Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Set in Japan, this latest installment in the X-Men series is elevated above the ordinary comic-book adaptation by the charismatic ferocity of buffed-up Hugh Jackman, now in his sixth reprise of the indestructible, mutton-chopped, metal-clawed mutant.
As his story begins, Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) is alone in the Yukon wilderness, haunted by tortured dreams about Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), the woman he loved and killed. One night in a bar, after he takes revenge on a cowardly hunter who poisoned a grizzly bear, he's accosted by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mysterious, sword-wielding martial artist who has been dispatched by Tokyo industrialist Shingen Yashida, whose life Logan saved at a P.O.W. camp during the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Yashida is dying and wishes to bid a final farewell. Or, at least, that's what Logan is told.
In actuality, Yashida covets Logan's immortality, precipitating a family feud as Japanese gangsters, the Yakuza, threaten Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who has been designated to take over his empire. Brooding, glowering Logan is determined to protect Mariko not only from them but also from her avaricious father, ambitious fiance and Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a mutant geneticist.
Since the Logan/Wolverine's backstory was established in "X-Men Origins; Wolverine," screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank have used a romantic encounter lifted from a 1982 Marvel saga by Chris Claremont, illustrated by Frank Miller.
Director James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma," "Walk the Line") and cinematographer Ross Emery stage several spectacular action sequences, the most exciting atop a bullet train speeding at 300 m.p.h., although the 3D postproduction conversion doesn't add much, even when bands of ninja warriors swoop in for a snowy, climactic ambush.
FYI: While Disney now owns much of the Marvel group, 20th Century-Fox maintains the rights to the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Wolverine and the X-Men franchise.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Wolverine" slashes a sharp 7 -- and be sure to stay through the credits for a teasing glimpse of next year's "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
"THE WAY WAY BACK"
Along with summer sunshine inevitably comes coming-of-age comedic dramas -- and this is better than most. The family-friendly story revolves around disgruntled 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who is forced to spend the summer at a Cape Cod beach house with his divorced mother Pam (Toni Collette), her smarmy boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and Trent's mean, snarky daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) from a previous marriage.
As Duncan is riding in the way, way back, rear-facing seat of their old 1970s station wagon, domineering Trent immediately ignites his ire by demanding that the reclusive teenager to rank himself on a scale of one to 10. When Duncan mumbles "Six," Trent indicates that's about double his own evaluation. Not a great start for a relationship with a perhaps-about-to-be stepdad.
Seeking refuge from the seemingly continual partying of Pam, Trent and their boozy, annoying friends (Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry), Duncan sneaks off on a borrowed girl's bike to spend time at Water Wizz, a nearby amusement park run by explosive, weirdly gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), who not only hires him for the summer but also becomes the mentor/father figure that humorless Duncan so desperately needs. Along with his co-workers Catlin (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (Nat Faxon) and Lewis (Jim Rash), Duncan -- more significantly -- makes friends with an amiable neighbor, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).
The Oscar-winning "The Descendants" screenwriting team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash makes their directing debut, developing rich, recognizable characters and working wonders with a familiar, formulaic script that evokes memories of Gregg Mottola's similarly autobiographical "Adventureland" (2009), starring Jesse Eisenberg. Despite the drawing power of "Little Miss Sunshine" alums Steve Carell and Toni Collette, it's Rockwell who delivers the most delightful and memorable performance, ably supported by the adolescent cast.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Way Way Back" is an uplifting, endearing 8. It's a bittersweet, heartwarming de-light.
"RED" is an acronym for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous," a designation that aptly suits the former secret agents/trained assassins who are reunited after the surprising success of their 2010 caper.
While pushing a shopping cart at Costco, Frank's alerted by his wacky cohort Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) that they're being targeted to retrieve a long-lost Cold War-era nuclear device called Nightshade, hidden somewhere in the world. That's confirmed by a phone call from sharpshooting MI6 Victoria (Helen Mirren), who's been assigned to kill them, and reinforced by the appearance of a dangerous Korean hit man named Han (martial arts expert Byung-hun Lee, familiar from "G.I. Joe"). So they're off to find Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), the deviously deranged scientist who designed the deadly weapon of mass destruction; he's been incarcerated by the Brits in a locked ward for the criminally insane for the past 32 years.
Joining them is sultry Catherine Zeta-Jones as Katja, a seductive Russian spy, along with Brian Cox as amorous Ivan, Victoria's Kremlin suitor. A Frenchman (David Thewlis) known as the Frog briefly diverts them, while CIA bad guy Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) constantly menaces.
Based on DC Comics graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer, it's a thinly plotted thriller by screenwriting brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber and directed by Dean Parisot, who helmed the hilariously satirical "Galaxy Quest" back in 1999. Humor takes precedence over logic, as the intrepid senior spies dash from one escapade to another. While it's hard to take your eyes off scene-stealing Mirren, Parker shows surprising comedic timing, seething with jealousy when Frank is dazzled by Katja, whom Marvin describes as "Frank's Kryptonite."
The amusingly droll relationship banter between protective Willis, paranoid Malkovich and adventurous Parker propels the pace.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "RED 2" is a sly, savvy 7, a classy, globe-trotting action comedy for baby-boomers.