Tag Archives: machiavellian morality

Self-Inflicted Stupidity

As I wrote before, I like stupid action movies. But they must be cohesive, not just as cinema (which takes out Michael Bay) but as a physical and ethical place. This is where Wanted disappoints.

It starts out very well, setting the rules of a superhuman universe, and then introducing our main character, another narrator from Fight Club, whose Tyler Durden super-ego is a leading super assassin. His father was a member of a band of elite killers, an ancient clan of assassins. The targets for this merry band are written in the weft and weave of the fabrics from a magical loom, The Weaver of Fate. In ASCII, like magical punch cards. Like I said, stupid, and unfortunately the movie tries to reach Matrix heights of mumbo-jumbo by having a black leader, Morgan Freeman, speak in a sonorous voice, reciting the history and meaning of the fraternity.

Neglecting the fact that this loom wasn’t smart enough to pick out the names of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or any number of psychopathic dictators, this merry band of highly-tuned killers has kept balance in the world by following its code, killing only those who deserve it. Without that code they are merely hired mercenaries.

So blah blah blah happens.

The director keeps the comic-book style coming, not quite maintaining the heights of the opening sequence, but giving us gravity defying car chases as our meek Clark Kent becomes the assassin who bends bullets. He becomes a hunter who quickly believes that he is following a law far beyond human law—he has become an instrument of fate.

So blah blah blah happens.

Now, I’m fine with all of this, though it is stupider than the Transporter films. What gets me is near the end of the second act where our hero meets his nemesis, a rogue agent who supposedly killed his father in the kick-ass opening. Of course, the agent is his father and it was all a deceit (see, his name is Cross, and his son is another, so that’s a double-cross. Ha!).

The problem, though, is that it all happens on a train stuffed with people. Innocent people, whose names, I doubt, are part of some fantasy rug. They all die as the train is sacrificed for the spectacle. Naturally, of course, the train suddenly seems empty of bodies as it hurtles down, or maybe we are to suppose they all got out.

The problem is that the movie is inconsistent with its morality. It seeks to establish an honourable law (killing the one to protect the many, that lovely, logical, Star Trek code which Kirk just can’t abide) to justify murder, but then calmly forgets it all as the movie slaughters thousands in order to have a cinematic moment.

Like many, it seeks to have its cake and eat it, too. The Matrix films have this problem, as well. Morpheus and the rest want to free humanity, but in their quest to do so any cops or other authorities, and gloriously dispatched. And as we were plainly told, if you die in the Matrix, you really die. Sure, the cops and security guards were working for The Man (I always think of Robert Altman when I see him, which is somehow fitting), but they were actually trying to protect people. It’s not that their killing may not be justified in the Machiavellian sense; it’s that no one gives any thought to it. “Hey, we are killing a lot of people here? Is what we are doing right?”

We get far more discussion over these things on Battlestar Galactica (Apollo and the destruction of the ship, the whole season on the planet with the suicide bombers and all) and, thankfully, The Dark Knight (which I can’t get away from these days it seems).

Stupid movies should never try to be smart. They only end up shooting themselves.