The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

 

Let’s get this out of the way up front. The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies is not at good as the first 2 Hobbit films. But it provides much to enjoy and, as it’s the end of the trilogy, it delivers resolution.

2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a wonderful bit of light-hearted fun as the dwarves engaged Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to be their burglar. The mix of hilarity and peril was in perfect balance. The scene with Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) trading riddles is classic. Director Peter Jackson created a film that was beautiful to look at and set the table for further adventures.

2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ramped up the peril and introduced new characters, including the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Oliver Bloom) are brought aboard to provide eye candy. And the Laketown village was visually stunning.

The start of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings Smaug out of his cave to attack the Laketown village with fire and taunts. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that the dragon is decisively neutralized.

The film’s main course is battles aplenty. But there’s a problem: when all the various factions face off, you can’t always tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. It’s like in Syria, where so many factions are trying to gain traction. But, as in Syria where everybody opposes ISIS, so too in Hobbit III, everybody hates this one particular group of Orcs.

The final showdown up on the mountain involves several fierce one-on-one hand-to-hand battles. It’s classic, violent, enthralling stuff that provides the film’s real soul.

Afterward, Bilbo and Gandolph (Ian McKellan) hoof it back home where the locals are busy auctioning off Bilbo’s goods, presuming him dead. A brief coda flashes forward and provides a satisfying conclusion for the hobbit, setting him up for what’s to come in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One could argue that lengthy battle scenes with director Jackson’s terrific effects are what the audience wants. And one could reasonably argue that it’s appropriate for the Hobbit films to get progressively darker. But I still like the first 2 better.

 

 

 

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

 

The early Planet of the Apes movies had a cheesy look about them. Because the apes looked like guys with bad masks or prosthetics, it was hard to buy into the stories.

This is not the case in 2014. The apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes look like real apes. This makes the story easier to appreciate and enjoy. The entire team led by director Matt Reeves is to be congratulated for turning out a movie that has a great look.

In the future world depicted in DOTPOTA, following disease that has wiped out most of the human population, the apes have it together. Their ability to communicate is highly developed. Their community structure allows them to enjoy a relatively civil society. And they can still swing through trees!

Shortly after one ape wonders about the fate of humans, a small group of humans shows up in the apes’ domain, just north of a devastated San Francisco. The humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell), want to repair a hydroelectric dam to provide juice to SF. (The settings, including the sad future vision of the city by the bay, also look great.)

Initially, the two sides co-exist. But factions cause discord within each group and, ultimately, distrust between humans and apes diminishes.

Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) has a beef with ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) who tries to kill Caesar. And a leader of the surviving humans, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) has disagreements with other humans. These internal problems provoke some elements of the faceoff between the two main groups.

Whether you view the apes-versus-humans conflict as a metaphor for racial or religious differences in current society or as just a cool sci-fi future vision, you will be impressed. First, by the best depiction yet of the highly evolved apes of the future. And, second, by the overall look of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Why can’t we all just get along? Because our differences overwhelm what we have in common. As in real life, so things are and ever will be on the planet of the apes.