Everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for and more.
While some, including myself, might have been slightly underwhelmed by the first offering, let me just start by saying this movie is awesome. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for; expertly choreographed action sequences, more breath-taking set pieces, more characters complete with more character development and of course Smaug.
Thankfully Peter Jackson has reeled back on the forced LOTR references so annoying in An Unexpected Journey and allows The Desolation of Smaug to become it’s own magical, fantasy-filled beast. Picking up where the first instalment finished The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug finds Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin and the rest of the Dwarves (who I still have trouble telling apart let alone naming) still travelling east intent on reaching the Lonely Mountain before the ‘last light of Durin’s Day’ and re-installing Thorin Oakenshield as the rightful King Under the Mountain. Along they way they meet an assortment of beings of assorted shapes and sizes, most notably the giant spiders of Mirkwood and the less than welcoming wood elves, including Elvin archer Legolas (who is moodier and much more of a badass). Luckily Bilbo has his magic ring and is able to break the dwarves out and escape in empty wine barrels right under the noses of the rather lack lustre and drunk Elvin guards (who knew elves like to get on the sauce?). What follows is a spectacular, over-the-top barrel ride down a fast flowing river where the company are pursued not only by elves but orcs who have found them again. The absurdity of some of the stunts will have you laughing with the film, rather than at it (indeed some even clapped in the viewing I attended). Bilbo and the dwarves escape but not without injury and make it to human Lake Town and more importantly one step closer to the Lonely Mountain. The movie spends more time in Lake Town than the book did but this does allow for an excellent cameo by Stephen Fry as master of Lake Town. Then it is on to the Lonely Mountain and finally the reveal of Smaug.
With almost a two movie build to this reveal there was a danger of it being a colossal disappointment but Jackson handled the gem-encrusted Smaug and his golden lair with expert hands. The images on screen are genius and straight out of the most vivid imaginations. Smaug (voiced with seductive evil by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo’s exchange of dialogue is one of the best scenes of the movie. Indeed the movie is at it’s best when the extensive scenery and action are dialled down to let the diminutive hero of the story shine. Freeman seems to get the duality of hobbits better than any who’ve donned the big feet and ears so far. His nervous reticence combined with constant look of bewilderment serve well to contrast the great acts of bravery hobbits are capable of making. As Tolkien suggests, it is not your size but the size of your heart that defines you.
This second instalment in The Hobbit trilogy is fantastic eye candy and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. However, it does still have its issues; at 161 minutes long this film is not for the weak of bladder and some points feel slightly dragged out, especially when the film diverges from the events of the book. Having said that, Evangeline Lilly’s original Elvin character Tauriel really is an inspired addition. As pretty much the only female in the movie Tauriel dominates over her male counterparts not only in combat but compassion and sincerity. And the hint of interspecies romance is a nice touch.
Knowing where this film ends, I have to wonder what Jackson and his team will come up with to fill another three hours in There And Back Again. But regardless of my reservations, I will be waiting with eager anticipation for the conclusion to the series, just as I will be waiting eagerly in line to see The Desolation of Smaugonce again.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom
Released by: Warner Bros.
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes