Giving it a brief glance, this could seem like ideal and stereotypical summer blockbuster material. Big budget action flick with lots of shootouts, stunts and set-pieces? Check. Glamorous female lead? Well, you’ve got Angelina Jolie as a kick-ass assassin, so that’s got to count as a check. Gravitas-laden wise old man giving guidance and a sense of duty to the star? Oh look – there’s Morgan Freeman, so another big tick in the cliché-box. Now all you need is a muscle-bound hero with matinee-idol good looks in the lead, and teenagers everywhere are bound to go wild, with action-figure sales through the roof at toyshops worldwide.
Be honest, if you were planning a big-budget action movie, it’s a fairly safe bet that the name James McAvoy wouldn’t be even in your top hundred on a list of possible stars. Leave aside the fact that he’s still – despite a few high-profile successes in the likes of The Last King of Scotland and Atonement – a relative newcomer, he’s just not really action movie material. He’s not got the looks, he’s certainly not got the physical presence. Yes, he could be the comic relief – but not the star, surely?
But, sure enough, this is the whole point. His character is not meant to be the typical action hero. He’s meant to be the kind of inexperienced, naïve everyman that McAvoy seems to have cornered the market in these days. Because the basic premise here is “what if the average guy who goes to the cinema to watch stupid action movies actually ended up in the middle of one?”
Not an overly original premise, you might think – and, if you were being really unkind, you may even throw in a reference to the dire Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Last Action Hero, in which the hulking hero teamed up with a young movie fan to do something or other involving big explosions. The fact that it is Angelina Jolie who dominates the posters would, you may think, heighten the comparison.
This would, however, be rather unfair. This is instead an adaptation of the rather fun comic book series by comics master Mark Millar – one of the undisputed masters of the form for the last couple of decades, with a sizable cult fanbase. In Millar’s comics, as in this film, the main character is a typical, boring office-worker. A bog-standard Everyman. The only difference is this is a typical, boring office-worker whose father – unbeknown to him – was an insanely talented member of a team of assassins. And, as is the way of these things, our Everyman office worker has miraculously inherited all of his dead dad’s abilities, along with his father’s old team mates.
Cue all sorts of ridiculous action scenes – albeit significantly toned down from the near-sociopathic unpleasantness of the original comics, in which rape, torture, brutal murders and superpowers are the order of the day for this odd choice of hero. Directed by rising Russian star Timur Bekmambetov, best known for his nu-metal vampire flicks Night Watch and Day Watch, a certain level of antihero unpleasantness still remains, but this is, after all, a commercial film aimed at the widest possible audience.
The end result is, rather than the comics’ exploration of the dark side of what an ordinary person would do when given the ability to do anything they want, more of an excuse for fancy action sequences of the kind we can see in any number of summer movies. They are, however, all done with the kind of undeniable style that makes for a highly watchable movie. If you like this kind of thing, it’s well worth a look – though is hardly going to win over any new converts to the action/superhero genre.