The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review

So this should be, in theory, the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s middle earth double trilogy extravaganza. In some ways I’m relieved. Instead of The Battle of the Five Armies maybe this should have been called Elves v Orcs: The Final Smackdown, although as events happen before The Lord of the Rings it’s not really a final anything.

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The title gives away all you need to know. Following events of the last film where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves – led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) – managed to wind up the dragon Smaug, who then took off to torch the nearby Laketown, home to the manly Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), we pick things up mid action where the dragon is wreaking havoc.

Bard does his thing with a bow, some elves pile in to help and the dwarves, realising the dragon (spoiler!) is dead, retreat into the mountain to claim the gold for themselves. We then end up in a sort of Middle Earth Mexican standoff, with elves and laketown men outside the mountain demanding the dwarves give up some of the booty. At the same time Sauron is on the rise (initially as a necromancer hellbent on keeping Gandalf locked in some sort of birdcage) and so he sends orcs and trolls and other beasties to claim the mountain for its strategic value.

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With this (hopefully) being the final outing of Middle Earth, you can see Peter Jackson and the gang have put a lot of love into the making of this film and they really don’t want to let this world go. Yet go it must. And with the final film being basically an epic battle, the challenge was to ensure the audience can find a way in – if it’s just elves and dwarves smashing into orcs then we’ll have moved too much into Michael Bay territory, which no one wants to do.

The key to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was that, at every step of the way, you really cared about each and every one of the characters. They got lots of screen time to develop, so that when they got into battle situations you wanted them to make it. I am not sure the same can be said as much for The Hobbit trilogy, particularly this final film. As ever, Bilbo is our way in and the story is (mostly) told from his point of view. With so much going on in terms of dragons, battles and so on, he gets a little lost, in the same way he did in the preceding film, The Desolation of Smaug.

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Granted, he gets a few good moments, but it almost seems (despite the film being the third in a bloated trilogy) that he doesn’t get the time on screen we’d like him to have. Also, Jackson doesn’t tug on our heart strings in anywhere near the same way he did for the Rings films. Perhaps it’s just the nature of this type of story. It’s a journey to a mountain, a face off with a dragon, then a big battle. And that is that.

In order to inject a bit more emotion for the audience Jackson introduced a female elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) in the last film. She got a bit of a love story with the best-looking dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), and that was further developed this time round. Book purists will probably sneer at this, but I honestly didn’t mind it. She was a good addition as a character and helped give the audience an emotional outlet – as Tauriel’s chemistry with Kili felt genuine, unforced and refreshing in an otherwise testosterone laden environment.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Throughout the five armies battle (dwarves, elves, men, orcs and, er, bats and eagles possibly?), the most interesting battles were the one on one contests, as we can relate to them. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) gets his fair share, as do a few of the dwarves and elves, leaving the best one to Thorin, facing off against what can only be described as a giant orc with anger management issues.

Originally this story was written as a children’s book, an adventurous romp with perhaps a few scary bits, but overall something that was designed to entertain. I think perhaps, in order for Jackson to tie up the two trilogies, he’s moved the tone quite quickly from adventure to something altogether darker and more brooding. There’s a few moments where the playful exuberance you’d have hoped he would bring to it comes out (the barrels down the river sequence in the second film springs to mind), yet these are occur less and less as the trilogy wears on.

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There’s basically no fun to be had in this final film at all. You could say it’s a big battle so that’s to be expected, but just the odd line or two to lighten to mood wouldn’t have gone amiss. Jackson managed this perfectly well in the Rings trilogy, why not here too?

Ultimately, there’s some inventive moments to this film (Thorin’s descent into madness is quite well handled for example), yet it half collapses under its own seriousness. And you get the sense that the filmmakers are so sad that they’ll no longer be making these movies anymore, their sadness seeped through into the film’s overall tone – which made for a slightly depressing ending in a way.

X-Men: Days of Future Past review

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Mystique-with-water-pistol-680x425So… How do you discuss the new X-Men film without giving too much away? Well that’s easy, throw in time travel. Always guaranteed to confuse all but the most hardened of moviegoers. And indeed confuse was the case in the cinema I went to; a full house with the audience all sitting quietly, leaning forward focusing.

The reason being is that this is one densely plotted film, by X-Men standards at least. Dense and tense. Most of this plotting is a good thing but requires you – in the words of Sister Mary Clarence a la Sister Act 2 – to sit up and pay attention. Those devilish trousers of time. If you go back you’ll affect the present, or create a new future, or something. Either way, it must have made for a right headache when planning the plot.

To recap: the events of this film happen around a decade after First Class but we’re brought up to speed with a serious voiceover in an apocalyptic future,xmen-dofp-review-02-600x399 one where sentinels were created which could adapt to any mutant talent, making them perfect killing machines. Facing extinction the last remaining mutants send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time (into his younger self) to the 1970s to stop the scientist behind the sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), from creating them in the first place.

So far so very Terminator right?

Except here we have Wolverine playing the confused ‘come with me if you want to live’ role, one where he needs to bring together James McAvoy’s Charles (wallowing in a pit of self loathing following events in First Class) and Michael Fassbender’s Erik (incarcerated in a maximum security prison having become a man who doesn’t compromise when it comes to safeguarding the mutant race).

This is clever writing. Instead of Wolverine in beserker animal mode he has to play peacekeeper, mediator between two men who, in future Magneto’s words, ‘couldn’t be further apart’.X_Men_Days_Future_Past_13838031567965 So Wolverine is scaled back and used sparingly – present in most scenes, but this is not quite his story.

So it’s not all introspective soul searching, we also have Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique, also hellbent on stopping Trask, but having to choose which path to take to do it: Charles’s compassion on the one side or Magneto’s uncompromising nature on the other.

Bryan Singer, the man who kicked this franchise off in 2000 is back directing (following his departure after X2 in 2003) and it’s clear his love for the characters hasn’t diminished. If anything, absence makes the heart grow fonder and this is an impressive end (if that’s what it is) to this chapter of the franchise. And he’s savvy enough to give us what we need in terms of action, but also realise his vision by keeping the focus on the story and relationships above all else, particularly the triumvirate of Raven, Charles and Erik.???????????? It’s a brave move and – hopefully if the public respond and go see it – a clever one.

Despite the usual gargantuan line-up of characters, this is ultimately McAvoy and Lawrence’s movie in terms of performances: him all brooding and wounded, her confused and misguided anger. Throw in Fassbender’s intensity and you’ve got the perfect blockbuster pressure cooker.

Most (ok, a lot) of modern blockbusters have an engaging opening act, a compelling and thrilling middle, then sort of trail off in the final third or, more annoyingly sometimes, have a weak, infuriating and unsatisfying ending. Refreshingly Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg deliver a rather quite touching scene to bring the overall story full circle, leaving it in the best possible place for the future.

And, with almost a clean slate from here on out, where will they take these characters next? It’s an exciting prospect to ponder.