Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit-Battle of the Five Armies

There are only so many spoiler alerts I can give for this post, so I'm going to say immediately, if you haven't seen this movie and are planning on seeing this movie/want to see this movie then continue no further.  I am going to, well, to put it mildly, I'm going to spoil the shit out of this one.  It's not going to be a review so much as it's going to be a venting session.  So, please, if you HAVE SEEN it/don't want to see it/straight up Don't Give A Flick, join me as I become your guide through the (gods and goddesses willing) final journey through Middle Earth.



First things first, I feel the need to immediately become defensive because I know what I'm going to write is going to be mostly negative, but it's also going to be mostly sarcastic.  Sometimes those things should just cancel each other out and indicate that the real emotion edging it's way to the surface is just one of serious "Meh".  While I would never claim to be a big fan of the books (I read The Hobbit as a Junior in High School and only read Return of the King because it was going to be a year before it's release after Two Towers) I will say, I've been a fan of this film series.  Not like a casual fan either.  Like a "Saw the first one 6 times, yes spent 18 hours in a theater" kind of fan.  I happened to be studying abroad when Return of the King was released in London and went to a midnight showing.  I THOUGHT about going to one of those gatherings where middle-aged men dress like Gollum.  When I say I like these movies I don't so much mean it in the same way as when I say I like Greek yogurt as I mean I really, genuinely love the first three.  Ok, sure, sure part of that is due to the sheer amount of estrogen that Legolas and his arrows seem to rile up, but come on, give a girl a break.  Everyone needs a gateway into the fantasy genre, and sometimes that's just a boy who looks pretty in a blonde wig.

On that note, let me get my sounding like a petty-chick part out of the way now.  As a card-carrying member of the "Oh, he's hot" club, I have to ask, Mr. Jackson, why is it that you managed to kill off the hottest members of the cast in this Hobbit trilogy?  I mean, damn, we sit through like 12 hours in Lord of The Rings, and like 5 people and a billion orcs die, and then in this final installment of The Hobbit trilogy, you off the only dudes I was actually invested in?  That's cold man.  Cold.  Of course, I wasn't worried about Legolas. The lack of suspense for character well-being is a topic for a bit later, but I mean we all know he'll goes on to surf down an Olyphant trunk and be BFFs with Gimly, so I'm not about to waste my worries on him. But Thorin, Fili, and worst of all Kili, ugh, it's so bad I was almost tempted to make a pun about how you were Kili-ing me, but I stopped myself.  Thorin dies with honor, I guess, if you go in for that kind of thing.  I mean sure he goes crazy for too long, before he comes to his senses and he basically has the same death as Victor Frankenstein, but you know what, he went out like a champ. Still, RIP hottie Richard Armitage, even fake eyebrows can't hide your kind of handsome.  Then there's Fili, who, well, really, Fili, we hardly knew ya.  Even after roughly 5 hours, you only got, what, maybe 15 minutes of screen time and the rest of the time you were bunched in with the rest of hairy hoard.  Still, your dirty blond pseudo dreads and smirk stood out.  You deserved to at least go out after having a flagon of ale or singing a song.  But no, it was a sword arm to the gut and a drop to a rock ledge.  Ouch.

Finally, oh, this is painful, Kili.  Short, dark and as handsome as dwarves can be, Kili.  He had the kind of hot-but-don't-know-it swagger that makes even Elven beauty queen warriors go "heeeeyyy".  I was invested, even willing to be emotionally manipulated by the Tauriel-Kili storyline.  These two kids had everything going against them: an inherited mistrust of each others' races, a misinterpretation of sarcastic remarks, sometimes even prison bars, and you know what, still I rooted for them.  WHY ELSE INVENT A CHARACTER UNLESS IT'S TO GIVE THEM A HAPPY ENDING?!  But no, as the last gong of The Hobbit's death knells, Kili dies trying to protect Tauriel, obviously.  I kept thinking, no, he's not really dead.  Someone will save him.  Legolas' dad will give up his spiteful life to save this clearly-deserving dwarf.  But you know what?  Nothing happens.  He's dead.  And the closure the audience gets is Tauriel, in a very Maria-from-West-Side-Story way just saying "If this is love I don't want it" and begging Pie-Maker Elf "please, take away the pain.  Why does it hurt so much?"  and he barely manages to cover his condescension as he says "because it was real".  And that's it.  That's how that entire subplot ends.  The  remaining 15 minutes was basically just my brain saying "Whhhhhhaaaaattt????"  "No...he's still not really dead"  "Who gives a flick about the flicking Shire now? Of course these height-challenged yahoos are fine, they won't even be bothered by FLICKING SAURON...GO BACK TO KILI AND MAKE HIM LIVE".  But it didn't happen.  If this were a pick-your-own ending movie, I would have GLADLY traded 5 of those do-nothing dwarves for Kili and Tauriel to make it through.  And we never even find out what happens to the rest of the dwarves OR the elves.  For all I know, Tauriel is still on that mountain ledge holding on to Kili's skeleton hand.  Uh, whoever pitched that ending, I hope one day you have to run like three miles with hungry lions chasing you.  I mean I hope you make it out ok, but I hope you get chased by lions.

Aside from these issues, the rest of the film is also a mess, pretty much from beginning to end.  At first I thought, oh, this is being drawn out into a trilogy because the STUDIO wants it.  But now I think it's because Peter Jackson likes battle sequences too much to cut anything.  The dragon rampage of Lake Town is a lot of running and trampling and CGI fire but it seems like it's over, basically as soon as it begins.  Seriously, don't blink or go to the bathroom or you might miss Smaug.  After Bard manages to shoot down a dragon, a fact which seems like it could have used some celebration, the rest of the scenes feel very paint-by-numbers until, the titular battle begins.  Now, you'd think if a battle were important enough to appear after colons on a movie poster, that there might be some pomp and circumstance and build up.  But not so much.  All of the sides manage to gather at a seemingly-agreed upon time. It's like the fight between the news networks in the first Anchorman.  By the time the Orcs crest the hill, you basically just hear Tim Robbins voice saying "No Commercials, NO MERCY!" I feel like all of the battle scenes in the previous films benefited from better buildup and tension, a moment of Bang!  This one begins more with a fizzle, the scenes just melding into a dried paint goop as opposed to any sort of outline being visible.  I'll be honest, at the point when the battle began, I wasn't sure if I was even supposed to be keeping track of any of the characters any more.  The only thing I really thought before the final standoff between Azog and Thorin was "wait, are these Orcs wearing skull codpieces?  They're definitely wearing skull codpieces".  This is probably the clearest example that of all the films in this series this is the one that's the most about style over substance.  If you pad a film with enough moments that make an audience go "I want an oversized ram to get me up a mountain!" or "hey, WARBATS!" there's almost enough visual trickery to make you forget that there's really only enough plot to fill 20 minutes.

The entire ending is reliant on the audience being already familiar for the first trilogy.  Hey Legolas is going to find Stryder (!) whose name is mysteriously veiled by Thranduil, for, well for no reason.  If you're relying on the audience to know who he is, why not bother saying "Aragorn"?  Hey, look, the Eagles are back!  At this point I actually said "these fucking Eagles, always fashionably late." Hey look, young Bilbo turns in to Old Bilbo without any kind of vindicating send-off for a fantastic Martin Freeman. What happened, did Peter Jackson attend the  George Lucas School of Prequels and graduate with a degree in lazy nostalgia? Sorry, I think I'm just still steaming from Kili, because it was an absolutely senseless death, in case I hadn't made that perfectly clear.  But if there's one thing this film has in abundance, it's a feeling of senselessness.  It lilts and stumbles between subplots without ever worrying about making too many connections (Galadriel goes evil again! Wizard Battle! Hey Remember the Good Elf King! Bilbo has a ring!), the only effect of which is reminding you, "don't worry, you only need to know this for when you watch the three movies that will follow this one".  I guess I just feel that the other films in this series at least made an attempt to stand alone, while this one is basically just that stray puzzle piece that KIND of fits in the only remaining space, so you convince yourself that this IS the piece and not that you might have made a mistake 50 pieces ago.

The saddest part of all of this is that the truly wonderful cast is on the receiving end of a directorial disservice.  Every single person in this film gives a fantastic effort.  No one phones it in, with the exception of Billy Connolly who may or may not have been 80% CGI, it was hard to tell.  But few of them get a chance to make an emotional impact because there's only about 30 seconds of dialogue per 5 minutes of sword-swinging.  And unfortunately, those 30 seconds are usually wasted on a horrible character named Alfrid Lickspittle who is supposed to be some sort of comical version of Grima Wormtongue, which really just means that by the time he was stuffing his bra with gold coins I was actually pleading "Please let an Orc behead him", a plea which went unanswered.

I so badly wanted to be able to disagree with what most of the critics have been saying.  I mean I went to the theater BEFORE the film's scheduled release!  I ate nachos for dinner to be able to see it!  I still have a YM magazine from when the Fellowship of the Ring was released!  And yet, hear I am saying that, listen, if you're already committed to seeing the saga all the way through, go.  You have to, basically.  But it's probably not going to be what you want it to be.

So now excuse me while I pour one out for our fallen Dwarriors, and write some fan fic about how Tauriel and Kili get married and basically turn into Kauriel, Middle Earth's version of Kimye or Brangelina.

Overall 2.5 out of 5...bummer

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