Summer action spectacles are clearly in the throes of a self-improvement kick: Tough-as-Kevlar superstuds muttering monosyllabic one-liners have been traded in for vulnerable Everymen, while paper-thin plots have been swapped for epic sagas. So director Timur Bekmambetov was determined to plumb new depths in this adaptation of Mark Millar's graphic novel about an average Joe (James McAvoy) inducted into an elite clan of gifted assassins by a badass babe (Angelina Jolie), who trains him to avenge his father's murder. ''It's like Dostoyevsky mixed with The Matrix,'' says the director, who has established himself as the Russian Spielberg with his Night Watch series, the highest-grossing franchise ever made in the former Soviet Union.
Ironically, Jolie saw Wanted as an opportunity to lighten up after delving into some dark places, both on screen and off. ''I lost my mom, and I was in a state of wanting to get out of my head and feel wild and strong again,'' says the actress, who played aggrieved widow Mariane Pearl in last year's wrenching A Mighty Heart. ''If I didn't do something like this, I would have just had the covers over my head.'' Instead, she spent her days dangling off of cars hurtling at 100 miles per hour. Jolie commends the studio for giving Bekmambetov free rein to do away with the buffed-and-shined conventions of the Hollywood tentpole. ''[Nobody] tried to make it obvious,'' she says. ''There are really weird things in it that will make it stand out as something a little off, which is nice.''
And don't assume Jolie shied away from doing her own stunts now that she has four young kids (with partner Brad Pitt). ''I did the opposite,'' she boasts. ''I went even further, thinking, Now that I'm holding this shotgun, my little boys are going to think I'm so cool when they're 11.'' (June 27)