Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit- Desolation of Smaug

After feeling let-down after watching the first "Hobbit" movie, I was reluctant to see "Desolation of Smaug" in theaters. So I held onto my money and waited until the DVD was released.


The movie picks up shortly after "An Unexpected Journey" ends. Gandalf goes on his own mission to Dol Guldor to discover the identity of the mysterious Necromancer, leaving Bilbo and the dwarves to get through Mirkwood, escape from elves, evade a band of orcs that are after them, get through Lake-Town, and enter Erebor without getting burned by a dragon. In the meantime, the elf prince Legolas and the female warrior Tauriel pursue the dwarves eastwards.

The movie's plot takes up a decent amount of "The Hobbit," but unfortunately, despite having more action, it came across as bloated and very slow-moving. It felt like Jackson, not having enough material to work with, decided to add unnecessary tension (like the section on Laketown, where the company has to sneak in, prepares to sneak out, is discovered and welcomed with open arms, then leave). Another drawn-out section was inside Erebor, both when Bilbo and Smaug are talking then Smaug chasing the company around. Gandalf's secret mission to Dol Guldor also felt unnecessary and like it truly accomplished nothing in contrast to the dwarves' part of the movie. Then, in other parts, it felt like Jackson wanted to skip over big sections; for example, he skimmed over both the visit to Beorn's house and also the trek through Mirkwood (which was a mere montage). This left for a very uneven pace in the film and left it feeling bloated and also rather boring.

Another plot-related issue was how much was taken from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Bits of conversation, objects like athelas, certains scenes, etc... were directly taken the previous three films but felt lazy and like they had no real place being there.

A third plot issue was the addition of the romance between Tauriel and Kili. This really irritated me for several reasons. One, there was no precedent to the romance; the only inter-racial romances that Tolkien wrote were between elves and humans, never dwarves and another race. So it was a massive departure from Tolkien's universe. Two, there was no reason for the two to fall in love. In their brief conversations, I found no reason for Tauriel to become infatuated with Kili and for the elf to follow him all the way to Laketown to save his life. It was a romance that was pulled out of thin air just for the sake of the movie having a romance. Three, Kili's sexual joke was in very bad taste and had absolutely no place in something based off of Tolkien's world. And how is that supposed to be romantic in any way? In the end, it was crude, stupid, and useless.

The cast was ok, but if I had issues with the actors, I blame the writers for the faults of the characters. Bilbo had a smaller role in this film than in the previous one, and half of the time he was nothing more than a member of the party and not the central character in the previous movie. Benedict Cumberbatch was an excellent choice to play Smaug, but his character at times did not seem as threatening and dangerous because either the writers had long, drawn-out scenes with him or because he did not look impressive visually. Luke Evans as Bard was neither here nor there for me, as I felt like his character was not developed enough or was not special enough to warrant attention. But, by far, the biggest offender was Evangeline Lily as the Silvan elf Tauriel. Not only was there nothing memorable about her character, but she seemed like she was added simply for the sake of having a pretty face in the movie, probably because no female characters in "The Hobbit."

The movie was not helped by the graphics and visuals. Again, the visuals looked fake in several locations. Mirkwood, which was supposed to be a creepy, haunted forest, did not send a shiver down my spine like Fangorn did. Smaug looked like he was from a B-movie, which did not make him a memorable villain. The spiders also looked fake, taking away the creepiness that they should have had (think of Shelob in "Return of the King." She still gives me the heebie-jeebies every time I watch the movie). The scene between the elves and orcs while the dwarves are in the barrels also looked strongly animated and fake. All in all, I had a difficult time not comparing these graphics to the ones in the original trilogy, which were amazing and still are to me.

In the end, I was very disappointed in "Desolation of Smaug." The plot was bloated and boring, the characters were not memorable, and the visual graphics were poorly done. This is the first Tolkien adaptation by Jackson that I honestly did not like, and I can only dread how the third film will turn out.

I give it one star out of five.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America- The Winter Soldier

When I first saw the trailer for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," I was hopeful and yet also worried. I enjoyed "Thor: The Dark World" but worried that the new Marvel would be a dud like "Iron Man 3." After hearing good reviews about it, I went out and saw it last weekend.


"The Winter Soldier" takes place a few years after the events of "The Avengers." Steve Rogers is working for S.H.I.E.L.D and also adjusting to the modern world. He, however, is suspicious of Fury's secrecy and about S.H.I.E.L.D making new helicarriers that could wipe out thousands of people at a time. After Fury is attacked by a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier, the Captain, suspicious of Fury's boss Alexander Pierce, comes under suspicion and is forced to flee from the company. He must team up with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Sam Wilson/The Falcon to find out the truth and discovers that an old enemy from his past is alive and well.

The story was a bit difficult to understand in some places, namely because it is a conspiracy with different players. I was confused about whether Fury was really involved in the pirating attempt or if he was being framed, but a second viewing may clear this up. I generally liked the plot and the tie-ins to the first "Captain America," though there were a few inconsistencies. I also wasn't sure about the leading up to the last, big battle and if the helicarriers were a mere test run, but again a second viewing may explain this better. I did like the humor that was thrown into the film; much like "Thor: Dark World," it was well-placed and added a lighter element to an otherwise serious story. I also liked that the story was moved from the World War 2 era to the modern era, which made it a bit darker and more realistic in tone.

The characters were also good. Scarlet Johansson had a bigger role as Natasha Romanoff, and she and Chris Evans formed a good partnership; on a related note, I was relieved that there was no romance between the two. Robert Redford was a good choice to play the sleazy, scheming Alexander Pierce. Sebastian Stan also did an excellent job as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, a good rival for the Captain. Fury had a bigger role, though I was a bit unsure about his role in the entire scheme though that was more of a plot issue. Anthony Mackie plays Sam Wilson, who teams up with the Captain and Natasha; he wasn't a bad sidekick, though he could have been better developed.

The effects for the film were good. More than half, I believe, was not CGI, which proved for good action scenes. The action scenes were well-done, and the pace of the movie was generally good.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying "The Winter Soldier." I found it a worthy addition to the Marvel universe and am definitely looking forward to seeing it again.

I give the film four out of five stars.