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

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ryan Gage, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Fry, Manu Bennett, John Tui

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.

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The Hobbit, as a whole, is hands down one of the most entertaining fantasy films out there, and The Battle of the Five Armies is perhaps the most entertaining piece of the trilogy. The idea that the films are bloated and stretched too thin remains somewhat incomprehensible to me. I can understand if you think the Tauriel/Kili love story is unnecessary — because it totally is — but it also allows for elves to hang around and do a bunch of slick elf stuff, so I don’t really see a problem. In any case, the richness that three films brings to this adaptation is exceptional. I can’t even imagine a one-film version, or even two films. If that was the case, so many of my favorite “unnecessary” moments would be left unseen.

This film picks up immediately after the events in Desolation of Smaug, as Smaug flies towards Laketown to burn it a new one. This is one hell of a thrilling opening, and it whets the appetite for what’s to come… basically two solid hours absolutely bursting at the seems with thrills. I can’t really think of a film quite like it. It’s nothing like either of the previous Hobbit films because the adventure the party set out on is essentially complete. The dragon has been slain, Erebor has been re-taken, what’s left but to dive headfirst into the gold like an unkempt, bearded Scrooge McDuck? Apparently a lot! The Battle of the Five Armies is also nothing like the Lord of the Rings films, so don’t expect anything with the weight of Return of the King just because this is the third film of a trilogy. The Hobbit is and always will be a lighter tale that happens before everything in Middle Earth went to hell in a handbasket, so it’s just wrong to expect it to hit the same way as Lord of the Rings.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Hobbit2_1Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both better and worse than its predecessor. While An Unexpected Journey focused on Bilbo and his character arc, The Desolation of Smaug is more about the action and the adventurous journey. Even though we find ourselves exploring previously unseen regions of Middle Earth, there isn’t the same sense of wonder draped over The Desolation of Smaug. We’re no longer just seeing this world through Bilbo’s eyes, and while this leads to some incredible set-pieces and a lot of fun, without the wonder it’s much harder to be dazzled by this film in the same way.

But like how An Unexpected Journey did not dazzle in exactly the same way as Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films, The Desolation of Smaug is its own beast and should be allowed to flourish in its own way. And it does. Rather well, actually. This is a much darker, almost purely adventure section of the journey, which the film’s muted color palette helps to convey, but coincidentally this is also Jackson’s funniest Middle Earth film. Well… as long as you are on-board with Jackson’s dark sense of humor, where the biggest chuckles come from creative decapitations and other grisly treats. (Is this a record for decapitations in a PG-13 movie? I should think so.)

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Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

startrekintodarkness_1Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Expectations: Moderate. I liked the first a lot, but I’ve heard mixed things about this one.

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There’s a short section in the middle of J.J. Abrams’s first Star Trek film that I refer to as “the part where it becomes a Star Wars prequel.” A couple of oversized, stupid CG monsters came out of nowhere and threatened to derail the film’s fun, modern take on Star Trek. Thankfully, it was just a small interlude before that film hit its stride and delivered a lot more fun. So when Star Trek Into Darkness featured an oversized, crazy CG monster just minutes into the movie, I remarked, “Oh, this is off to a bad start.” But then Kirk blasted the beast with a phaser. It’s almost as if Abrams is apologizing for the beasts in the first film, saying, “I know, guys. They were dumb. So dumb that I’m opening the sequel with one that eats a phaser blast. Happy?” Yes, yes I am, Mr. Abrams, especially so because it’s the only dumb CG beast in the entire film. Well… that and the fact that this is a barnburner of a film.

The marketing campaign for Star Trek Into Darkness purposely obscured the identity of the main villain, so if you haven’t seen the film and you’re still on media blackout, read no further. I will say that I knew who it was before watching the film and it helped prepare me for what was coming instead of actually spoiling anything. But in any case, you’ve been warned!

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War Horse (2011)

war-horse-posterStarring Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, Toby Kebbell, Patrick Kennedy, Leonard Carow, David Kross

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Expectations: Low.

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In 2011, Spielberg made two films which came out within a few days of each other. I chose to see the 3D animated one in the theaters, a genre I have little love for, so that should tell you my level of interest in War Horse. While I’d like to tell you that it won me over with its syrupy charms and its overbearing sentimentality, if I did it would be a lie. War Horse is not a bad film per se, but it’s one that just doesn’t resonate with me at all.

War Horse is something of a horse biopic, as Joey the horse is our main character. We open on his birth, and the first hour or so details his upbringing under the care of a teenager named Albert. They overcome adversity together as Albert coaxes Joey into plowing the field in front of the watchful eyes of the entire village. Did I miss something, or was watching a kid plow a field an early 1900s pastime in England? So strange, but in this movie it is the norm, as nearly every scene in the film is designed specifically to inspire and tug those aching heartstrings. Ugh.

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