The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

This poster looks about as computer-edited as the film itself.
This poster looks about as computer-edited as the film itself.

Okay, so having just seen this film a few hours ago, I wanted to post a couple of impressions I came away with.  Please be aware of potential spoilers.

  1. Distance and scale in this film seemed wildly out of whack.  More orcs than were at Helm’s Deep seemed to be available for this conflict, but 13 dwarves can make a difference?  A little confusing.  What’s that, Bilbo’s at Erebor?  Now he’s at Dale?  Back at Erebor again?  Oh, and now he’s gone to meet Thorin on the mountaintop.  Well, good thing that battle’s still going on.
  2. Excessive use of CGI.  I know this has been a major concern for me in the Hobbit films, when compared with the amount of physical effects used in Lord of the Rings, but Battle of the Five Armies had some especially egregious examples.  Excessively airbrushed Legolas jumping off falling blocks in mid-air like a mid 2000’s platformer game; a host of identical computer generated wood-elves running around in the background of any shot of Gandalf and Bilbo; also, I hope you like ever-shiny CGI gold that never looks quite right, because there sure will be a lot of it, just like last time.  If you’re going to have a treasure horde that is bigger than all the gold that exists on Earth (no really, look it up), then please make sure it looks like actual gold.
  3. Padded out plot.  I still feel like the Hobbit films would have made a single film of decent length, or at the very least two films.  I cannot shake the impression that every film has at least 30 minutes of material included just to pad it out.  This film includes such highlights as an entire storyline with Alfrid Lickspittle, otherwise known as the Master of Laketown’s weird Wormtongue-light assistant, that basically goes no-where and has no conclusion or real comeuppance for an incredibly annoying character.  His story could really have been sorted with a 3 minute scene ending in some form of humiliation, but alas, it was not to be.  I think Peter Jackson has some strange obsession with these frustrating characters.  This film also shows how pointless it was to introduce Bolg in the last film, only for Azog (of Defiling fame) to once again become lead villain in this film.  Yet another wasted scene.

Just a few observations, hastily typed up after watching.  Let me know whether you agree or not in the comments!

Review: Justice League: War

Cover art copyright Warner Home Video.
Cover art copyright Warner Home Video.

I just finished watching Justice League: War, and I thought I’d post up a few comments about it.

Let me first say that while I am a big comics nerd, my love for comics generally lies with Marvel, so I haven’t read a great many DC comics, with the exception of big stand-alone titles, such as Batman: Year One, Superman: Red Son, Kingdom Come, etc…; I find DC’s monthly fare to be pretty substandard, but they tend to do iconic stories about their heroes very well, and they’re often a joy to read. DC does well when it paints in broad strokes and tells me about the characters that I care about doing interesting and different stuff.  I want to see Batman, Superman and the rest of the big names in DC pushed to their limit or doing incredible things, not just going through their weekly routine of fighting villains and bumping into 2nd and 3rd string characters who I really don’t understand or care about.

It’s for this reason I’m often so enamoured with the DC animated/cinematic universes, despite not following the characters anywhere near as closely as I do Marvel’s.  These offerings tend to either be new takes on existing material, in an attempt to pull in a new audience, something which I always find interesting to watch, or a rendering of an iconic past story, which is generally where I feel the Justice League and their ilk get interesting.

So, that said, I was excited to watch Justice League: War, knowing pretty much nothing about it, other than it was the latest DC Animated Original Movies offering, which is normally enough to make me want to watch it.  As the plot started to spin up, I was surprised to find that I had actually encountered this storyline before, and after a quick wiki, I found that Justice League: War is based on the New 52’s Justice League: Origins storyline, which I had read a couple of issues of back when it came out.  I wasn’t particularly impressed with the comics when I read them, but I was happy to condense them into an hour or so of animated fun.

If there’s one phrase that I feel fully encapsulates Justice League: War it’s “hit and miss”.  Some characters were artfully portrayed, most specifically Batman and Green Lantern, who had some real character development throughout the film and some good banter in the beginning which really hooked me in.  Wonder Woman as well was pretty excellent; although her character doesn’t progress through much of an arc, she’s one of the most entertaining characters in the film.   Cyborg was interesting, but the film maybe lingered on him a bit too much.  His concept is pretty simple, and I felt that time could have been better used for rounding out other characters a little more.

Other members of the League were pretty uninspiring; Flash became pretty much boiled down to “fast-guy”, which I guess he is, but I would have liked to have known anything about him as a character.  As it stands, he just shows up, runs fast, and pings a few lines off of Green Lantern.  Shazam/Captain Marvel (they never call him the latter in the film) was also a weird one; he’s probably my number 1 DC hero, and I want him included in as many things as I can, but given that they gave almost no time to explaining what he was or how his powers worked, or anything really, he was pretty uninspiring, especially in a film that also has Superman as a main character.  I guess Shazam’s powers are pretty much 90% throwing balls of lightning around now?

The worst offender was in fact Superman himself.  If there’s one thing that’s important across any iteration of Superman, it’s that he be a “boyscout”, that he is essentially trying to be a nice guy.  He doesn’t always have to know how to do that, or what the right thing to do is in every situation, but he has to be trying to be the best he can be; he’s not smart, he’s just a good guy.  I would say that this film (or perhaps just Superman post New 52, I’m not 100% sure since I can’t say I’ve kept up with it) does the worst job of portraying Superman than any I’ve seen.  I’ve read and listened to a lot of commentary around Man of Steel, and a lot of people comment there about the destruction caused and people who die, and also the ending, but in that film, those things happen because he is trying to do the right thing, but doesn’t know how to do it, or what it is, at least not all the time.  In Justice League: War, Superman is just a cocky asshole; we’re introduced to him by having him beat the tar out of Green Lantern and Batman, without a word really traded between them, and he just continues to punch and destroy throughout the whole film, only pausing to try and get into Wonder Woman’s pants, like some popped-collar frat boy who just happened to come from Krypton.  I’ve never seen a portrayal of Superman that strays further from what I feel he should be.

There were definitely some cool scenes in this film, and I would recommend that anyone who likes the Justice League or just superhero films in general give it a watch.  Some of the final battle stuff with Darkseid is pretty excellent, but once again, he is a character who gets almost no explanation; we just have to accept that he really wants to take over Earth.  He has no connection with any of the other characters and almost no dialogue, and because of this, I don’t really feel he has much of a presence in the film.  He could be any other really strong villain.

Finally, I would say that, like a lot of offerings that include a significant team of DC superheroes, it begins to feel pretty awkward pretty quickly whenever Batman gets involved in a big fight.  We all know he’s an incredible guy. with some incredible skills, but this film tends to treat him as much the same as any of the other heroes in terms of the action.  It goes so far as to make it pretty explicit that the other heroes are shocked he’s just a guy in a cape, but he can apparently punch out Parademons with the best of them.  Maybe I’m being picky, but I think it’s fine for Batman to accept he’s outclassed in a straight up fight against certain enemies, and be thinking of a way to win without having to punch a 10 foot tall armoured space monster.

All in all, I would say Justice League: War is good, but with some really glaring problems that seriously impact on my enjoyment of it, and when compared to some of the other recent DC animated works, such as Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, really starts to show its flaws.

Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Poster art copyright belongs to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros.
Poster art copyright belongs to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros.

I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Wednesday last week, and have been mulling it over in my head since. The problem with it as a film is that I am inevitably going to compare it with one of the best film series of recent years, everyone’s favourite, Lord of the Rings. And I don’t think it’s unfair to do so, after all, it’s the same people making the Hobbit and, as you will probably realise if you’ve seen it, it very much wants you to have seen Lord of the Rings before watching it. The problem with that is, however, that I’m not entirely sure The Hobbit stands quite as tall (hurr, hurr) as its predecessor.

Before I go to deeply into any flaws I feel the film might possess, I would first like to say that The Hobbit was an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable film that probably still rates among my top 5 films this year. It was as visually impressive as we’ve come to expect from these film-makers, and did a spectacular job of bringing the fantasy world of Middle Earth to life once again, and while I may have some gripes with all the extra material added into the film, which I will go into later, I loved seeing all the edges of the setting brought into the limelight (for instance, I’m yet to speak to anyone who didn’t love Radagast).

However, that said, I don’t think I can give The Hobbit a 100% approval rating. Firstly, I feel I need to point in the direction of its somewhat contorted story. While Lord of the Rings took a long story and kept it together in a continuous and tight trilogy, the Hobbit is really stretching to find material to fill the screentime. At around 2 hours and 50 minutes long, it’s certainly carrying on the tradition of long films, but I’m not sure that the source material really has enough interesting events and plot to fill all that time, and they’re very much reaching out to other books in the Tolkien mythology to fill the gaps. While this does mean that we get to see things that previous films may have only left to the imagination, the constant cuts away from what feels like the main plot to other events, often happening far in the past of the current story left me feeling somewhat disjointed. It’s like watching a film with all the scenes normally reserved for the DVD special edition included. Sure, it’s a lot of interesting and awesome stuff, but I can’t help feeling like I should be saying “yeah, I can see why they cut this out”. It doesn’t flow and constantly distracts from what feels like it should be the main plot.

Now, it could certainly be that I’m just mistaking Bilbo’s journey with the Dwarves to fight Smaug as the central plot, and in fact what is happening in the background is actually more key to what’s going on than I’m giving it credit for, but if so, they’re very much depending on the goodwill Lord of the Rings has generated for people to come back and see that payoff. I feel they definitely could have worked harder to make the extraneous scenes feel more integral to the film.

In addition, there seemed to be a lot of assumptions that you would know who these characters were from the previous films. Now, I don’t know how hard it would be for a person coming fresh to these films to pick up on who is who, since neither myself nor anyone I know has managed to avoid the LotR trilogy, and to be honest, I doubt I’ll ever know, but characters like Gandalf, Saruman and Galadriel are presented with little or no explination as to why they are figures of such importance in the mythos. Obviously, a lot can be picked up from inference, but I wonder if new viewers would be left a little lost as to who these characters are, and why the things they say are given such weight within the film.

If it feels like I’m just trying to find flaws within the film, don’t be surprised, because mostly that’s what I’m doing. The Hobbit is altogether an excellent film and does a great job of showing the universe of Tolkien’s mythology while still managing to have a central plot and story, even if it does seem to briefly go awry in places. The visuals are, as always, spectacular and while the film may rely heavily on its viewers having seen the preceding films, I’m not sure I can entirely criticize it for that. After all, if you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings at this point, may I suggest your first port of call should be a shop to pick up the trilogy (probably for the price of a cinema ticket nowadays…) and marathon that first.

In short, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is great viewing. Dramatic, funny and interesting, it’s well worth the price of admission, although I’m not sure it really stacks up as well compared to its epic predecessors.

Also, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

(I’ll get back to talking about RPGs soon, I promise. I just need to play some!)