Saturday At The Movies Comic Book Two-fer: Red 2 & The Wolverine

It’s comic book domination this summer at the box office. We’ve already seen Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel and we have 2 Guns, from BOOM! and Kick Ass 2 to look forward to. So in honor of a truly comic book summer you get Red 2 AND a The Wolverine review.

box3First, Red 2.  Obviously it’s the second in the franchise and the first was a fun, wild romp, bringing together Hollywood’s older generation. Almost everyone’s back except for Morgan Freeman, who was killed in the first movie. In addition, we get Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Byung-hun Lee.

If you didn’t see the first movie, it’s about retired agents from branches of the secret service around the world, who must fight for their lives when the current governments are set against them. The second movie is much the same premise, though a clean nuclear bomb is thrown into the mix. It hardly matters it’s basically the same movie as they make the characters and dialogue entertaining enough to show the same premise about 10 more times. We get Mary-Louise Parker’s character to fill in as the audience’s surrogate again, we get all he characters kicking ass, a femme fatale in and a mad genius in Anthony Hopkins (who I’m always glad to see on screen). Bruce Willis’ character, Frank, must recruit friends and enemies alike to clear his name and then save London from a nuclear bomb.

Along the way we get plenty of action and I just have to gush that Helen Mirren is hilarious, dry and badass. She gets to dress up and pretend she’s insane. She’s dryly checking in as she’s bathing her latest kill in acid, calmly asking Frank if he’s being controlling. Her ultimate scene comes when she’s firing two guns out a swirling, drool-worthy 2013 Lotus Exige S, the music screaming in the background.

Malkovich turns down the crazy on his character, which was a welcome relief for the second flick. Any more than one movie of that and it would have gotten stale.

Zeta-Jones’ Russian official was not quite as believable. She’s too well known as a Latin actress despite the fact she’s actually from the UK. How’s that for a brainteaser? That didn’t stop the chemistry she had with her co-stars and she was a welcome addition to the ensemble cast.

Byung-hun Lee shows off his amazingly trained body at the start of the film, always a bonus! He’s nattily dressed in suits for most of the rest of the movie … Oh, and his martial art skills are a thrill to watch.

We’re not talking any grandiose themes in this film, unless you count the underlying subtext that the government betrays everyone and anyone. It’s a fairly simple plot with great fun, great effects by ILM and hot fast action.

It’s the perfect summer popcorn flick that doesn’t attempt to preach, or make itself into something more than it is. Prop you feet up at your local theater and enjoy.
Added bonus: every single trailer before the film was for a film I wanted to see.

8 elderly assassins out of 10

box4Movie #2: The Wolverine

After the forgettable 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the buzz was that Hollywood was a little hesitant to take on another stand-alone X-Men film. With the success of First Class, it seemed a little more viable, so we got this summer’s The Wolverine. There are few better characters to get a stand-alone film than Wolverine. He’s the bad boy, he’s hot, he’s vicious and we want to see him claw things! Perfect summer movie there.  As long as we didn’t repeat badly animated bendy claws and a decapitated Ryan Reynolds, I was going to be good.  What we got this summer was a fairly deep examination of a great character. Yes, it’s still a mutant vs. mutant movie, but we do get to see some of what has been torturing Logan since the end of X-Men 3, how Jean Grey’s death has effected him, and what it means to be Logan. Is it true, what the movie proposes over and over again – that the only thing an immortal really seeks is the means to a good death?  It certainly appears so as we see Logan holed up in the mountains, unsuccessfully trying to drink himself to death.

In a confrontation with some local hunters, Logan is stopped from killing them by a new ally, Yukio (Newcomer Rila Fukushima). She takes him to Japan where her master, Yashida, wants to thank Logan for saving his life many years ago after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in WWII.  From there, the plot winds through betrayal and counter betrayal, with Logan and Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), getting some down time to fall in love and help heal Logan’s broken heart. The emotions presented throughout, do a pretty good job of exploring Logan’s attitudes and hang-ups. It wasn’t as emotionally arresting as something like Shame, or even another Jackman movie like The Prestige, but there was enough there to make it believable and get us through what would be a long run time for a straight action flick.

The device that let us see a more human side of Wolverine, was a good one.  With his powers of healing suppressed, Logan is forced to deal with pain, needing help, and wounds that would probably kill a lesser man.  We see Logan take bullet after bullet and that adds a dimension to the character that isn’t touched on very often – Logan feels every cut, slice, bullet and stab to his body. He simply has the mental fortitude to ignore and work through the pain.  It was only mentioned once in the first film, when Rouge asked if it hurt when his claws came out and he replied “Every time.”

You can tell that Hugh Jackman genuinely enjoys playing Wolverine and it doesn’t hurt that he really does fit the bill physically as well. In an interview with a local radio station in LA, he was telling the hosts how he contacted The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, to get tips on how to put on lean muscle. The answer was 6,000 calories a day of chicken and broccoli, with one cheat day. That chicken and broccoli served you will Mr. Jackman.

The movie was also mostly unburdened by what seems to happen to superhero sequels – Hollywood tends to throw in any character they can, and the kitchen sink, in an effort to pep things up.  This was certainly the case with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where it was more a showcase of look how pretty all our mutants are, than a real story or plot. The Wolverine and director James Mangold allow us to have a superhero movie centered around the hero himself rather than the extraordinary things that happen to him. It’s what fans have been clamoring for, for a long time. Part of the original success of X-Men in the comics was the fact that they were extraordinary people that ordinary things happened to. They dealt with racism, hate and prejudice.  It’s nice to see even a glossed over Hollywood version of that in this film.

My one complaint, and I’m sure it’s a girlie one, was the fact that Logan leaves his new love, Mariko with a rather blasé line that he has to move on because he’s a soldier. Here was this woman that helped put him back together again and all she gets is a: “ ‘I love you.’ ‘I know.’ ” line that isn’t very satisfying. It’s not as if the comics have a happier ending for Mariko. I guess she has to make her multi-million dollar company as a consolation prize.

Finally, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why people race out of the theater after the credits start rolling on a Marvel movie. Everyone knows there’s a goodie at the end.

**SPOILER** We get to see Wolverine re-recruited by Professor X and Magneto for the upcoming war with the Sentinels, as shown by the teaser news clip in the scene featuring Trask Industries.***

8 Logan Ronin out of 10

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