Well, Filmdrunkards, it’s your old pal, Adam, again, recently released from the ole gimp box they keep down in the basement along with Burnsy’s tastefully nude Bea Arthur photo collection. I had asked Vince what his plans were considering a review of the Hobbit, and he literally vomited with rage. So he let me do it instead since he’d rather, and I quote, “have my eyelids forced open with hooks for a continuous screening of The Hangover III until the inevitable aneurysm gave me sweet relief.”
To start with, I’m definitely more of a fan of Jackson’s stuff than Vince is. The movie runtimes are obscene, but at least stuff happens. I don’t know how many writing exercises I’ve had to suffer through where I just wanted to scrawl “MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN” in big letters across every page because I had to read seven pages of a girl sitting on a bus thinking about her dead mom. The perfect stories are, in a nutshell, the ones where interesting characters do interesting things. Rarely do we get both, but out of the two I’d rather have the interesting things because that’s more fun to look at.
Now, with the Desolation of the Fireworks Factory, we already cross off one of the two big problems with the first movie. Pacing is no longer an issue. The movie’s still just shy of three hours, and they don’t actually get to the mountain until about an hour and fifty minutes in. But, damned if a lot of stuff doesn’t happen in those three hours! The plot constantly moves forward at a pretty good clip, so much so that I almost wished it would slow down and catch its breath. Then I remembered we can’t all be as coked up as Martin Freeman; some of us have to sleep eventually.
But because of its pacing, we don’t really fix the other big problem the first one had: character development. At least, not the kind of expansive development that matched the Ring trilogy. In the Lord of the Rings, each member of the company had some growth and a unique personality. With the Hobbit movies, they’re all kind of interchangeable with the exception of the main players (Thorin, Bilbo, Balin). Before they picked up Bilbo, I can imagine Thorin gathered them around and went, “OK, here’s how it goes. Dwalin’s the tough guy. Bombur’s the fat guy. Ori’s the wimpy one…” We get a new development with one the lesser dwarves in this one, but most of the others remain pretty static. When they were leaving Laketown for the mountain, one of them comments, “Where’s Bofur?” and I had no idea which one that was. Also Jackson still hasn’t moved past “hideous means evil” characterization. We know the Master of Laketown and his underling are bad people because one has a unibrow and wart while the other has Klingon facial hair and a face like the before in an acne cream commercial.
The silver lining to this is that the character development we do get is pretty good. Cracked ran an article recently saying Lord of the Rings should’ve followed Boromir instead since he was the most complex and vulnerable hero. That’s essentially what we get with Desolation. The first movie set Thorin up as willing to do anything for his people, but single-minded and proud. In this one, he still maintains that he’s just fighting for his people, but the closer they get to the mountain, the more it feels like that’s just a pretense hiding more selfish feelings. Sound familiar? It’s a great character arc, and Richard Armitage pulls it off wonderfully, although he still rarely gets to move beyond “uber-serious” mode. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen get to be Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen. Freeman has the greatest understated comedic expressions with some legitimately funny moments, and Ian McKellen probably doesn’t even need to be told what to do anymore. The guy probably takes a dump with more gravitas than I’ll ever be able to muster in my life. It may be his one note, but if your selling point is “Ian McKellen acts with gravitas”, that’s a damn good selling point.
On top of Armitage, McKellen, and Freeman, we also get the newcomers of Evangeline Lilly (I certainly gained a lonely mountain when she was on screen), Lee Pace, Luke Evans, the return of Orlando Bloom, holy shit that’s Stephen Fry, and of course, Benedict Cumberbatch as a fire-breathing otter (as well as the Necromancer). All of them do at least a good job. None of them are annoying, which is the least I can ask of new characters. Lilly in particular was nice because she’s actually an ass kicker, then Peter Jackson dashes that on the floor by giving her a weird romantic subplot. She falls in love with one of the dwarves (hint: the least hideous one) after about five minutes of meeting him. Legolas and Gimli ain’t got nothin’ on those race relations. At least she gets to save him, twice, instead of the standard “ass kicking female falls in love and stops kicking ass.”
Other than the characters, the sets look good, but there was one instance during the barrel ride sequence where it looks like it was shot with a GoPro taped to the outside, and there was a particularly bad CGI shot with Smaug. The musical choice immediately after for the credits didn’t really sync up well with the tone of the ending. The score in general was kind of annoying. It played over everything all the time. There’s that awesome line from the trailer where Luke Evans tells Armitage, “You have no right to enter that mountain,” and Armitage responds, “I have the only right.” Too bad I almost couldn’t hear it because of the SCORE SWELLS! In the first one, Vince complained about the battles usually ending because Gandalf decided to stop being a dick and hit the win button. In this one, Gandalf leaves the company, so suddenly they’re overcoming obstacles by wit, not the Staples easy button.
So at the end of the movie, those who like the Tolkien movies won’t find a lot to hate about this one. It moves faster than Unexpected Journey, there’s much better character growth, strong acting, and battles are actually won with wit not macguffins. I daresay even those who aren’t big Peter Jackson fans would like it. Of course, if anyone says they truly hate these movies, what they’re really saying is they hate three hours of Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen. These are not people to be trusted.
FINAL GRADE: B