Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 3 (working title)
Release Date: December 1st, 2014 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 144 Minutes, 164 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“You are changed, Thorin! The Dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!” – Bilbo Baggins

While this trilogy lacks when compared to its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings, it was still better than most big budget movies of the last decade and I was pretty excited about revisiting the third and final chapter, even though The Desoltation of Smaug was weak by Tolkien movie standards.

And this is the best of the Hobbit film series.

This is also the shortest of the three movies and I think that says a lot about the structure and flow of this film, as a short novel didn’t need to be stretched out into three really long movies.

This one jumps right in where we left off, as Smaug flies out to destroy the nearby town on the lake. My only real complaint about that though, was that the battle with Smaug was a cliffhanger and once you get to it here, it’s resolved in just ten minutes. I thought that the Extended Edition would rectify this a bit but it didn’t. Still, the opening of this film is fantastic and one of the best sequences out of all the Peter Jackson live action Tolkien movies.

Once that’s quickly resolved, the rest of this movie pretty much just deals with a gigantic fantasy battle of epic proportions. Everything leading up to this was the real story and most of the context. This film just decides to throw down and give us a real war, up close and personal. And while that might not seem like the makings of a great film, this is still really good and definitely the most fun Hobbit film to watch.

And it’s not just action for the sake of action, there are some real creative things that come into play. I love the elves shooting a massive volley of arrows only for the dwarves to respond with their “whirly bird” giant arrows that immediately destroy the elves attempt at a strong and deadly offense.

Additionally, the battle and every phase of it serves the story well, moves things forward and finds time to explore the main characters and their true motivations while making them all sort of find the spot where they need to be going forward in life.

Apart from the giant battle and Smaug, there is the big confrontation in the evil castle that sees Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel do battle with the spiritual forces of Sauron. This was one of the Peter Jackson additions to the story that wasn’t in the book but this was a satisfying finale to my favorite plot thread in these films. Jackson did a stupendous job with this portion of the Hobbit series and even if it wasn’t initially supposed to be there, it fits very well within the overall story arc of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I also like how this movie wraps up, as it doesn’t give us a really long, overly drawn out resolution like The Return of the King.

The Battle of the Five Armies might not be Lord of the Rings good but it is still a pretty fine fantasy epic motion picture. And it has really got me excited to want to revisit The Lord of the Rings trilogy once more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 2 (working title)
Release Date: December 2nd, 2013 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Stephen Colbert, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 161 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“There is something about you. Something you carry, something made of gold… but far more precious…” – Smaug

I’ve been rewatching these, as I haven’t seen them since they were in the theater. And like the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films, I’m hoping that the Extended Editions of this trilogy help to make the films richer and give them more depth and context.

Where my disappointment with An Unexpected Journey was somewhat fixed, the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug didn’t do much to make this film any better and in fact, stretched it out more than it needed to be.

The extended scenes in the previous film seemed to make things better. But here, it drags out some of the scenes that could have been even shorter in the theatrical version.

All the stuff that featured Smaug was pretty good but it felt really stretched out in this film. But as I said in the previous review, they didn’t need to stretch out a short novel over a nine-plus hour trilogy. It’s friggin’ overkill, even with the narrative additions to the plot that weren’t from the original book.

Watching the extended version splits the movie up onto two discs. In all honestly, it showed me just how inconsistent the film is. The first half is not very good but the second half is much better.

The first half of the film was dragged down by things that didn’t need to be there. I get that Beorn is in the book but his inclusion in the film was unnecessary and didn’t really serve the plot in any meaningful way. They spend a half hour on this and all that comes out of it is that the dwarves get some ponies to ride for about two minutes. Just cut the whole thing out. It didn’t fit in the film, it slowed things to a crawl and it didn’t help the narrative and should have been omitted just as the Tom Bombadil stuff was left out of the Lord of the Rings movie adaptations.

Also, the forest with the giant spiders was a pretty weak sequence overall and even though giant spiders exist in Middle Earth, it felt more like a rehash of something we already saw just a few years earlier in one of the Harry Potter movies. Although, it does serve the purpose of pushing Bilbo towards being more of a badass.

Then there was the whole sequence of the dwarves getting captured by the elves, escaping really easily and then giving us the barrels down the river scene, which is the worst part of any of these Lord of the Rings related films. That whole scene is the worst kind of cringe and it pulls you right out of the movie and almost makes you embarrassed for liking these films. It felt like over the top Disney blockbuster schlock.

Also, the dwarf and elf romance felt really forced and awkward as hell.

Once you get to the second half, things get much darker tonally, which contrasts the goofiness of the first half so greatly that it doesn’t feel like the same movie. But this is the superior half, even if it is also drawn out too much.

I really liked Luke Evans as Bard though. I also enjoyed the bits with Stephen Fry.

The best part of the whole film is when the dwarves finally reach the mountain and Bilbo Baggins comes face to face with Smaug. For fans of the BBC show Sherlock, this is extra exciting, as Bilbo is Watson and Smaug’s voice is Sherlock. At least I thought that was a cool aspect of this film’s casting. Luckily, both men also were brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last few years.

I can’t say that this is the worst of the three Hobbit films, as of yet. I still need to rewatch The Battle of the Five Armies. But from memory, I think I did like that one better than this chapter.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Also known as: Ant-Man 2 (alternate title), Cherry Blue (fake working title)
Release Date: June 25th, 2018 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby; Wasp by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 118 Minutes

Review:

“I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most – they pay the price.” – Scott Lang

It feels like Infinity War just happened but we’ve already got another Marvel movie within the MCU continuity. But then, I felt like Infinity War was way too close to Black Panther.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the first Ant-Man. I did like it quite a bit but it wasn’t really in the upper echelon of my mental ranking of Marvel movies. This one isn’t either but I did enjoy the hell out of it and I loved the humor and the overall tone, after coming off of such a somber ending in Infinity War.

First and foremost, this has Walton Goggins in it, who is a guy I will watch in anything. Goggins is a f’n master whether he’s doing drama, comedy or just needs to play some sort of eccentric badass. He’s a little bit of all those things in this movie but sadly, he just isn’t in it enough. But that’s okay, he survives to return at a later date and this movie’s story had to wedge a lot in.

That being said, the writers did a good job covering a lot of bases while still having the movie’s pace and multiple threads flow smoothly.

There are a few things I didn’t like about the film but they weren’t big enough to ruin it.

I thought that the lab was ridiculous. The fact that they can shrink it down to the size of a box and then run around with it and nothing inside of the structure gets damaged or destroyed, is pretty fucking dumb. Has anyone that worked on this picture ever seen a Godzilla film? What happens when giants come into contact with buildings? Them shits crumble! Could Godzilla run around with a building under his arm or yank it away from King Kong or toss it to Anguirus? No, that shit would get torn to bits like a gingerbread house at an elementary school Christmas party.

And then the whole thing where they hide the lab building in plain sight throughout the city is also pretty stupid. I’m sorry but if I drive a specific route to work everyday, I’m going to notice that there’s some ten story building that just popped up out of nowhere.

Alright, the Incredible Shrinking Lab is really my biggest gripe but I just rolled my eyes, exhaled heavily and got over it so I wouldn’t be fixated on it to the point that it ruined the whole movie.

I liked the Ghost character. I thought her backstory was good, even if it was a bit generic. It did give me a bit of the feels though. She wasn’t a cookie cutter villain and offered up something really cool for the heroes to play off of. It’s nice seeing heroes in an MCU film not fight a villain that’s just an evil version of themselves with the same power set. This was really refreshing and it allowed for more creative confrontations. Plus, her suit was fucking cool and I really liked Hannah John-Kamen in the role. I hope she goes on to have a bigger footprint in the larger MCU. And really, she deserves a redemption story after the events of this film. Good job, Marvel! Usually your villains are shit. But the villain front has been looking better lately between Ghost, Killmonger, Thanos and Walton f’n Goggins.

Paul Rudd was Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly was a goddess and Michael Douglas was a badass MFer per usual. l loved Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne and I can’t wait to see more of her. The rest of the returning cast was fun too. I’ve always liked Judy Greer and I have a new level of respect for Bobby Cannavale after seeing how incredible he was last year in the third season of Mr. Robot.

The scene where Michael Peña is telling a story and his voice is dubbed over the other actors is hysterical, by the way. I haven’t laughed out loud at something in a Marvel movie like I did during this scene probably ever.

Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t Marvel at its best but it’s a much needed breath of fresh air after feeling the weight of the universe come down on you following Infinity War. This gave the MCU audience a lighthearted break from the doom and gloom of Thanos’ major victory.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Everything else in the MCU but it should be pointed out that this film happens alongside Avengers: Infinity War.

Film Review: Ant-Man (2015)

Release Date: June 29th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 117 Minutes

Review:

*Originally written in 2015.

Ant-Man is the next film in a long line of Marvel films that are a part of the Avengers universe. Ant-Man being one of the original Avengers means that this film is long overdue. In fact, I had hoped that it would have happened in Phase One of the Avengers film line and not as the last film in the Phase Two set of movies. Regardless, it is nice to finally have Hank Pym in the Avengers fray. Oh wait, I mean Scott Lang.

Yes, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is the hero here even though Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) is in the film. Pym however, is Lang’s mentor and the original Ant-Man, who we knew nothing about until now. Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, is also shown in costume via flashbacks. There is kind of a nice set up, in the film’s intro, that shows us a very young Michael Douglas (thanks to CGI) bantering with Howard Stark and Agent Peggy Carter in 1989.

Scott Lang is one of the more unique characters to be on the Avengers roster, even though he hasn’t achieved that status yet, in this film. He is a thief turned hero – on a quest for redemption in order to have a normal relationship with his young daughter. The Scott Lang character kind of takes the best parts of Hawkeye’s character in Avengers: Age of Ultron and magnifies them much more. You care about Scott, his daughter and their relationship probably more intimately than the relationship of any other characters in the Marvel movie mythos except for Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas do a superb job in bringing life to this long overdue Marvel character. Evangeline Lilly is also great, as the daughter of Pym and the Wasp. Corey Stoll was okay as the villain who eventually becomes Yellowjacket. Although, Yellowjacket isn’t a villain in the comics, he is just another alias of Hank Pym.

Yellowjacket being the villain just seems half-assed. He is essentially the same thing as Ant-Man except he can fly and shoot lasers. Ant-Man has the advantage in that he can summon armies of ants. I’m sorry, but an army of ants against a tiny guy with lasers isn’t going to bode well for the tiny guy with lasers. What could one guy with a laser gun do against an army of ravenous orcs? This also goes back to a recent comment George R.R. Martin made about how Marvel too often pits its heroes against villains with the same set of powers and it isn’t as interesting as heroes matching up with something that is a contrast to their abilities. I couldn’t agree with Martin more.

Despite the villain issue, this film is better than that mess Avengers: Age of Ultron. When I stated in my review of that film that the solo Marvel films are better due to story, character development and not being forced to fit too much into one movie, Ant-Man just solidified that point for me even more. It is more fluid, more organic and tells a human story, unlike those massive CGI-littered Joss Whedon action fests.

To be honest, Ant-Man is one of the best Marvel films to date. It is better than both Avengers, both Thor films, the first Captain America, the second and third Iron Man, that one Hulk film with the other actor and whatever else there is except for Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first Iron Man film.

It isn’t a picture without flaws though. At times, it got a bit too hokey. The humor was great for the most part and I loved the comedic characters, especially Lang’s crew played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian (the one with the Russian accent), who you might remember as the Joker’s henchman that Harvey Dent abducted in The Dark Knight.

The film felt rushed at times and the editing was a bit shaky. Like other Marvel films, things feel like they got left on the cutting room floor. Where some characters felt well developed, others were lacking. Corey Stoll’s role just seemed disjointed at times, as his motivations were never all that clear and his slip into insanity just kind of happened. It just didn’t feel like an organic metamorphosis.

Additionally, the sound editing was problematic. When Lang is taking direction from Pym in his helmet, it sounds like voice over work and doesn’t sound natural. Other Marvel films have had similar problems. Also, when Lang is ant-sized, in some scenes he can’t be heard by normal-sized characters but in others he can. I’m not sure if this was explained and I missed it or if it is just some Marvel-sized plot hole.

Judy Greer is also in this film, which makes me wonder how many more summer blockbusters will she cameo in? And using her for a minor role was a waste of her talent, unless they have plans for her later on. I feel like she could have been used for a bigger Marvel role than the 14th Avenger’s baby mama.

I liked this film. Be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene and then for the post-credits scene. We get two special bonuses with this film. Granted, they don’t necessarily lead to anything profound but they put in motion the next steps in the Ant-Man branch of the Avengers franchise family tree.