Review Roundup - Battle fatigue


So here we are once again, staring into the abyss. While the first Hobbit adventure had a lot of problems, the second chapter in this series is what all but killed my enthusiasm to watch the finale. I suppose in a way closure was required even if there was an increasing sense that the origins of this two part story had started to show some time ago, and the limits of what could be added to the proceedings to increase the running time were almost at breaking point. A battle taking centre stage was the first warning sign it had nearly ran out of steam, but giving things the benefit of the doubt is a problem I often have. There was still time to write some characterisation, right? Surely they could pull themselves together and give the trilogy a send off worthy of the legacy set by the brand names involved. But this is an almost completely problematic film in the trilogy, and I use the word film quite loosely here.

There are several plot threads to be brought to a conclusion, and none of them are done with any kind of finesse or in a way that is particularly satisfying. Saruman and his pals arrive at the fortress in Mirkwood and fight off the forces of evil with some hilarious magic effects and staff twirling skills, purely to give the story an unnecessary tie in the the previous trilogy. The inclusion of this subplot was never a real concern to me since the lore has a lot of interesting places to show us, but it's clearly filler at this stage like so much of this. Characters are introduced and forgotten in minutes and some scenes of action are so brief that in a film overloaded with fighting some cuts could have easily been made. At this stage it's hardly worth complaining but character moments are almost non existent. To finish off any sense of good pacing the dragon from part two is killed off so quickly that it's hard to see why they kept it from the last film, and the rest of the story is taken up with unconvincing battle scenes and a handful of melodramatic loose ends like the heavy handed greed... no sorry "dragon sickness" of Thorin and worse still the return of some forced romance which adds even less to the plot. Once again most of the other Dwarves have zero dialogue, in comparison to the numerous characters in The Fellowship who had defined (if at times shallow) personalities. You could probably say a lot about Merry or Sam, but who were Dwalin and Bombur except makeup appliances?

But this is a battle, as the title suggests. And yes, it delivers lengthy sequences where the forces of men, Elves, Dwarves, goblins and eagles face off against each other. But these suffer from the same computer generated, colour corrected feeling as the rest of the sequences - it's over done and has too much bloom lighting or glow effects. Giant creatures smash the scenery, but the tactile feeling of the cave troll or giant spider scenes from the other movies has been lost. By being able to do more the wizards working in post production have made a spectacle which has no impact, no grit. Adding to the issues here are the other elements which make this film so inconsistent and headache inducing - the tone. This is where real cuts would have been made if they had a shorter film to release, particularly the out of place comedy characters that feature so heavily. The worst offenders have to be the lake town residents but there are pieces throughout that seem like they are padding, and should have been lost in the edit to reduce the stop-start feeling in the narrative. It drains the tension and reduces the impact of battle deaths that were already quite ineffectual. But this all shows the real problem, with so many superfluous scenes and so little in terms of real drama this wasn't meant to be a film at all, this is an off cut, a finale stretched out to become a third entry in a trilogy, a third act inflated beyond what works as a story just for business purposes.


THE GUEST (2014)

Adam Wingard's follow up to You're Next offers the same kind of violent thrills of and off key black comedy but has a stronger sense of identity. Which is funny considering the storyline about an ex-military man who may not be who he says he is. A family in mourning takes in a friend of their dead son who has claims to have made him a promise to look out for them after his service ends. And at first he does; things going pretty well for them. He solves their problems, boosts their morale, and is generally helpful and charismatic. Even if there is something clearly wrong with the guy when his violent side appears they let his stay just the same. Their daughter is suspicious however, and as her concerns slowly become reality things begin to take a turn for the worse. This isn't a fresh plot with secret army projects and mysterious strangers featuring in a lot of other stories, but it's engaging and fun in a shlocky kind of way, and the lead does a good job at being that friendly helper with something hidden under the surface - he's the most engaging element by far. The film offers a lot of high contrast primary coloured lighting and plenty of synth music which give it an older vibe, and I suspect them makers are John Carpenter fans. It gets very silly towards the end but it doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you don't either there is plenty to enjoy.