The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Hobbit - Five ArmiesDirector: Peter Jackson

Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, and Orlando Bloom

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies marks a real milestone. Sure, it marks the end of Peter Jackson’s epic, 6-film Middle Earth saga, but it also marks the first entire trilogy that I’ve reviewed in real time as The People’s Critic. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the 20th film I reviewed and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be my 130th!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens with an action-packed preamble that satisfies the cliffhanger left by The Desolation of Smaug. With the treasure now back in the possession of the dwarves and Thorin (Richard Armitage) back on the throne of Erebor, it would seem all is well in Middle Earth. However, when the news of Smaug’s defeat spreads, the treasure of the Lonely Mountain suddenly seems up for grabs. Bard and the men of the now decimated Lake Town, Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the Elves of Mirkwood, Sauron and the rising army of Orcs, as well as the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountain all emerge to battle the dwarves over their claim to the treasure – hence that whole “Five Armies” thing.

This film is ultimately a showcase for a final cinematic showdown in the land of Middle Earth. Where the past two films have been criticized for their lack of action, Five Armies may catch criticism for the exact opposite. Jackson’s skill with this subject is on full display and Five Armies boasts some of the finest battle scenes in either trilogy, but overall, there’s not much to this film; it is too simplistic and underdeveloped. Some complexity is infused with Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) realization of Thorin’s corruption upon reclaiming his crown as well as the budding relationship between elven guardian Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf, Kili (Aiden Turner). Still this is the most scaled down film of the six, and that’s not really a good thing.      

Jackson’s Hobbit films have struggled with the what it should be/what it needs to be/what it could have been dilemma far more than his Lord of the Rings films. In the case of this film, what it should be and needs to be is a fitting conclusion to this series of films. It more or less accomplishes that, but what it could have been is a great dovetail into Fellowship of the Ring. There are a few throwaway lines that refer to events yet to come, but they are a bit hokey. The decision to pursue a simplistic cap to the Hobbit films rather than an ambitious lead in to the Lord of the Rings films is evident in its title. The final Hobbit film was originally to be subtitled, There and Back Again but was changed to The Battle of Five Armies. There and Back Again feels like the film Jackson was hoping to make and the one I wanted to see, but The Battle of the Five Armies is the movie that was made. If The Battle of the Five Armies had to battle the other five films, it would lose that battle five times. B-

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 24 minutes.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

ImageI have struggled to accurately articulate my feelings about films being split into multiple parts.  I’m not talking about sequels, trilogies, or franchises, but rather the recent trend of taking one story and splitting it into different films with different release dates.  Mixed reactions have surrounded the decision to split films like Kill Bill, Breaking Dawn, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, and the upcoming Hunger Games installment, Mockingjay into two films.  Some appreciate the expanded devotion to detail these films receive while others feel they result in bloated, watered down films designed to get doubled the box office.  Director Peter Jackson is mostly known for his Lord of the Rings films.  While, the third film in that series, Return of the King, clocks in at nearly four hours, Jackson never considered dividing it in half.  The film went on to be nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won every single one of them.  Jackson took a different route with J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, dividing the book into three films.  If anyone can make a film that convinces me of the merits of this decision, it’s Jackson, and The Hobbit’s second installment, The Desolation of Smaug just might be that film.

In classic “middle-film-in-a-series” fashion, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens with a brief flashback scene between Gandolf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) to remind the audience about what’s happening.  Bilbo (Martin Freeman) continues his quest to assist thirteen dwarves in reclaiming their lost kingdom.  A pivotal step in the process involves recovering the arkenstone from a terrifying dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) who dwells in the caverns of the Lonely Mountain guarding his riches.  Those who complain about how Jackson’s Tolkien films spend too much time walking will be happy to hear that Bilbo and company do arrive at the Lonely Mountain with plenty of time to spare.  Like in the previous Lord of the Rings films, the characters do not all stay united in one plot for long.  Smaug finds Gandolf abandoning the band of dwarves to investigate the rise of a being known as the “Necromancer” whose threat on Middle Earth was introduced in the previous film.  Furthermore, the Mirkwood Elven Guard led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) are introduced.  Tauriel represents the first major evidence of Jackson’s and co-writer Guillermo del Toro’s decision to expand The Hobbit into three films.  Her character is not in the book and is created for the film.  Her role appears to be to add some romance into the mix as she catches the eye of both Legolas as well as one of the dwarves.  While introducing a female character for  strictly romantic purposes would be a bit shallow, Tauriel fits in well and holds her own as both a lover and a fighter.     

The Desolation of Smaug, like The Two Towers, improves on the previous film.  There is more action, more humor, higher stakes, and purposeful character development.  Bilbo is in the throngs of ring delusion and Freeman plays this ambiguous stage in Bilbo’s life with deliberate hesitation and false bravado.  While the film catches a small snag when Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) enters the scene, it in no way minimizes the excellent final act where Bilbo and the dwarves square off against Smaug.  If you enjoyed the classic game of wits between Bilbo and Gollum in the first film, you will love the battle of egos between Smaug and Bilbo as he attempts to fulfill his role as Burglar. 

The Desolation of Smaug is an exciting, beautiful, and thrilling film with plenty of excitement for any moviegoer.  The debate on whether the decision to split this film into three parts takes a substantial hit as the second installment is quite good.  Tolkien aficionados may resent some of the additional material added like Tauriel or Gandolf’s scenes, but these additions are in keeping with the look, feel, and tradition of The Hobbit and the Tolkien universe.   A-

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes.  It was released in both 3D and 2D, but the 3D craze is dying down and this film works very well in the traditional 2D format.

Pacific Rim

ImageDo you know where your inner child is? Well with Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro has created a dazzling visual spectacle determined to find it for you and leave you wide-eyed and astounded.

Pacific Rim finds the world in the near future with alien monsters emerging from the sea where they have been at rest for millions of years. Finding our deteriorating atmosphere well-suited to their biology, masses of these nearly 300 feet tall creatures known as Kaiju begin laying siege to Earth claiming millions of lives and squandering its resources. Setting its differences aside for perhaps the first time in history, the world comes together, pooling its global assets to develop a weapon that can combat these enormous threats. The answer: 250 foot tall robots called Jaegers controlled simultaneously by two pilots who through a mind meld process called “Drifting” are able to provide the neural power necessary to run the massive machines.

Del Toro is no stranger to the fantastic. He has co-written the screenplays to the recent Hobbit series as well as written and directed the fantastic over-the-top Hellboy films and Blade II (the best one). However, the film he may be best known for is his remarkable twisted fable Pans Labyrinth, which won three Oscars. Here del Toro continues his hitting streak by accomplishing the very thing that has seemingly puzzled Gore Verbinski and Michael Bay for years: creating a wildly epic action film that isn’t clunky, irritating, or devoid of excitement. It would seem very likely for an audience to become detached from a film about giant alien monsters fighting massive robots, but in Pacific Rim, this is not the case. Travis Beacham’s script develops his characters and not just the action. Furthermore, del Toro’s directing makes sure we care about each battle and understand what’s at stake at every turn; this allows the audience to never feel desensitized by the escalating preposterousness.

Who is Charlie Hunnam? Well if you don’t watch Sons of Anarchy, you’d assume he’s a British guy trying his damndest to play an American and not succeeding, and you’d be right. Hunnam plays Raleigh, a modern reincarnation of the Maverick archetype from Top Gun (look for the “you can be my wingman” moment mid-way through the film). Nonetheless, this type of bravado induced superstar with a chip on his shoulder is exactly what a film like Pacific Rim needs at its core. Accent aside and tempered only by his new partner, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), Hunnam is extremely likable and handles the sensitive tough guy persona nicely. Hunnam is joined by a bevy of fun supporting characters who del Toro seemingly mined from successful television shows. Idris Elba from The Wire and Luther commands the screen as General Stacker Pentecost, and it would be a safe (and welcomed) bet that we’ll see Elba on the big screen again and often. Hellboy himself, Ron Pearlman, (and Sons of Anarchy alum) sinks his teeth into the campy role of black market entrepreneur Hannibal Chau, a name he geniusly created based on “his favorite historical figure and his second favorite Szechuan restaurant in Brooklyn.” Finally, there’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day, who channels Rick Moranis as Dr. Newton Geiszler who plays the Oscar to his partner’s (Burn Gorman) Felix in an “Odd Couple” of scientists looking to discover a brainy solution to the Kaiju attack while Raleigh and company cover the brawn angle.

I’ll admit, Pacific Rim was the film I was most anticipating for the summer. Yet all bias aside, it is an example of everything a big, fun summer movie should be, and if you’ve seen Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, then Pacific Rim should be next on your list. A

Pacific Rim is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 11 minutes. It is a post-convert to 3-D film, so it is not necessary to see it in that format, yet The People’s Critic will admit that the conversion is top notch. Also, be sure to stay at least mid-way through the credits for a very rewarding bonus scene that is worth the wait. Those who wait through the entire credits will get a minor, yet potentially important reward as well.

Mama

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Mama (an excuse to critically discuss horror)

The horror genre has an unusual history in the cinematic world. Unlike traditional genres like comedy and drama, horror films seem aimed at a slightly more specialized market. And yet, with this specialized market, one would expect more diversity in the content, but history has revealed that this is not the case. Studios that release horror films seem to pray on popular cultural fads and then, most likely due to inexpensive production costs, let loose clone after clone after clone until these films eventually become less lucrative. Take a look at how many films follow this storyline: a mother notices some strange behavior in her child or around the house. She tells her husband, but her pleas fall on deaf ears; she must simply be imagining the pots and pans all stacking themselves all over the kitchen. Eventually, the husband witnesses something he can’t explain and (hesitantly) agrees to contact an expert or specialist in strange behavior who is found on the Internet. Chaos ensues. The expert dies trying to help, one or more friends of the protagonist become victims, and it ends right where it started with a tiny difference that ties everything together. This form of formulaic market saturation as a business model may keep the genre alive, but it has also lessened its reputation. There’s no doubt that horror films have the potential to affect an audience more than any other type of film since audience reaction is basically the watermark for success (consider those film trailers that do not show clips of the film, but rather show a packed, darkened theater of people wildly reacting to some outrageously scary moment).

Now, I am actually a horror fan and will concede that some of the greatest films are horror films (The Sixth Sense, The Exorcist, Frailty – look it up-, Jaws). However, the worst film of nearly every year is also a horror film (intentionally or unintentionally). Consequently, I am always wary of cinema that resists progress to idly make money off of spent franchises that are too cheap, production-wise, to give up. They make you want to cry for your…

Mama is the latest demented fable loosely attached to Guillermo del Toro, regardless of the relentless name dropping that advertisements display. Del Toro did produce, but his influence ends there, and thus, Mama is not Pan’s Labyrinth. Mama begins with a catastrophic series of events that result in two young girls being abandoned in a strange cottage in the woods where they will live for five years before being discovered. Exposition sweeps us through a bizarrely simplified adoption process where the girls’ uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is permitted to raise the girls in a state funded research house in order for the girls to be continuously observed by a psychologist. At this point, most of the stereotypical formula laid out previously proceeds.

Mama is written and directed by Andres Muschietti who bases it off of his own short film, also called Mama. Fundamentally, the story is not incredibly strong, and leaves the viewer with some noteworthy qualms, but Muschietti clearly understands where the few strengths of his story exist and manages to create a couple good scares. Additionally, he adds some fresh complexity to the film by writing Lucas’s girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), as a bass guitarist in a punk band who is apprehensive about having children and settling into a housewife role, but suddenly finds herself doing both. Muschietti also makes another honorable choice in that he tells a ghost story where the revelation of the ghost itself is not the object of the film. He, instead, introduces the ghost early and uses it as his chief form of tension building; that and the kids. The kids are creepy.

Mama is what it is. It raises no bars, but it holds a reasonably heavy one somewhat steadily in place. Expect the upcoming months to offer at least four more “clones” of this film as this fad works its way out. Then it should be smooth sailing… until it all starts over again in September. C