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.

The World’s End

ImageWell ladies and gentlemen, the Cornetto trilogy has finally come to a close.  Whether you knew it or not, director Edgar Wright and writer/actor/producer Simon Pegg teamed up in 2004 to create the most loosely connected cinematic trilogy of all time beginning with Shaun of the Dead, followed by Hot Fuzz in 2007, and culminating in 2013 with The World’s End.  The films share no characters, plot devices, settings, or  really any foreseeable connective quality.  What they do share is actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, passing references to a popular British ice cream treat called Cornetto, and a few surprises for die-hard fans.  Otherwise, these three films are as unrelated as could be.  What we’re left with is a social commentary wrapped up in an inside joke that unfortunately has no solid punch line.

The World’s End follows Peter, Andy, Oliver (also known as ‘Oman’ because of an unfortunate birthmark shaped like a 6 on his forehead), and ringleader Gary.  In 1990, Gary (Simon Pegg) and his four best friends attempted and failed to complete “The Golden Mile,” a 12 tavern pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven that ends at a particular pub named The World’s End.  Twenty years later, Gary’s life has paled in comparison to that fabled night two decades ago, and while he has not quite left the wild days of his youth behind, his friends have.  After recounting his happier days at a rehab session, Gary decides to reconnect with his reluctant friends and convince them to give “the Golden Mile” one more go.    

The World’s End does very well moving from point A to point B providing lively introductions to the characters and Hangover-style laughs as the group of friends reminisce over past antics and attempt to reclaim the passion of their youth.  Pegg’s performance as Gary is uproarious and sharp.  His reaction to Andy (Nick Frost) ordering a tap water rather than a proper pint is comic perfection, and his various monologues are quick witted, fast, and smart.  Unfortunately, the film hits a stumble moving from point B to point C and does a world class face plant on its way to point D. 

I want to preface this next point by saying that I do not think From Dusk Til Dawn is a good film, nor do I feel that The World’s End is a bad film, yet a comparison must be made.  From Dusk Til Dawn, the George Cloony/Quentin Tarantino vampire western, is notoriously critiqued in the following way: “It was pretty good until the vampires showed up.”  The World’s End will likely receive similar word of mouth, except replace “vampires” with “alien robots.”  The movie does not come entirely off the rails upon the revelation of alien robots, but the tone becomes uneven and “ludicrous” becomes a word that might be used to describe the events from that point forward.  Proponents of the film will cite Shaun of the Dead as a film that similarly injects a sudden influx of horror into an otherwise silly comedy.  However, the mixing of genres in that film works far better than in this one.  The “body snatching” alien storyline interrupts all of the progress made in the film’s first half and unfortunately leads to an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion.  

The World’s End is admittedly British.  By this, I mean that the humor, styling, and overall mood of the film is dry and at times very silly.  Fans of this type of humor know what I mean, and those who go through life saying, “I don’t understand what’s so funny about Monty Python and the Holy Grail” should stay miles away from The World’s End.  The film works somewhat well as a critique on the globalization of society where the boys find the pubs they once loved for their individuality becoming increasingly “starbucked,” resembling one another in every detail.   Additionally, Wright and Pegg have written a film that cleverly alludes to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing in quite nuanced and ingeniously fresh ways.  Quite a bit works in The World’s End, but ponderous choices are made from time to time that will leave audiences scratching their heads.  Overall, The World’s End is funny but also preposterous, and it fails to successfully convey a satisfactory point about being middle-aged or the loss of youth, both of which are so strongly introduced in the film’s first half.  I for one would enjoy a film about these five guys rehashing the past and drinking – end of story.  There is no doubt that Wright and Pegg are a good team, and while Pegg is becoming more of a household name thanks to high profile roles like Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films, he still has plenty of passion for his roots.  As they leave the “Cornetto” behind, I think strong collaborations are in store for the future.  B-

The World’s End is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.  Aside from Pegg and Frost, the cast also features some interesting cameos (some more obvious than others) as well as Martin Freeman (currently playing Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films), who successfully revives the phrase “WTF,” and Rosamund Pike (soon to be seen in David Fincher’s Gone Girl) who successfully revives the phrase “oh crumbs.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

11162899_detThere was once a beloved trilogy. One day, its creator decided a series of prequels were in order, so he directed…Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace. Thus was born mankind’s apprehension and speculation over prequel trilogies. A case is yet to be made for why Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit requires three parts. Nonetheless, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a very good film…whew, what a relief!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place sixty years before Frodo takes his first step towards Mordor. The story is simple this time around, as we return to Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is persuaded, or rather coerced, by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to assist a party of 13 dwarves in their quest to reclaim their lost kingdom. Freeman is very effective as the neurotic, Woody Allen-esque, Bilbo. His nuanced touch to the role gives the audience a very likable and enjoyable central character arch that is only accentuated by our familiarity with him from Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films. McKellen slips seamlessly back into his gray robes as Gandalf. While Gandalf is always wise and sensible, McKellen portrays him here as slightly less “urgent” given the lessened threat to Middle Earth and existence that occurs in The Hobbit. This lack of urgency translates to the entire film, which may disappoint die-hard Rings fans. There are more scenes in the “silly” category here than in the previous trilogy. Additionally, there is simply a lowered sense of critical doom and immediacy in this storyline. The film’s opening scenes go on for quite a while and while enjoyable, the end result is a slightly bloated film.

These criticisms are certainly legitimate, but they are truly its only faults. The film looks beautiful and lives up to what one would expect from Jackson’s take on the Tolkien mythology; New Zealand should probably be nominated for best supporting actor. The adaptation of Tolkien’s book is developed in such a way that it will lead up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy very nicely. Familiar characters appear along the way, and they are not unnecessary or false. All of them further the story and add something to the film, which is a credit to the host of screenwriters including Guillermo del Toro and Jackson himself. Furthermore, the dwarf plotline is elevated from the childish mood reflected in the novel to one that feels a bit more mature. This is a good decision and while younger kids can enjoy this film (if they have a long attention span), it is clear that the Hobbit films look to maintain a similar tone to the previous films in the series. At the end, there is quite a bit to like about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While it lacks the epic quality and complex narrative of The Lord of the Rings films, the groundwork is set for an excellent companion trilogy that is fun, technically impressive, and brilliantly respectful to fans and film lovers. B+