How can something so impressive leave me feeling underwhelmed? I wanted to like this movie a whole lot more, but I'm mostly just mildly disappointed.
There was a lot to like in this movie, mostly in the first twenty minutes. Don't get me wrong, the epic battle that lasted for most of the second and third acts of the film was amazing, but it was also familiar and occasionally looked fake. The first part though? Well, that was just awesome. It should really have been the final moments of the last film, but Jackson must have thought for some reason that it was the wrong note on which to end The Desolation of Smaug.
I'm not here to rip this movie to shreds, because that's not the message I want to convey. It was a technical achievement, it was an end to a fifteen-year-long journey, it was the final nod to a franchise that has captured the imagination of the world, and it did its job in spectacular fashion. I had no major problems with the plot or the acting. I had some issues with the directing, but nothing major. But I think the pacing was off, and so was the focus. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact I had no emotional connection to this particular installment.
It's been a year since the last movie, and there was no recap. There were no significant emotional moments in the beginning of the film that connected me to the characters we've gotten to know over two movies. The entire first act was taken up by Bard and his journey. Even though I loved that segment, I feel it segregated our main characters from the action in a rather unpleasant way. Now I imagine this is also true of the book, but there were some choices that didn't make sense to me.
For as talented as Jackson is, there was an absence of his usual attention to detail and character. If this had been an action franchise movie, I probably would've been okay with the total lack of explanation and to a degree logic behind the actions of the characters. But not here, not for this franchise. I expected more. I didn't understand the motivations and the simple reasons behind one of the main characters' choices. Sure, you can simply say 'magic' and that's an explanation, but it is a piss poor one. I know I'm dancing around spoilers now, and that means I should probably just stop my current rant. So I'll leave it with this; if you are going to completely change a character, let that change at least make some sense, and don't write it off to some mystical disease that isn't really a disease! Sigh.
I guess I should probably mention the other major flaw with this movie: the effects. For the most part, this movie featured the most gorgeous battle sequences I've ever seen, with attention paid to both bigger battles and more intimate fights between the foes that have been set up since the beginning of the series. Most of these fight sequences were treated with a deliberate and attentive hand, with the highest polish on effects that couldn't be done practically.
That is, except when those effects just didn't work, and the rubbery CGI showed its ugly face. There were times where things looked so unreal that if I had come into the theater during that sequence I might have thought this was an animated feature. The worst offenses were when CGI took over the actions of the human characters, and my god, did they look wrong. To be fair, these shots were better executed than a lot of movies that have attempted the same type of visual trickery, but they were still not even remotely convincing.
I guess the overall package wasn't the issue here. It was just a few badly chosen elements that spoiled the experience for me. Perhaps the source material isn't as strong as The Lord of the Rings, or perhaps it just doesn't translate as well to a big screen. Did Jackson add too much, or take away too much in the end? I honestly can't answer that question, but I'd like to know. But no matter the answer, I am left torn and disappointed. On one hand this was a very good series that ties beautifully to The Lord of the Rings. On the other, it is a poorly paced mishmash of good ideas and iffy execution.
Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) wasn't quite as amazing as she was in the second movie, but she definitely stood out. At the same time her character arc felt a bit under-written, as if her big emotional discovery wasn't fully set up.
Perhaps the coolest scene outside of the opening conflict was the rescue of Gandalf. It really showed what the major powers of the realms could do, and I wish we could've seen more of that.
There was a secondary human character that kept showing up and doing shady things. I'm not sure there was a point to his character, as in, I think if they had edited him out entirely, the movie would've flowed better. Much like the human antagonists in the previous film. I assume he was a book character that fans would've been upset over being cut out.
Thranduil: "So this is the Halfling who ate my food and stole keys from my guard."
Bilbo: "Yes. Sorry about that."
Despite everything I said above, this is still a very enjoyable experience that I do recommend.
3 out of 4 Epic moments of mighty heroism
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.