By KIRBY MCCORD
Summer is in full swing, and that means two things — cinematic comic books and sequels. And for once, it seems the DC Comics world, even without the Chris Nolan “Batman” franchise, is edging out Marvel Comics. “Man of Steel” (DC Comics), the re-envisioning of the Superman saga, was a surprisingly good film, while “Iron Man 3,” still a good movie, showed signs of going stale.
This week’s competition pits DC’s “Red 2” against Marvel’s “The Wolverine.” Who comes out on top?
Hugh Jackman returns as Logan, a.k.a. “The Wolverine,” a role he originated 13 years ago. Logan, one of the X-Men, is a mutant with baggage.
He has remarkable curative powers, his cells repairing damage almost immediately, allowing him to defy age as well as bullets; what’s more, he has had his skeleton replaced with the strongest metal known to man — adamantium — complete with retractable claws by military scientists trying to create the perfect soldier.
But Logan is haunted by his own invincibility: Jean Gray (Famke Janssen, reprising her role in “X-Men”), the woman he loved, visits his dreams, begging him to join her in death.
And now, memories of surviving the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki resurface as a Japanese soldier Logan saved from the blast summons him to Tokyo. Yashida has become a powerful and wealthy businessman, but money can’t save him from the death that awaits him.
Yashida’s will bypasses his son, leaving his fortune to his granddaughter Mariko (international model Tao Okamoto) and Logan finds himself falling for the girl and entangled in a Japanese organized crime war, complete with ninja assassins, and a devilishly disguised and lethal mutant enemy — Viper (Svetlana Khodchebkova, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”).
Impressive fight scenes predictably dominate this high octane action flick — a bar fight (a Wolverine standard), a kidnapping attempt at a funeral, flight through the streets of Tokyo, a battle atop a speeding bullet train (take that, Superman), and a finale involving three separate duelists make this an extremely exciting film.
The action is imaginative and evocative, and while the story of Logan’s angst is necessary to add compassion from the audience for the unfortunate hero, it gets a little tiresome. How many movies have we seen in the last decade where the immortal hero rues his immortality?
That, and the fact that Hugh Jackman is thrown into bed with three different women makes this an unoriginal movie fixated on Jackman’s heart throbbing female fans, which robs it of much of its power.
Still, it is well done, and director James Mangold (”Knight and Day”) keeps the pace rapid and the action nonstop.
Bruce Willis returns as retired and extremely dangerous CIA hitman Frank Moses in “RED 2.” Most of the gang is there, too — girlfriend Sarah (played by Mary-Louise Parker), whacked out best friend and retired colleague Marvin (John Malkovich), efficient British killing machine Victoria (Helen Mirren), and voyeuristic Russian spy Ivan (Brian Cox).
But some new killers are also involved in this comical espionage thriller — absent-minded mad scientist Bailey (Anthony Hopkins, “Hitchcock”), temperamental Chinese assassin Han Cho Bai (Byung Hun Lee, “G.I. Joe”), lascivious Russian spy Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Broken City”), sadistic FBI agent Jack Horton (Neal McDonough, “Captain America”) and elegant French terrorist The Frog (David Thewlis, “Harry Potter”).
It all boils down to this: wise-cracking Frank and zany Marvin are targeted for death by every spy network in the world. The only way they can save themselves is to discover the whereabouts of a portable weapon of mass destruction deployed 20 some years ago.
Director Dean Parisot (”Galaxy Quest”) keeps the action flowing and wisely leaves the rest to his marvelous cast. It is apparent everyone on the film is having a blast and it is just plain fun watching them enjoying themselves.
Bruce Willis as Frank is hilarious as he tries to shield his mischievous girlfriend Sarah, who wants in on the mayhem, from danger. Meanwhile celibate and goofy Marvin is giving love advice to Frank.
“Red 2” is every bit as good as its predecessor, and a little better than “The Wolverine.”
1 star = avoid this boring mess of a movie at all costs. Reading the dictionary is more entertaining.
2 stars = if you're in the right mood or if the subject matter appeals to you, you may like this film; or it is uneven, at times entertaining and believable and at other times sophomoric. If you've got nothing else to do, it may be worth the price of admission (at least a matinee).
3 stars = this is a generally good movie that most people will enjoy. If you're looking for an entertaining couple of hours, spend it here and you won't be disappointed.
4 stars = don't miss this film! I don't care if you have time or not, make the time, because this movie is terrific.