The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
When you take one book and decide to spread it out across three movies, each of which is about three hours long, you’re going to have segments that feel very stretched out for no real reason in particular. This was a problem that plagued the first Hobbit movie, but fans of the Middle Earth universe will be pleased to hear that it’s less of a problem in the second movie. It’s still a problem, but it is far less pronounced.
Unsurprisingly, The Desolation of Smaug largely picks up where An Unexpected Journey left off. Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves are making their way to the mountain so the dwarves can reclaim what they feel is their rightful home. They run into their troubles with the orcs and other threats, so we do get to enjoy more action than we did in the first movie. The pacing is far better, at least for about the first half of the film, leading up to when we meet Smaug the dragon and his bountiful riches.
From here, the pacing does slow considerably, but the exchanges between Bilbo and Smaug are quite enjoyable. Benedict Cumberbatch has the perfect voice for the dragon, bringing just enough of a smug arrogance to the character. Bilbo’s character doesn’t seem to develop quite as much, even if this series is called The Hobbit, and Legolas does seem to have much more a chip on his shoulder compared to his depiction in the original LOTR trilogy. Maybe this is really a coming of age story for the elf… we just need to hear Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” come on in the background.
In all seriousness, this second film in The Hobbit trilogy is a vast improvement over the first movie, but it lacks the charm, appeal and sense of grand scale that we got in The Lord of the Rings. If you are a fan of Tolkien, though, you’ll need to watch this. Having never read the book, I hope the third and final chapter comes to an incredibly epic climax. Maybe with the Necromancer?
Pain & Gain (2013)
I didn’t even know this movie existed, even though it stars the Rock and Mark Wahlberg. Even stranger, it’s based on a true story. Pain & Gain follows the bungled efforts of three bodybuilders who want to be “do-ers.” They want to make a better life for themselves and they feel that robbing one of the richer men in town is the way to do it. Of course, they’re anything but professional thieves and con artists, so things don’t exactly go as planned.
You could say this is something of an action comedy that doesn’t take itself all that seriously. At one point in the middle of all the ridiculousness, the film even reminds us that this is still based on true events. There are plenty of good laughs to be had here at the expense of the scheming trio. The character played by the Rock, a dimwitted born again Christian with a cocaine problem, is particularly enjoyable. Don’t expect a heck of a lot from Pain & Gain, but it is fun way to waste a couple hours of your life.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
We like to think that humans are the smartest creatures on Earth, but we are far from the most powerful, the fastest or the most agile. So, what happens when our primate cousins gain our level of intelligence to go with their physical advantages? A drug from Alzheimer’s is being tested and it seems not only to control the disease, but it even demonstrates improvements in mental acumen. The drugs are being tested on chimps and, if you’ve ever watched the original Planet of the Apes movie, you can probably guess where this is going.
Even though the trailer shows the shrewdness of apes taking over San Francisco and wreaking havoc in the streets, this really doesn’t happen until very late in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A lot more of the film focuses instead on the character development of Caesar, the chimp “played” by Andy Serkis. We see how he goes from being a member of the family (with John Lithgow and James Franco) to the realization of his true reality.
And Caesar really is the star here. We see him overcome adversity, rally the “troops,” and execute their escape. We empathize, but we also realize that his “rise” will inevitably lead to the fall of mankind. A sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is scheduled for release this summer. It takes place one decade later when an all-out war for Earth breaks out between Caesar’s primate forces and the human survivors. Whose side are you on?