This week’s home video releases feature the return of the Smurfs and a big-budget superhero drama.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital download
Superhero films have more clout than ever before, and Marvel Entertainment has a lot to do with that. The media giant has done a remarkable job transitioning its comic book characters to the screen with movies that balance keen storytelling and astonishing visuals. The company’s latest success is “The Wolverine,” a new chapter in the ongoing saga of Logan (Hugh Jackman), a nearly immortal mutant armed with razor-sharp, retractable claws and an indestructible metal-plated skeleton.
The film begins with a flashback to 1945, when Logan was held in a Japanese POW camp near Nagasaki. When the U.S. destroys the city with an atomic bomb, Logan uses his invincibility to protect a Japanese officer named Yashida. Years later, the aging man (Hal Yamanouchi) asks Logan to travel to Japan where he has become a wealthy business tycoon. Purportedly, Yashida wants to thank Logan for saving his life, but his motives are less altruistic.
The situation further deteriorates when Yashida, who was battling the late stages of cancer, is reported dead. This makes his naïve granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) remarkably wealthy, and gangsters attempt to kidnap her at the funeral. Feeling a sense of responsibility to Yashida, Logan protects the girl.
“The Wolverine” is a considerable improvement over 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Both the story and execution are superior, and much of the credit belongs to director James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”) who stages a number of remarkable action sequences, yet allows for proper character development.
Jackman, who has portrayed Logan since Bryan Singer’s first “X-Men” movie in 2000, has settled into the role nicely. His acting chops are well established, and he gives the character a proper sense of brutish physicality. It helps, too, that the plot puts Logan in real peril. Like Superman, the character is so powerful he can be difficult to humanize. Writers sometimes account for this by focusing on the considerable mental demons that Logan faces. “The Wolverine” acknowledges those demons, but it doesn’t go overboard. A hero’s exploits are always more dramatic when his life is on the line, and this film brings Logan face to face with death on several occasions.
The film is available as part of multiple home video releases, including an “Unleashed Extended Edition” that contains Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital copies. Extra features vary.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Sony was, no doubt, hoping cinematic adaptations of novelist Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” young-adult books would achieve “Twilight”-like success. Alas, the first attempt, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” performed poorly at the box office and received mostly negative reviews.
The critical response is understandable. “City of Bones” is yet another shallow attempt to blend gothic horror with teen romance, and it does little to set itself apart from the likes of “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Twilight.”
It’s more difficult to fathom the lackluster fan response. Although “City of Bones” is redundant, it is still superior to most of the “Twilight” films, and it compares favorably to other works in its genre.
The plot centers on a young woman named Clary (Lily Collins) who – after her mother goes missing – discovers that she is descended from a long line of supernatural demon killers known as Shadowhunters. As she and her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan), search for her mother, they are initiated into a world inhabited by werewolves, vampires and other frightening creatures. Their tour guide is Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), a handsome, young Shadowhunter that Clary is immediately attracted to. This creates tension because Clary is unaware that Simon loves her.
The special effects in “City of Bones” are solid, and director Harald Zwart (“The Pink Panther 2”) does a decent job introducing his characters. Collins is a likable leading lady, and she delivers a charismatic reading of Clary. Likewise, Sheehan and Bower are believable romantic rivals. Despite these positives, “City of Bones” feels dull because the romantic triangle is predictable, and the supernatural elements are stale.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, two making-of features and a music video for “Almost is Never Enough” by Ariana Grande.
The Smurfs 2
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
If a Hollywood movie makes money, a sequel is all but assured no matter how many problems the original had. Because of this, film lovers receive pictures like “The Smurfs 2,” a dull affair that does little to differentiate itself from its disappointing, 2011 predecessor.
Director Raja Gosnell is back behind the camera, and he, again, proves adept at blending high-end computer animation with live-action footage. Not every filmmaker possesses this skill, so Gosnell deserves at least some credit. Sadly, his visual flair does not translate into compelling storytelling.
In “Smurfs 2,” our tiny, blue heroes are again transported from their magical, woodland village to New York City. This time, the trip is a rescue mission because the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) has kidnapped their beloved Smurfette. Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays return as the Smurfs’ human pals, and Patrick’s adoptive father (Brendan Gleeson) plays a key role in the action.
As dull as most of the film is, Gosnell and company work a reasonably good morality tale into the subplot. That’s a plus, particularly for young fans, but it’s not enough reason to dedicate 105 minutes of your life to the film.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and two making-of features.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Duck Dynasty” – Seasons 1-3 – Collector’s Set: Fans of the A&E reality series “Duck Dynasty” can relive the first 41 episodes with this boxed set. The show centers on the Robertsons, a Louisiana family that turned a homegrown duck-call business into a multi-million dollar industry.
“Nashville”: New digital restoration of director Robert Altman’s 1975 ensemble dramedy. In the movie, 24 characters engage in shenanigans during the days leading up to a Nashville political concert. Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Baxley and Lily Tomlin star.
“Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion”: Criterion Collection release of Italian writer-director Elio Petri’s 1970 thriller about a police officer (Gian Maria Volonte) charged with investigating a crime that he committed. Presented in Italian with English subtitles.
“The Simpsons” – Season 16: This animated series, created by Matt Groening, is the longest running in U.S. history, and fans can dip into 21 older episodes with this boxed set.
“Hot In Cleveland” – Season Four: Twenty-four episodes of the TV Land hit about entertainment industry veterans who relocate to Ohio. Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White star.
“Iron Man & Hulk” – Heroes United: Animated Marvel Comics movie in which Iron Man and Hulk battle a deadly, energy-devouring monster.
“Smash & Grab – The Story of the Pink Panthers”: Documentary film centered on the exploits of the Pink Panthers, a criminal gang credited with stealing nearly a billion dollars in jewelry. The film is particularly interesting in that it supposedly features anonymous interviews with members of the gang. Directed by Havana Marking.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.