violence. Leading the way of course is the most pornographically violent film in recent memory; THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST; but also films like 300 and even to an extent NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. I do not argue this is a good or bad thing, but it is a thing. (Another time we’ll examine the trend more in-depth.)

But again, I find myself off-course. Okay, let’s buckle down and get reviewing!

Wesley Gibson (played by James McEvoy) is a complete nobody. His job sucks, his girlfriend is banging his best friend, and he gets frequent panic attacks. His father is dead, his life is meaningless, and the Dursleys make him sleep in a cupboard under the …..sorry. Wrong magic fairy tale.

Anyway, low and behold, Wesley finds out his dad was actually a super-awesome assassin, and Wesley has these powers too.

Before I go on, a moment about James McEvoy. He first came to my attention as Mr. Tumnus in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Then he popped up in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, where I thought McEvoy was outclassed by Forest Whittaker. Oscar nominated ATONEMENT brought star-duty, and now he’s moved into action films. Clearly McEvoy is the “it” boy. He’s growing on me, and he has something peculiarly interesting in his eyes, but I’m not 100% there yet.

Back to the assassins….

In a scene involving a red car (that you have to see to believe), Wesley meets Fox, played by Angelina Jolie. Much has been written about Angelina, and we need not belabor the point here, other than to hope that as soon as she finished shooting WANTED the poor girl ate some sandwiches. Fox is one of the assassins, who call themselves The Fraternity, led by Sloan, our good friend Morgan Freeman.

In a twist that’s either awesome or ridiculous, Sloan explains that the Fraternity decides who to kill based on imperfections in the threads from a woven piece of cloth. Call it Fate. Or the Universe. I’m not kidding. Somewhere Dan Brown is kicking himself for not thinking of it.

As soon as this revelation came, I got mad. How could such a plot point come up, and no one thought to call the Fraternity the Legion of Loom?????? It’s only natural, right?

(Furthering the point: I found out later that the comic book WANTED (the source material) didn’t have the Fraternity, but rather posited the idea that super villains took over the world in 1986, and had been running it since then. Gibson becomes one of those bad guys. Call it the anti-Spider Man. I would have liked to see that interpretation on film, but that’s neither here nor there. What is significant is the super-villain origin, and, as anyone not born in North Carolina knows, the Legion of Doom used to be the main enemies for the Super Friends. I’m madder than ever that they didn’t use this term.)

There’s the usual montage as Wesley acquires his powers, among them the ability to run extremely fast, jump extremely far, and curve bullets in flight. (This is where the Matrix part comes in.) All of this action was VERY badass. A good portion of the training takes place on top of an El-Train, using parkour, and all of it rocked. In fact, all of the action is damn near flawless.

The movie itself could have been better. Shockingly there were no hookers, and the attempted “moral” ending didn’t really fit with the rest of the film. There was no nudity (unless you count the breast-feeding girl behind us), and no one goes to an uber-action movie about assassins without expecting nudity. It’d be like going to a chick-flick without a lobotomy. You just don’t do it.

Still: I enjoyed WANTED immensely. It is VERY hard R, but if you can handle that, you’re going to love this film.

eHe He


SMOKIN’ ACES might have the best cast and the single best set-up of any action movie released last year. Unfortunately, it also has the worst pay-off. The question is whether there is enough good in the first two things to make up for the last.

Take a look at this partial (maybe one-third at most) cast list:

Ryan Reynolds

Ray Liotta

Joseph Ruskin

Wayne Newton

Jeremy Piven

Ben Affleck

Peter Berg


Andy Garcia

Alicia Keys

Jason Bateman

Matthew Fox

Unbelievable, right? And the rest are all “Oh, that guy!” regulars, who you recognize even if you cannot name. Who is the casting director, and how can I get her to work for me?

Okay, here is that aforementioned set-up. Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven, doing that Jeremy Piven thing) has, for reasons so complicated we need not go into them here, a one million dollar contract out on his life. He’s being protected as a government witness by the FBI, in an ultra-secret hotel (completely with a five-hooker party and cocaine; your tax dollars at work) that the FBI apparently put the location to on their website, since every professional killer with a dream has shown up to “off” Buddy Israel, and win the Mob’s respect.

Or something like that.

At least 5/8 of the movie is this set-up. We watch all these disparate killing groups descend on the ultra-secret hotel, getting ready to kill Israel, who, when not distracted by hookers and blow (and magic tricks; did I mention Buddy’s a magician? Oh, never mind), is very paranoid about his impending demise.

I have to admit: I was totally hooked by the idea of all these killers trying for the same guy. Watching each group, from a team of German/Georgia Nazi Rednecks to a half lesbian/half straight duo of foul-mouthed black bitches (this isn’t racism; I’m pretty sure this was their official name), I was digging each and every bizarre character who made an appearance. I was so into it that not even the appearance of Ben Affleck could ruin my day.

I can’t stress this point enough. In fact, later, as I contemplated what the hell happened at the end, I realized that SMOKIN’ ACES would have worked excellently as an HBO television show. They could set it up like LOST, with the day in question inching closer and closer to fruition, while in each episode we see the back-story of a particular hitman. Why would this not work?

Oh, and before I get to the bad part, the dialogue! It wasn’t exactly Tarrantino-crisp, but I must have choked in laughter several times. Good stuff. (Though: extremely bad language and raw “racial” language, though not used racistly. I don’t know how to describe it more than that.)

Okay, now the not so good. After thoroughly enjoying the first 45 minutes or so, it’s as if the director runs out of patience, and rushes through to the big finish. Everybody shoots everybody else, including the government. It’s so chaotic and nihilistic that you’re not rooting against the Nazis. It’s not as if you support Nazis, it’s just that everyone is so bad, you want the most entertaining people to stick around the longest, and those guys certainly qualify.

The shoot-out feels rushed and without purpose, especially after the great characterization of the set-up. However, after the shoot-out, we have to hear this ten-minute explanation as to how everything we THOUGHT we knew was wrong.


Except, this wasn’t the Sixth Freaking Sense! We don’t have time to come up with any of the false ideas they spend ten minutes explaining away. The “what ACTUALLY happened” exposition is so unnecessary to the story, that I honestly wondered whether the entire film was pastiche, making fun of action/thriller movie tropes rather than perpetuating them.

If so, I might have to reevaluate my ideas about this film. But for now, here’s the bottom line: we’re talking about an absurd set-up that’s so over-the-top it works. I mean, it WORKS. Just an incredible beginning, filled with wonderful characters and outlandishly offensive dialogue. Then, everything goes south in a big way. (Note: I have talked to several people who watch movies purely viscerally, and none of them had any problems with the ending, so maybe it’s just me and my desire for cohesion and consistency.)

If you are like my aforementioned homies, who subscribe to the “don’t think too much” clan, maybe SMOKIN’ ACES is for you. If you are like me, you might still enjoy the movie, if you could somehow make yourself turn it off after one hour.

Seeing as how you cannot do that, though, you are left with quite the dilemma.


HITMAN is based on a series of video games, and if the games are half as complicated as the movie, maybe we’ve underestimated the Slacker Youth Generation.

Okay, so if I have this right (and I cannot possibly think it matters, but, for the sake of accuracy and all), a bunch of kids are shaved bald and trained from birth to be super-warriors. All emotion is burnt out of them, and all that is left is total badassery. And a barcode on the back of their head.

We meet Agent 47, played by Timothy Olyphant. I like Olyphant, but he pretty much has no other expression than determined glower, so playing an unstoppable killing machine is a good fit. Agent 47 is the greatest “hitman” of all time. Interpol has been chasing him for years. He’s a ghost. No witnesses. No one has ever even SEEN the dude.

Therefore, when I tell you that this super-invisible ultra-secret assassin walks around with that shaved head WITH THE BARCODE VISIBLE TO ANYONE WHO MIGHT BOTHER TO LOOK AT HIM, you might ask yourself why.

The only answer I can give you is to retreat to my standard line, when watching a movie like this, a movie that takes pains to create a complicated set-up and then violates the logic gods so egregiously: “Because he’s awesome, that’s why!”

Agent 47’s awesomeness is more Jason Bourne than Terminator. I like that. Even if the entire sequence of events is so improbable that it makes me giggle like a hyena on Nitrous Oxide, it’s nice that any one particular movement is not physically impossible.

So, anyway, Agent 47 has to kill a bunch of people, including the president of Russia, who may or may not be a clone, and blah blah blah, who cares? It’s not as if you watch these movies for the cohesive story. (Remember: at any point, if you feel like your head is about to melt when the movie suddenly takes a 180, remind yourself: it’s based on a video game. Or, if that doesn’t help, just say to yourself, “Why did he do that? Because he’s awesome, that’s why!”)

(I know I’m following a parenthetical with another parenthetical, but I have to relate one scene that thoroughly cracked me up. In a huge Russian train station—filled with government agents and Russian military looking for him, Agents 47 tracks another Hitman who looks just like him, shaved head, bar code, scowl. Also, there are four OTHER Hitmen there to kill him. Anyway, at one point they all pull out their guns, when our hero says, “Wanna die with a little dignity?” Everyone nods; they drop their guns, and each pull out two short swords they had strapped to their backs! Why do they do this? You know….)

HITMAN is, without a doubt, utterly ridiculous, yet for what it is—an adrenaline filled action flick—it does a fairly good job. What makes the movie actually—dare I say—interesting, is the girl. Her name is Nika (played by Olga Kurylenko). She’s a prostitute/witness and girlfriend to the Russian president. Agent 47 is supposed to kill her for seeing his face, but upon realizing she never saw him and (at least in this instance), is innocent, he chooses not to kill. For Agent 47, this is character development.

Before you feel all warm and fuzzy for Agent 47, like he’s some sort of Pale Rider, figure; don’t. He kills more than a few innocent people who just happen to get in his way. So why doesn’t he kill this girl?

A man born and bred without emotions; a woman who sells her body and has forgotten her soul. Can they teach each other how to love?

Okay, okay; that sounds uber-cheesy, and I think my favorite part of the movie is that they don’t go there. Agent 47 never breaks character. Yet, there is some sort of spark between them.

Nika, alongside being the sexiest Russian since Dostoevsky, is a piece of work. She’s either angry or flirty. At one point (after making her ride in the trunk for the better part of a day), Agent 47 gives her a sandwich. She devours it and starts yelling at him for her ill treatment. He tells her to shut up or he’ll put her back in the trunk, and she smiles. THEY’RE HAVING A FREAKING MOMENT!

Nika really knows nothing other than using her body. Agent 47 knows nothing about women, other than killing them. He is not James Bond. But he is focused. What will happen when Nika tries to seduce him? Take a look at this clip—called “Undress Me,” and find out. (You have to sign up for a Hulu account, which is free. If you don’t want to sign up, you can watch the clip here instead. BE WARNED: THIS CLIP CONTAINS ADULT SITUATIONS, AND IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK!)

If you just watched the clip, you know all you need to know. Nika is who she is, and so is Agent 47. The Light help me, I enjoyed almost every minute of it.


Of all the movies reviewed today, SHOOT ‘EM UP is the most cheerfully ridiculous of the lot. And maybe the most fun. It’s not so much that the filmmakers bend the rules of logic, physics, biochemistry, gravity, decorum and good taste, it’s that they destroy those things while singing a jaunty tune.

All of the movies today center on the concept of Nihilism, the idea that there really is no right or wrong, and nothing really matters. (So just sit back and enjoy the ride.) After thinking it over for a time, I have to conclude that SHOOT ‘EM UP is by far the most Nihilistic of the bunch, but in another quite sneaky manner, manages to have the most heart. When Nihilistic assassins go soft, what’s next?

It’s all because of the baby.

Clive Owen plays “Smith,” perhaps his most Clive Owen-iest character to date. Smith (an ex-special forces badass; natch) just wants to be left alone. No, really.

One day, while eating a carrot, Smith witnesses a VERY pregnant woman being chased by hitmen. It has nothing to do with Smith; he just wants to eat his carrot.

However; events being what they are, Smith finds himself delivering the baby and thus responsible for the kid when the mom is shot 4857 times.

(I’ll tell you right now; if you’re going to be bothered by the mom of a newborn being egregiously blown away; skip SHOOT ‘EM UP. It’s only the beginning of the mayhem. For example, the mom is killed as she tries to nurse her newborn. Quick thinking Smith decides “a good idea is a good idea,” and figures the mom wouldn’t object, and thus feeds (and quiets) the newborn with milk from his dead mother. Yup: it’s that kind of movie.)

Smith, while proficient at such things as killing a man with a carrot (no, really), has no idea how to care for a baby. Naturally, he takes the baby to a lactating hooker with a heart of gold. (Don’t ask.)

This might seem gross until I point out that the lactating hooker with a heart of gold (LHWAHOG) is played by World’s Sexiest Woman: Monica Bellucci.

I think I speak for everyone who ever lived when I say that there is not a single movie that would not be better off including as one of the characters a lactating hooker with a heart of gold played by Monica Bellucci.

So, there’s that.

Chasing Smith, the baby and the LHWAHOG is Paul Giamatti and at least 80,000 henchmen. (Seriously: there’s not a criminal organization in the world that could so cavalierly lose so many of their own people.) Giamatti is in full “how much fun can I possibly have?” mode. He growls and spits and yells and generally tries to channel every Bond villain simultaneously. You have never seen anyone (outside of Peter Singer) get more joy out of trying to kill a baby.

Ah, yes: the baby.

For reasons you would not possible believe (and thus I am not going to even attempt to explain), a great deal depends on killing this baby. Reluctantly, Smith cares for the child, along with the LHWAHOG, they try to keep the baby whole. For the longest time the two are not even sure why; some primal instinct, perhaps.

Never has a cinematic baby been in more peril. It is enough to make Indiana Jones blush. Through it all, though, the baby survives and abides, and by the end, we have found a family to love.

SHOOT ‘EM UP absolutely revels in its style. The action is relentless; sort of The Matrix meets Kill Bill. There is always a sense of cool and panache, and never any fear on the viewer’s part. Your eyes will pop often; but you’ll never hide behind your hands.

Well, maybe you will if you’re scared for the baby, but don’t worry: as long as there are carrots, he will be okay.

Hyperion’s Rating Guide

(see explanation)

Suspension of Disbelief (0-10)

All four films: 9.98

Genre Grade (R-rated Action)


Objectionable material?

No one should see any of these movies if they are offended by gratuitous (if stylized) violence and occasional nudity. And: anyone allowing a child to see one should be shot.

Pantheon Percentile (% of all movies ever that film is better than)

Mindless action movies generally don’t rate as high as a weighty drama, but the rewatchability factor looms large


Hitmen and Hookers would make a great club name....or a band name!


Anonymous said...

1. I haven't seen Wanted, and will probably wait until its out on video. Nerdboy/Nobodys who become mega-killers with superpowers started being silly with Luke Skywalker and haven't become more interesting since (though I bet Fox would be more interesting in a Tattoinian space-bar than Obi-Wan, or at least sever a few more arms).

2. I can't argue about Smokin' Aces. The set-up for the final, intra-assassin-group showdown was as amazing and mesmerizing as the final plot twist reveal was dissappointing. I think its because by that time we'd been so immersed in the morality-deficient killzone so long, an attempt to explain or justify just ruined the ride. BTW, you forgot to mention the freaky ADHD ninja/gansta wannabee kid that figured so prominently in the trailers: I was as freaked out by that little guy as I was the g-man taking a .50 cal bullet in the torso and sailing around the room from the kineitc impact.

3. I heard Hitman was originally written with Vin Deisel in mind. I haven't seen it, but being well-veresed with Tim Olyphant from Deadwood (he's not Ian McShane, but he managed to stand convincingly against, and occaisionally with, him), so cold, passionless killer doesn't seem too big a stretch. As for the hitman/hooker connection, my theory is that its both a humanizing element allowing the audience to better empathize with the lead characters, and makes the plot premise of redemption slightly less implausible. And since she's still a whore, he can still occaisionally execute someone who really really needs it.

4. Shoot 'Em Up is the sort of movie you only really need to see once. Unless you really are a n(captial-n)Nihlist. In this movie, like Smokin' Aces, there's a tacked-on justification in the end explaining why the baby's mom to die, etc. But in the immortal words of Ruby Rhod: 'But WHO CARES!?!' Gunplay during sex, gunplay during baby delivery, gunplay while parachuting, the occaisional carrot-eye-stabbing (during gunplay)... You're there to see if Paul Giamatti kills Clive Owen. And by exension Monica Belluci and the baby. Or, slightly more likely, Clive nails Paul and the hitman/hooker/hinfant (sorry, what's an 'h' word for baby?) live happily ever after.

I also respectfully submit that any movie, regardless of combination of assassins, prostitutes (lactating or otherwise) and children under the age of five, resulting in any or all of them surviving and/or living happily ever after, cannot be considered nilhistic. In point of fact, its practically Disney.


Anonymous said...

Apologies, I forgot to mention during my Smokin' rant: The Tremor Brothers, aka The Southern White Trash Neo-Nazi Hitmen Team. In the immortal words of Jack Dupree (Ben Affleck): They're speed-freak, neo-Nazi assholes who read and recite Mein Kampf like it was Mother Goose. They're mean as shit, dumb as dirt, and they will go megaton at the drop of a hat.

Now generally speaking, I don't have much appreciation for Nazis, Neo- or otherwise, but to glimpse these three southern-fried redneck ubermech 'go megaton' (which they do. frequently) is like being able to watch a spectacularly violent haiku in action.

The Tremors are a demented highlight of the Smokin' Aces, as is Taraji P. Henson's .50 calibre sniper rifle rampage, Jason Bateman's skeezy lawyer, and every word said by Afleck's Dupree (before and after the drive-by).

If you watch SA, you probably won't like the Tremor Brothers. But you will almost certainly be entertained by them.


Anonymous said...

It seems strange to point this out but Angelina's backside is highlighted for a few seconds in the movie. Nudity is nudity my friend, any port in a storm.