Category Archives: Fanboy Movie Review

Fanboy Movie Review #4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Most of the time with these reviews I watch the movie only once, but let’s be real here…it’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it twice at the time of this writing. And as always, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

star-wars-episode-vii-the-force-awakens

Great! What does that mean, exactly?

Just as we thought, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed shattered all sorts of box office records. Considering the dark, yawning abyss of the prequel trilogy (easily the greatest cinematic disappointment of folks my age), I went into this movie with neutral to low expectations. Fortunately, I had avoided spoilers with ninja-like online reflexes. J.J. Abrams is normally very good at what he does, but Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t work for me on many levels, so it was with a fortified and guarded heart that I entered the move theatre.

First Impressions: I took the movie trailers with a grain of salt.  Phantom Menace’s trailer is still one of the best of all time, and we saw how that movie turned out. But, Disney is distancing itself from the prequels as well as tapping into the vast well of nostalgia that folks of my generation have for the original trilogy.

Rey-and-Finn

Real guys don’t look at explosions…

What I Liked:

  • THE ACTING! Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. I really can’t say enough good things about the new folks. Absolutely amazing. Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors of all time, and his return to Han Solo is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him in years.
  • The fan service. I won’t lie, I enjoyed seeing throwbacks from the original. Seeing Han walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing him with Leia again. All those things really struck my nostalgia vein, even if I felt like they took it a bit far at times (see below).
  • The cinematography is gorgeous. They really used a good mix of practical and digital effects to push the story forward without it feeling like just a CGI beauty contest with no substance underneath.
  • BB-8. I didn’t think I would like him because he was an obvious stand-in for R2-D2. I was wrong. BB-8 is awesome and had a similar-but-different-enough personality from R2. *flashes a lighter in a thumbs up*
  • The moment when Rey calls the lightsaber to her to face Kylo Ren. When she ignites it for the first time…this is perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, and that’s saying something. Wow. Again, Daisy Ridley. Totally sold.
  • Chewy’s rage. When a Wookie sees his best friend go down, fear for your freakin’ life. I just wish there had been more of it. Also, Leia feeling Han’s death through the Force. It was as though a billion fanboy voices cried out at the death of a fan favorite.
  • The emotion. After suffering through Manikin Skywalker, it is SO refreshing to see fear, happiness, pain, and sadness on the faces of our heroes. It brings it all home.

 

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Fine, just don’t take off the mask.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The similarities to Episode IV. It’s been said before, so I’ll keep this one brief. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that it takes perhaps too many cues from the original trilogy, right down to bringing in the Death Star by another name. My hope is that Episode VIII can do something else that doesn’t feel like a remake of what has gone before.
  • Lightsaber usage. They are one of the coolest weapons ever, but they are super impractical if you don’t have training. You are more likely to lop off your own leg than do anything to an enemy. Both Finn and Rey use lightsabers without any sort of training and actually do pretty well for themselves. Rey even bests Kylo Ren (who himself was trained by Luke). That was a bit hard to swallow. Luke didn’t have a lightsaber duel with anyone until the end of Empire, and that was at least after his training with Yoda.
  • The score. When I think of incredible movie scores, John Williams springs immediately to mind. Even through the wasteland of Phantom Menace, we at least got Duel of the Fates, one of the coolest pieces of movie music ever. Here, the score was just sort of ‘there’ and the moments where it really shines are really just rehashes of previous leitmotifs. It’s serviceable enough, but not really memorable. That’s disappointing.
  • Captain Phasma. She was billed as kind of a new kind of Boba Fett, and it’s Gwendoline Christie for crying out loud! She’s barely in it, and gets coerced into dropping the shields pretty easily. Why was she not the one that Finn fought with the lightsaber instead of random Stormtrooper #34, I’ll never know. Let’s hope she’s still alive because she had better play a bigger role in the next installment.
  • Kylo Ren. I appreciate that he’s not a mustache twirling villain, but I think Adam Driver was a complete miscast for this part. He is an able actor, but when he took his mask off for the first time, I thought “Wait, did they get Marilyn Manson to play this guy?” He’s whiny, he’s petulant, emo, and ignores the call of the light side of the Force for reasons we haven’t found out yet. Aside from looking completely badass with his mask on (which he certainly does), he doesn’t seem like he’s very good at being a bad guy. The only reason he gets Han is because he sucker punches him. Functionally, as the villain of the story, he’s pretty weak. With the heroes being miraculously good at what they do, he’s really out of his league.
  • General Hux. This guy is the most experienced commander the First Order has at its disposal? Despite being young and unimpressive, he is the direct analogue to Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. He falls far short of anything approaching Tarkin’s screen presence or gravitas. Again, a complete miscast.
  • Han’s Death. It was a powerful moment to be sure, but one that was painfully telegraphed ahead of time. And THEN there is no real moment of mourning or ceremony to mark the passing of a legend. I understand the emotion surrounding it all, but that seemed like a lackluster end for a fan favorite. In a movie that doesn’t seem to take a whole lot of risks, and one that is all about fan service, killing off Han Solo seems like it is necessary only because Obi-Wan died in Episode IV.

Unresolved Questions (At Least in My Mind):

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More than I can count, I have.

Where to start? The movie leaves so many things unexplained. If I numbered them out, this blog post could wallpaper the Starkiller Base, so here’s just the highlight reel. Who left Rey on Jakku, and why? Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter? If so, who is her mother? Or is she the twin to Ben Solo? Why did Ben turn to the dark side? Did no one (Luke, I’m looking at you) ever tell Ben that Anakin turned from the dark side before he died? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? (The horrible Star Wars name generator strikes again!) How does Finn fit into all of this? Why did Han go to see Maz when BB-8 knew where the Resistance base was? Why was the Hosnian system so important that destroying it could ‘destroy the Republic,’ a polity which presumably consists of thousands of systems? How could the First Order, a shadow of the old Empire, build something as massive as Starkiller Base without anyone noticing? Why had they not used the super weapon before this time if it was already loaded? Why don’t they just drain a system’s sun and leave the planets to die in the cold? The list goes on and on. Let’s hope that Mr. Abrams doesn’t repeat the mistake with Lost and actually explains to us what’s going on.

Let’s Talk About Rey:

rey

There…is…annoootherr…Sky…walllkeerrr…

The character of Rey is pretty divisive, it seems. Is she a Mary Sue? Is she OP? Is the whole debate over her inherently gender-biased? Would we even have this discussion if the character were male?

Here are my thoughts: Yes, she does seem to be good at everything. She’s a good pilot, hand-to-hand fighter, mechanic, climber, pistol shot, etc. She picks up Force powers with no training, and she bests Kylo Ren when she has never wielded a lightsaber before. It does seem a bit unbelievable, but it is a movie called ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Rey is obviously more steeped in the Force than anyone else around her. Isn’t that enough for us to suspend our disbelief?

But there’s something else going on here that I think is important. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has starships and lasers and Wookies, but at its core, Star Wars is really a fantasy tale. A straight-up Joseph Campbell Monomyth. So, I think the character should be judged by fantasy standards. If we take Rey and plop her down into Middle-Earth or Krynn, do any of the arguments against her have validity?

Do we really question that Eowyn is able to take down the Witch-King of Morgul? What about Tauriel? We buy that she is excellent at everything (except perhaps picking a significant other) and practically indestructible just because she’s an elf. Why is Rey any different? Here we have a cool female protagonist that’s interesting, heroic, brave, athletic, and one that is not portrayed in a exploitative or sexualized manner.

We have been waiting for a character like Rey to come along. And if there’s going to be someone like her in popular fandom, Star Wars is the natural place for her to live.

 

Conclusions: 

star-wars-the-force-awakens-wallpaper-1920x1200

Oh, so THAT’s why Luke isn’t on the movie poster.

It always does my heart good to see good work rewarded. The last few years have made me a bit cynical on this point, particularly due to Michael Bay’s hatchet job on the Transformers franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie, and I wish it well.

It is far from a perfect movie, however, and its flaws led me to merely like it a whole bunch rather than love it like the first Avengers. Still, it is wholly worth the price of admission. I plan to see to see it at least one more time before it leaves the theatres.

But walking out of the movie theatre twice, with all the feels I’ve carried with me, has made me wish that the name “A New Hope” hadn’t already been taken.

Onward to Episode VIII!

And that’s how this fanboy sees it.


Fanboy Game Review #1 – Fallout 4

[Note: I do not consider myself a game critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Oh, and there are some mild SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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War never changes, but the UI certainly does.

Fallout 4 is big news in the media. It’s all over YouTube, news outlets, and TV. There’s a promotional Nuka Cola Quantum soda available at Target (if you lined up at 8:00 am on the day the game came out). Conan O’Brien even donned a Vault-Tec jumpsuit and Pip-Boy to give his take on the game. While reviews overall are mixed, with passionate viewpoints on both sides of the fence, I decided to put my two cents in about this blockbuster video game release.

So, here we go…

First Impressions:  Bethesda has a pretty good track record. Let’s see…Oblivion, Fallout 3, and FREAKIN’ SKYRIM! That last one is in all caps for a reason. SKYRIM is one of my favorite games of all time. So, the developers are going next generation with the Fallout series, one of the most beloved IPs in modern gaming. Okay, Bethesda, you have my attention. Let’s see what you’ve got.

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You are S.P.E.C.I.A.L!

What I Liked:

  • Since the original Legend of Zelda, I have always loved open-map games. Don’t put on me on rails, just turn me loose and let me decide where I want to go, and the order in which I tackle objectives. Fallout 4 gives me this freedom. Even when I’m not sure what to do next, I appreciate the ability to set my own course and blaze my own path.
  • Junk is useful. Pretty much anything you pick up can help you do something in the game. I have a suit of power armor optimized for carrying capacity so I can ‘clean up’ areas after I’ve cleared them of baddies. Nary a coffee cup or battered clipboard escapes my clutching grasp.
  • VOICE ACTING. Bethesda is known for their incredible voice talents and Fallout 4 does not disappoint. The male/female protagonist talent is top-shelf all the way, and the supporting cast is diverse and rarely if ever repeats. And Lynda Carter is in it as a character you can flirt with. By all that is right and holy in this world, my dreams have finally come true!
  • The story. I know that this is a problem for some folks, but I find it engaging. Now that I’m a parent in real life, the very thought of someone taking my kids away is a strong motivator to me, and very personal. Give me powered armor and I would hunt the Institute to hell and back if that’s what it took.
  • Fallout 4 avails itself of the rich lore built up and established in previous titles. I love reading through the journal entries and letters. Every location has a story and creates something of a snapshot of how things were as the bombs fells. I love unraveling the mysteries and finding those hidden pre-war caches of goodies. Love it, love it.
  • Powered Armor. I AM IRON MAN. *da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-dun-dun-DUN-dun*.
  • The Perk System. I know is this a sticking point for some, but I enjoy it. Deciding upon which perk to get in SKYRIM was one my favorite parts of leveling up. This is just taken one step further. I didn’t mind the skill point system from Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I like the perks system quite a bit better. Nothing is wasted, and it’s all useful.
  • The crafting system. Wow…the permutations of this are staggering. Weapons, armor, powered armor, settlements…it’s adult, post-apocalyptic Minecraft. I was never this much of a kid in a candy store even when I was, in fact, a kid in a candy store.
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Why is there never enough Aluminum? Or Adhesive? Gaaaah!

What I Didn’t Like:

  • For a game with such a robust crafting system, there is virtually no tutorial for how to use it effectively. And for things like establishing trade routes, I had to look that up. It’s not intuitive at all. Or when you retain mods for weapons that can be used again.
  • Settlement crafting is seems like it is really meant for building entirely new buildings with almost no consideration for making repairs to existing structures. Try putting a door in a door frame that you didn’t build, or patch a roof that isn’t flat. Nope.
  • I’m in powered armored but sheets of particle board shoddily nailed across a door or window are utterly impenetrable. Can I build my settlement defenses out of that stuff?
  • I have an Agility of 9, but I can’t climb. At all. I have to go waaay out of my way, jumping on shipping containers like Super Mario to get to higher ground or onto a rooftop. Really?
  • The lack of non-violent/diplomatic solutions to problems. If there are raiders attacking a nearby settlement, your only real option is to hunt them down and kill them all. I get that this might be the case for the worst of the lot, but for all of them? Without exception?
  • The Dialogue Wheel. I know, this is has been beaten to death in other reviews, but there is often a dissonance between what I think I’m going to say and what actually comes out of my character’s mouth. It feels like this greatly cuts down on the role-playing aspect of this RPG because you can’t carefully consider your words ahead of time.
  • The facial animations are behind the curve. As cool as Piper is as a character (and I love her), hers seems worst of all. I realize the open world means that the graphics can’t be as photorealistic as Rise of the Tomb Raider, but here the facial animations seem only marginally better than SKYRIM.
  • The type on the screen is sometimes hard to read. Every time I find a comic book, I immediately have to swivel it around to the back so I can actually read the benefit it gives me. There are also a few times when trading with an NPC will cover up key parts of the trading interface.
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Maybe, but I bet the Spartans would have welcomed powered armor. Just sayin’.

Conclusions:  I love this game, and don’t kid yourself – it is highly addictive. Be prepared to lose sleep and make apologies to friends and family. It’s immersive with a sense of place that is wonderful, terrifying, and rich. The attention to detail is off-the-chain nuts. Seriously. This isn’t a ‘once a year’ title that you’ll play through in a week or two and then put down for months or years. No, this is a game, much like SKYRIM, that you’ll be playing for years to come. Considering the breadth of content in the base game alone, Fallout 4 is utterly worth the price of admission.  You’ve done it again, Bethesda. My thanks.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

 


Fanboy Movie Review #3 – Jurassic World

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

Jurassic World earned more than $500 million dollars worldwide its first weekend, the largest opening in cinema history. I sat down – Slurpee in hand – to watch this summer juggernaut, and here are my thoughts on it. Remember, SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen it yet.

RAAAWR!

Well, really just one island…but I take their meaning.

First Impressions: This movie seems like a retread of the first Jurassic Park: People think they can contain the primal fury of dinosaurs until a series of unfortunate events shows humans how little we can control anything. This time around, the park is open, which is new. It also ups the stakes because there are more people in the line of fire. But, the others have been good popcorn flicks, perfect summer blockbuster fare, so why not?

On the hunt

OOOHHHH YEEEEAAAAH! *said in a Kool-Aid Man voice*

What I Liked:

  • CHRIS PRATT! He has the perfect combination of physicality, comic timing, and acting ability to be a heroic action leading man. Can we put him in every major action movie from now on? K’thanks.
  • All the nods back to the original Jurassic Park, from the vintage T-shirt to finding the old museum and the banner.  Even the score hearkens back to the original, all great. Way to play on my sentimentality and sense of nostalgia.
  • The raptor squad. I know some people thought the idea of raptors actively helping the characters for once was uncool, but I liked it. The most iconic moment of the movie, where I was most into it, was the shot of Owen racing through the woods on his motorcycle, surrounded by his raptors. Awesome.
  • The “Let Them Fight” moment when the T-Rex squares off against the Indominus Rex.
  • Unlike other movies in this series, there was surprisingly little of the ‘shouting someone’s name in the woods and attracting the dinosaurs’ trope.
  • The Mosasaur in general. Every scene it was in, even if it happened to be eating a pterosaur, who was itself in the process of eating a Keira Knightley clone.
  • The park itself. Everything from the signage, the information displays, and the gift shop looked like a fully realized amusement park.
*CHOMP...crunch...crunch...crunch*

Pretty much how I felt every time they were on screen.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Trying to outrun a dinosaur, especially in heels.
  • The InGen Nazis. They seem to show up in every movie, and always get PWN’D by the dinos. Haven’t they learned anything by now?
  • The KIDS. Movies like this are dependent on people acting contrary to how they would normally, or behaving stupidly. Nowhere is this more apparent than the two brothers. They are the most uninteresting part of the movie, and the most frustrating. No, just no.
  • The raptors turning on Owen, somehow undoing years of training and imprinting, to see the Indominus as the Alpha. It was a good plot twist, I suppose, but then was undone when the raptors switch sides again.
  • A movie that seems to condemn corporate sponsorship has plenty of product placement in it.
  • Claire’s reversal of seeing the dinosaurs as ‘assets’ to living, breathing animals. That didn’t take long, did it?
  • Wouldn’t you check the tracking device BEFORE opening up the containment area? Even if she doesn’t show up on infrared scanners, shouldn’t you take every precaution before potentially stepping into the ring with a genetically modified killing machine?
  • The love story. They only had one date, but a few death-defying encounters with ancient predators and they’re together, huh? Didn’t we see this kind of weaksauce, destined-to-fail kind of romance in Speed?
  • No one can pilot a helicopter on the island except the 8th richest man in the world, who is still isn’t completely checked out. I understand trying to take some responsibility for what is happening, but this seemed like a rather convenient – and stupid – way to get the character out the way so that Vic Hoskins can take over with the aforementioned InGen Nazis.
  • Training raptors for military use? Even with conditioning, would they ever be as a reliable as a drone or just technology in general? I can’t see that ever being a ‘yes.’
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Riddle me this, Mario.

Unresolved Questions (At Least In My Mind):

  • Why don’t the gyrospheres have an ‘auto-return’ function on them?
  • What was with the unexplained communications failures? They seemed to happen at least twice at critical moments. Convenient.
  • Why was everyone just sitting out in the heat? If the all rides closed, wouldn’t you want to go back to your hotel room (I’m guessing there’s one on the island), or hang out in the shops where it’s air-conditioned?
  • After the previous ‘containment anomalies’ that have happened in Isla Nublar’s history, shouldn’t a full-scale evacuation of the park be something they have multiple contingency plans for, ready to go at a moment’s notice? Titanic, anyone?
  • Why should stealing samples from the lab be a thing anymore? Isla Nublar isn’t their main lab. And doesn’t InGen have multiple labs where the same results can be easily replicated? Oh wait, that was a set up for the next movie. Nevermind.
  • Why does the parents’ divorce play into the story at all? Couldn’t the parents just be sending the boys off to visit their aunt? This adds nothing to the story, and the emotional blow to the boys happens before they are even in danger, and then is never mentioned again.
The philosoraptor strikes again!

Fitting, yes?

Conclusions: I liked this film overall. While it is not one that I’ll see multiple times in the theatre, I do not regret going to see it. It delivered on the action and spectacular visuals, and really I wasn’t expecting much else out of it (like most summer blockbusters).

The film uses some painful tropes which harken back to the mistakes made in the previous movies.  Then again, maybe that’s the point. Jurassic World isn’t a reboot, per se, but I suppose it’s meant to be this generation’s Jurassic Park, and move the franchise forward.  In that light, Jurassic World fulfills its role beautifully.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Fanboy Movie Review #2  ̶  The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

This one has been stewing in my head since December. I took a stab at writing a review of TBOTFA back in January, but it was far too long. Here is the boiled-down version of that review in convenient Fanboy Movie Review format!

And a 1…and a 2…

Single tear

Well, five…give or take.

First Impressions:  While many didn’t like the first Hobbit movie, I did. Many thought the second Hobbit movie was far better, but I didn’t. (What was up with that gold statue anyway? And that barrel sequence?) This movie strikes me as being needlessly overcomplicated in almost every aspect. It embodies the ‘bloat’ effect of this trilogy.

What I Liked:

  • Thranduil. We get a sense of how powerful he is. This is what it looks like when the Elven King goes to war.
  • Thorin cured himself of the Dragon Greed, and made an epic comeback.
  • Speaking of the Dragon Greed, the cool way Thorin’s voice started to sound like a dragon.
  • War Rams! I’m not sure where they came from, exactly, or where they went afterwards, but sign me up!
  • The White Council laying the smackdown on the Nazghul. While Galadriel was inert for most of the scene, I must admit that her banishment of Sauron was pretty cool.
  • Smaug’s final speech. I still think that should have been the end of the second movie, but any scenes with Cumberbatch/Smaug, I’m destined to like (except the death scene, explained below.)
  • Speaking of Smaug, this is why you fear fire dragons. That first strafing pass over Laketown was terrifying. I am fire…I am death.
  • Thorin’s death scene. Armitage and Freeman nail every point of this scene. To me this scene is every bit as powerful as Boromir’s death in Fellowship of the Ring. Wow.
My brother, my captain, my king...

This scene is everything the rest of the movie wasn’t.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The human ‘army’ is the smallest and least impressive of the five armies, yet only a handful can somehow hold off scores of rampaging orcs in plate mail.
  • The Elven army sort of disappears at times. It seemed like there are thousands of them lining the battlements of Dale, but during the battle it feels like they just vanish.
  • Both the Elven and Dwarven armies are so uniform in appearance that they look like a video game. There is nothing remotely believable about them.
  • We trade out main characters in this movie. Most of the original 13 dwarves are barely seen and have almost no screen time. Bard and Legolas have a much greater part than even Bilbo, after whom the movie is named.
  • Legolas jumping along falling blocks of stone. I started laughing.
  • Bard kills Smaug with an improvised, cobbled together bow, instead of the Wind Lance, which they had previously showed us. And how is his son not dead again?
  • Stephen Fry’s mayor character? Yep, as superfluous as I thought.
  • ALFRED! The entire character is useless, annoying, and gets away with no consequences to his actions.
  • Fili and Kili and their punk deaths. They deserved better than that.
  • That weird kite thing that Azog uses to direct his troops. Did no one see him setting that up?
  • If the orcs had pressed their attack, they would have won. Sending troops into Dale was completely unnecessary.
  • The arrival of the giant eagles was underwhelming, and the force of orcs they stop seems miniscule compared to that first establishing shot of Azog’s main army.
  • Azog busting out of the ice. Let me say that again: AZOG BUSTING OUT OF THE ICE.
  • Tauriel doesn’t get to take down Bolg. In fact, she doesn’t get to do much of anything in this film.
  • Thorin’s cousin, Dain. What a cartoon character, and not in a good way.
Nope!

So Bard can MacGyver up a weapon that can match the power and precision of this siege engine? Sounds legit.

Unresolved Questions (At Least In My Mind):

Too many to list in a simple blog post. Most of them have nothing to do with the plot of the movie, and more to do with the decisions that led them down this path. This is the same team that gave us the original LOTR trilogy, which I love. The unresolved question in my mind is simply: Oh, Peter Jackson, what happened?

:_(

Oh, Bilbo, you deserved so much better.

Conclusions:

I went back and watched the original LOTR trilogy. More than a decade on, and they are still excellent. I still don’t care for the parts like Legolas and the Oliphant, but the emotion is there, same as it ever was. Sure, Gollum doesn’t look as polished as he did in the first Hobbit movie, but Lurtz, captain of the Uruk-Hai, is still terrifying. Why? Because it is a man in make-up, not a CGI construct. The effects in the new Hobbit trilogy looked bad in the theatre, so just think of how dated they will seem as time passes.

As I said, TBOTFA embodies how bloated and overdone the Hobbit trilogy is. Most of it felt unnecessary and gratuitous, with none of the deep emotional resonance of LOTR. I tried to like this movie, I really did. While there are gems seeded throughout the film, you have to suffer through endless digital armies clashing over and over again to get to them.

Are we fortunate or unfortunate that TBOTFA will likely be the last movie set in Middle-Earth? I’m still trying to work my way through that one.

In the end, it feels as though this movie is a Master’s thesis in missed opportunities. We end the trilogy not with a bang, but a Star Wars-esque whimper.

And that’s how this fanboy sees it.