Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review


    That was a thing.

    I could end my review now with that rather concise summary but I would feel that I'm doing a disservice to my army. I wanted to see this film in theaters but, sadly, my wife took ill so I was unable to make it. I wasn't exactly beating down the door to go see it after the first two movies either. I'm not a Tolkien purist, don't get me wrong.

    I understand they're different mediums and all that but I also tend to take the view: don't change what isn't broken. The Hobbit is one of the most beloved children's stories of all time and trying to turn it into The Lord of the Rings 2.0 was always going to be like chipping away at Michangelo's David to look more like the Sistine Chapel.

Greed is bad, m'kay?
     Still, as tough as I was on An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, I had a lot of moments I liked. Bilbo's character arc in the first movie was more or less the same one in the original book, albeit reached earlier. Stephen Fry's performance of the Master. Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug. I even give props to Evangeline Lilly who creates a wholly original character I wanted to spend more time with. The interchangeable dwarves of the original novel are, mostly, expanded in ways I enjoyed too.

    Battle of the Five Armies?

    It's a thing.

    There's a lot happening on screen, don't get me wrong. We get to see Elrond, Galadriel, Radaghast, and Gandalf team up like the Justice League to fight the Nazgul in a haunted castle. We get a surprisingly effective battle-scene between Smaug and poor Bard, the only man willing to stand-up and fight against the dragon. There's a lot of really impressive CGI on screen which makes it one of the best animated movies I've seen in a long time. Yes, I say animated. I'd compare it to the Star Wars Prequels but it's not that bad. People die, there's mourning and revenge.

    It's all there.

Amazing, albeit silly, visuals are par for the course.
    In a very real sense, the movie failed to make me care in a way I think would have been necessary. I cared a couple of times, don't get me wrong. There's a death in the film which really did move me. I also was "fooled" a couple of times into forgetting I know exactly who is going to die and who isn't from the books--which the original Lord of the Rings movies were very good at making me feel.

    However, in the final confrontation between Azog and Thorin, I couldn't help but not care one bit. The White Orc has been propped up by three movies like he's just shy of Darth Vader with even Sauron barely able to keep him under control (!?) but his one-dimensional vendetta against Thorin has never managed to inspire the least bit of interest from me. Indeed, the entirety of the larger war is lost in a bunch of personal vendettas I don't really think fit the narrative they're telling.

    The movies color palette is also irritating as the director goes out of his way to make things as dull, washed out, and drab as possible. This is even in relationship to the other movies so poor Evangeline Lilly, who is naturally an astoundingly beautiful woman, looks like as plain a perfect make-up elf can be. Everything is dark, somber, and dreary which might fit with the refugee situation but lingers over everything.

If it's a video game on screen, it's a fun looking video game.
    It says something about the movie, perhaps, that one of the most entertaining figures in it is the figure of Alfrid. A Grima Wormtongue-esque figure, there is no depth of cruelty or greed he won't sink to and yet he's hilarious. The fact he's one of the few characters who seem to be having fun (or at least enjoying the prospect of a vast fortune) lends itself to be enjoyable.

    The action scenes are big huge spectacles, even if the orcs are reduced to even more one-dimensional embodiments of evil than they were in the books (which is impressive). The "greed is bad" parallel is something I also liked even if it's the kind of thing we shouldn't need banged into our head every day, we clearly do.

    I can't fault the actors for their roles. Everyone is clearly doing their best. Richard Armitage plays the sudden change in Thorin with a gravity largely undeserved by the script. Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sylvester McCoy, and Ian McKellen turn the aforementioned "Justice League vs. The Nazgul" scene into something so entertaining I actually wanted more original material than less.

Sir Ian is trapped in this movie.
    Martin Freeman embodies Bilbo so well I could keep watching his adventures, even though I never really enjoyed the movies. I even liked Orlando Bloom's acting, even though Leogolas plays something dangerously close to an elvish stalker. It's just there's so much going on, none of these performances really gets a chance to breathe or be humanized before its off to the next CGI monster.

    In conclusion, this isn't a bad movie but it's a silly one. Everything is big, grandiose, and epic which means nothing is epic. There's very few quiet moments in the film and those few which exist are all the stronger for it. I can't help but think a more deliberately paced film might have been a far-far more enjoyable experience. As such, I was bored about twenty-minutes in to a three-hour movie.


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