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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Fantastic Fun, A Reinvention Of The Spy Film Game For A Modern Age
As a fan of the comic, I will say this, Kingsman actually manages to trump it's source material in many ways. Taking what we know about Spy films: the gadgets, the villain, the prestige, even the action, Kingsman gives us street level flair here by essentially reinventing the Bond formula and kicking it in the teeth. It's an exciting, action packed, and fun film that conforms to Matthew Vaughn's stylish take on the comic book film. Eggsy is a smart, talented young man living with his mom and her boyfriend in London with a penchant for trouble. With his dad having died when he was a child, Eggsy has lived a rough life dodging the law and local thugs. But when an old associate of his father's enters his life, he's given the opportunity to put his talents to good use and become part of an elite group of spies.
What a blast. From beginning to end, this movie is entertaining. And this is mostly thanks to the actors rounded up here. Colin Firth brings his usual wonderful skills as an actor, but it's his combat skills that make him so entertaining. Essentially the old fashioned James Bond of the film, Firth is as suave as ever, but he also commits violence that goes unparalleled in the film. This is most demonstrated in one of the film's biggest set pieces, taking place at a southern church which was briefly shown in the trailer. He steals the show, but the surrounding performances are just as great. Taron Egerton, a stranger to the States, is excellent as Eggsy. While this could have been a character who came off as thuggish and criminal, Eggsy is actually quite sympathetic from early in the film. He's clearly smart and a guy who wants to protect his mom and see her have a better life. However, like so many these days, he feels burdened by his lot in life and it has turned him into a less than stellar citizen. His transformation from a troubled kid to a master spy is incredibly entertaining and combines the charm and sophistication of the typical spy film with the rough edge of a street level action film. Sam Jackson brings the ham as an unusual villain, Mark Strong plays one of the most entertaining characters in the film as the youngsters spy trainer, and Michael Caine appears as the head of Kingsman, bringing his usual mix of seasoned professionalism and sense of fun.
As for the film itself, Matthew Vaughn does as good a job here as his previous comic book adaptations. He continues to demonstrate how to make a film fun, exciting, and hip without it being overly cheesy or appear to be trying too hard. He seems almost a perfect match up for Mark Millar's work, as he is able to almost perfectly convey Millar's mixture of rough edge, sense of fun, and intriguing bend of known tropes. In terms of breaking down a genre, this is similar to Kick Ass in that sense. The action is as superb as you would expect and we're always allowed to see it, with a lack of dizzying close ups and shaky cam, which is thankful. The climax is especially rousing and exciting, with plenty of varied action bits, from gun fights to a dual between Sofia Boutella's deadly, prosthetic leg wearing assassin and Eggsy.
It's something of a surprise to find this film playing in a month usually reserved for films studios have little faith in. This is summer blockbuster material and fantastic entertainment.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
An ambitious, epic universe marred by one dimensional characters and a stumbling script
When I give this film a 6, it's being a bit generous. Trying to put myself in other people's shoes, I'd say this film probably range anywhere from a 3 to a 5, and then there will be those who hate it. Still, I am likely to lean on the side of one of the few who likes the film. But it's a mixed bag. Sure enough, the special effects, action, and other elements are fantastic. But the film does little to develop it's own character beyond their archetypes and the script seems content to stay average at best.
Jupiter Ascending actually paints a pretty fascinating sci-fi universe. As it turns out, Earth, and thousands of other worlds like it, are owned by a number of different families which act like corporations who seed these worlds. Once the worlds become over populated, their people are harvested to create a youth serum which keeps those living in the corporate society young for millennia after millennia. In this case, the Abraxis family is one of the most powerful and each of three heirs is vying for control of Earth. Standing in their way, however, is Jupiter Jones, who turns out to be the genetic reincarnation of the Abraxis' sibling's mother, and claimant to the throne of the family.
If all of that sounds like a lot to take in, it is, and easily the best part of the film. The Wachowski's have a talent for creating fascinating worlds that feel complete. Here, they have created a massive sci-fi universe the likes of which we haven't seen in at least a decade, maybe longer. It's very clear that their ambition extends beyond just this one story. In fact, there are hundreds of fascinating stories that could be told about this universe. The idea of a corporate controlled universe is timely, and where we've seen this story played out before about the giant corporation versus the little guy, it's never quite been told on this scale.
It's a shame then that this ambition is wasted on a story that doesn't seem to capitalize on such a universe. The story is good, but the script is lacking and the characters never really become all that interesting. They end up feeling like caricatures meant to introduce us to this world we've entered. They're histories are explained and they clearly have fleshed out back stories, but they feel almost lifeless in that they seem to be here only to be an aspect of this world and not a full character. Even as a lead character, Channing Tatum as Caine feels like little more than a body meant to perform choreography and defend Milas Kunis' Jupiter. At the very least, Jupiter is a sympathetic character who shows shades of change, but even she often feels like little more than a narrator meant to ask question for exposition purposes. Eddie Redmayne seems to have the juiciest part, and though he still seems to be a one dimensional villain, he shows emotional depth that the other characters lack.
Most people I suspect will have trouble forgiving the lack of a truly meaningful script and characters that are too one dimensional. But the good news is that the film isn't a complete loss. The action, which the Wachowski's have proved to have a handle on, is fantastic. This is Star Wars level stuff, with space battles and well choreographed martial art duels. The cool tech thrown in, like the gravity boots, add some imaginative spice that once again shows the Wachowski's propensity for finding ways to justify making a 12 year old's imagination a reality. It's some truly fun stuff. Likewise, the world we're introduced to looks fantastic. The special effects make believable some very interesting and exciting details, such as the multitude of gadgets and weapons we're witness to. It's clear that the Wachowski's have set out to create a unique universe, and in my estimation, they have succeeded. I'm a sucker for this kind of world crafting, and so they get higher marks from me.
Of course, I can see why the film was pushed back to the dumping grounds of February. This was meant to be a summer blockbuster, but up against so many big, successful films, it would have a hard time competing. I have the distinct feeling this is going to be a film that gets left behind this year, especially in favor of bigger films being released throughout 2015. Had the film been more focused on it's characters and less on exposition of the universe we're witnessing, then I feel it could have succeeded and become a modern sci-fi classic. But as is, it falls short. Honestly, I do hope for a sequel to this, if only to see this universe continue to get development. Perhaps a sequel would fulfill the ambition the Wachowski's clearly seek to build upon.
Project Almanac (2014)
Won't Reinvent The Genre, But It Is Entertaining
I liked Project Almanac. It didn't necessarily excite me. And I did scratch my head a few times. But ultimately, I liked it. It had an interesting, if slow moving, story. It stayed grounded, or at least tried to, and did it's very best to legitimize time travel as a possibility, even if it doesn't do a very good job of actually explaining the whole thing. Certainly some things are silly, like explaining being able to control the time machine with a cell phone as cell phones 'having enough power to put a rocket in space', but these don't really take away from a lot of the fun dealing with the time travel element.
The story is pretty simple, but actually feels heart felt. David, a genius level teenager newly accepted to MIT, finds himself short on the money to pay his tuition there. This inadvertently leads him to discover an unfinished time machine his absent father left hidden in his basement. While it takes a while for the time travel elements to ramp up, there is fun to be had in seeing these kids build, experiment, and ultimately successfully travel through time. The film does a good job in allowing us to escape certain illogical elements, like how a group of teens with a fairly limited budget could create a fully functioning time machine, much less create one when no one else on earth seemingly could. David and his buddy Adam are already established as being geniuses from the moment the film begins. So, it's not much of a leap that together they could figure out how to complete the already crafted instructions and blueprints sitting in front of them. You could even say there's legitimacy to the use of the found footage style they went for. They even comment on the use of the camera, which at least shows they recognize that it's there.
However, despite some explanation that helps solidify the camera's constant presence, the film , like so many found footage films, would have benefited from simply being shot like a typical narrative. The film even goes the lengths to, strangely enough, be somewhere in between. We see edits that don't make sense for someone whose recording and we have music play over things like a montage. It's just bizarre to see and hear these things play out over a film that is supposed to pretend to be found off camcorder footage. And these production elements aren't bad, they're just out of place and show the film could have benefited from simply eschewing the found footage style all together. There's also some head scratching moments throughout that can be eye-roll-inducing, but I tend to be able to suspend my disbelief, so it didn't bother me as much.
The film overall isn't one I'd probably tell people to run out and see. But I'd certainly tell them it's not a bad film. Far from it, it's a surprise in the sub genre of found footage. And while it doesn't reach the heights of Chronicle, which I consider to be the peak of found footage, I do think it's one of the better found footage films.
John Wick (2014)
Very Solid Action Film With A Great Turn By An Awesome Cast
John Wick was a pleasant surprise when it showed up in trailer form a little over a month ago. Coming out of nowhere, this indie action pic with a fresh director and great cast wowed a lot of people, and for good reason. It boasted the promise of excellent action, with Keanu Reeves returning to form as the badass lead. And a badass he is. John Wick is the kind of action film we don't get these days, and the director clearly knows what he is doing in delivering a truly excellent action film.
First things first, John Wick isn't going to win any big awards. It doesn't really do anything new, even in terms of innovative action. None of the characters are fresh and the story isn't really that original. But none of that matters because it's so stylishly crafted, the acting, direction, and writing so smooth, and the world so well designed, that any action junkie can get behind this slick, heavily stylized, action packed romp. After a flashforward, the film details the current state of John Wick's life. His wife has passed away and he is obviously taking it very hard. After her death, he receives one last gift from his wife, a puppy to help him keep from being alone. But it isn't long before he loses both his prized car and his last precious gift from his wife. With this taken from him, we find Wick falling back into his old life of assassination and violence. See, John Wick was once part of a world of criminals, assassins, and killers. And, according to the primary antagonist, he was the one who was hired to kill the boogey man.
And it is here where the film picks up. Where those first quiet moments in the film were somewhat slow and dreary, from the moment John Wick becomes the victim of crime to the very end of the film, it's almost non-stop action. The biggest challenge the film had was setting up Keanu to meet the legend he is described in as the film. But I can completely reassure you that Keanu is a complete badass here. While he still is not the fine, domineering actor you might find in other recently christened killers like Liam Neeson, he has the skills necessary to prove that you don't mess with John Wick. Whether it's playing up the role of a superman, capable of tackling a younger, equally talented killer while suffering a severe injury, or taking on a dozen men, all armed, in a matter of a few minutes, Keanu doesn't need to rage, pull out a booming voice, or make speeches filled with slightly ambiguous threats. All he has to do is flip you over his back and put two in your head with ease. If you don't believe Keanu is the feared killer he's trumped up to be at first, you will by the end of the film.
What helps pull this off are the thankful decisions of first time directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. As stuntmen, they clearly know their action. They eschew the typical, modern style of action of close ups and quick cuts in favor of nice, long medium and wide shots minus the quick cutting. This offers us practical action scenes and puts trust in the actors skills. Keanu has certainly proved himself capable physically, with his time spent in the Matrix and more recently Man of Tai Chi and Ronin 47. The directors allow him to use his skills to deliver action that never feels fake or trumped up. It's authentic and completely badass. Supporting him are an array of actors, including Wilem Defoe as an old friend in the business, Adrienne Palicki as a fellow assassin given an assignment to take John out, and Michael Nyquist and Alfie Allen as father and son gangsters, the latter of which who is the perpetrator of the crimes against Wick. Nyquist is especially good, a villain that isn't completely evil, and even a bit likable, who we're immediately introduced to as someone who doesn't necessarily want to do what he knows he has to do. He's entertaining in the role and makes for a criminal that, under different circumstances, might have actually been an ally to Wick.
Action films of the guns and martial arts variety have kind of gone by the wayside in the past few years, with few theatrical releases and most being VOD. But John Wick is a welcome addition to a legacy of great cinema action. For any action junkie, John Wick is an absolute must and I can only hope that this isn't the last time we'll see this Wick.
I have to admit, of all the Korean films I have seen over the years, The Attorney has to be one of the most relateable internationally. Through this film, I was constantly reminded of our own injustices within the American system, specifically during the times when the U.S. was going after supposed communists. But the film goes beyond, carrying a huge heart and an intense drama, well portrayed by it's actors. While it starts slow, it turns into a riveting and surprising court drama.
The focus is on Song Woo-seok, an attorney who, for the sake of his family, seeks to gain money and prosperity as fast as possible. In turn, however, he tries to keep out of the growing political movement of the times and focus on property and tax law. However, this changes when the son of a friend is arrested and tortured as a suspected communist. His attention turns to exposing the corrupt laws and officials responsible.
The film starts off slowly, with the first hour or so spent focused on Song's journey to building his practice, his motivations for doing so, and the troubles he faces as he does this. This beginning part is almost wholly different from the latter half of the film. Song is mostly carefree, with his budding, successful practice, the love of his family, and his growing relationships with those around him. It's both touching and humorous in some instances, and Song Kang-ho is incredibly likable as the ambitious, but big hearted Woo-seok. He's easily identifiable in his reluctance to engage in the changing political atmosphere and his ambitions to be successful for his family's sake. It would have been easy to turn him into a greedy, cold lawyer, but he is far from so. So, it is only that much more enjoyable to see him tackle such an important subject in the latter half of the film.
At the same time, it is quite riveting and you genuinely fear for the safety and security of Song as he takes on an entire justice system. While there are many surprises, it is ultimately pleasant to see Song take such a stand against an unjust system. It is at this point that the film becomes a courtroom drama, with cinematography that moves and edits that ramp up the pacing. There is genuine intrigue as to how this underdog will take on the system, and even if he can win. I won't spoil the surprises, but I will say that the film does have a few. The ending could be debated, but it is very fitting for this story and I was left with a smile. I can honestly say I was incredibly pleased with this film. Last year, Korea delivered New World, and it ended up being my favorite film of the year. This year, I had the pleasure of watching this film, and I can easily say this may very well end up as high, or nearly as high, on my list as New World. I can't recommend this film enough.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
I felt the same about the first film and had higher expectations of the sequel. With the villains involved, I had higher hopes for a better, more action packed sequel. And there were things I appreciated. But for the most part, this sequel suffered from some disappointing sequelitis, the same kinds of things we've seen in numerous other comic book flick sequels. Suffice to say, while I wasn't too disappointed, with lowered expectations, it is sad to see this film fall short. But let's talk about what's good first.
The best part of the film was easily the scenes between Garfield and Stone. Both actors are excellent in their roles and have fantastic chemistry together. When they share their scenes, their relationship is believable and it's something you can completely get behind. It's the one area of the film that Webb improves over the Raimi trilogy. There's also some decent action. The action involving Electro especially is great, with a fantastic display of special effects and an exciting sense of motion.
However, unfortunately, this is where a lot of the good stuff ends. Much of the rest of the film ranges from mediocre to bad. Pretty much anything involving Harry Osborne is cringe worthy, particularly when he starts losing his sanity. While the action involving Electro is excellent, everything about the character seems to lack depth and interest. His plight isn't the least bit interesting, and his motivations feel flimsy. While he may be sympathetic in a sense, it's a cheap kind of sympathy. He feels like a villain who is there merely to be a villain for Spider-man, with little in the way of actually being a meaningful character. Paul Giamatti makes two very brief appearances, and his character feels like little more than a nod to a future film that will probably, hopefully be much better.
The story itself isn't terribly interesting either. It's the same kind of inner conflict stuff we've seen in most other comic book films, but in particular, we've already crossed this territory. While Stone makes for a much better love interest as Gwen Stacy, it's still the same tried and true story of Peter Parker having to juggle his real life and his love for Gwen and his role as Spider-man and the danger that brings. I will give the film props for a twist at the end of the film that I think is a somewhat brave and unique thing to do in a comic book film, but it's one plot point in many other retreads that we've already seen. And the stuff involving Peter's parents still isn't all that interesting. It's a nice attempt to add changes to Peter's origin, but they're just not that interesting, which is too bad considering how much of Peter's inner struggle comes from that.
This outing of Spider-man feels much like the first: uninteresting villains, needless changes to the origin story, action that, while decent, fails to be really memorable. The biggest problem here is that it feels like the middle part of a bigger story. We've seen this with films like Iron Man 2, but there is no backing here with a larger cinematic universe. Instead, we just have to hope and wait for a better Spider-man movie to come.
There's a lot to love about Transcendence. Unfortunately, almost all of it is killed by a very poor script. The film is so full of holes and leaps in logic that it's hard to take any of it seriously or truly enjoy it. Character's that should be villains turn into saviors and characters that we expect to be allies turn into pariahs. There's no one to really root for here and the story telling seems to exist only to push certain ideas about technology and it's capabilities.
The story is fairly simple and can pretty much be seen in the trailers. Doctor Will Caster is a brilliant scientist working to push A.I. technology drastically. When he is fatally wounded with a time clock on his life, his partner in life, Evelyn, has the brilliant idea of transplanting his consciousness into a massive super computer. From there, we have a rapidly pushed story that leads to a bunch of silly, almost cool ideas about what computers could become capable of.
The first problem is evident in the first frame. We are immediately aware of the ending, which left a bad taste in my mouth. The mystery of how it is all going to end is immediately spoiled. So, all that's left is the how. And the how is almost completely preposterous. We're led to believe that the advancement of this super A.I. manages to grow to unbelievable potential in only a matter of a couple of years. Somehow, we're simply supposed to accept that everything we see is possible. It's a massive leap of logic and one that is too hard to digest. There's very little to suggest how any of it is possible, only simply that it is and that very smart people are capable of making it all so. We're also supposed to believe that the government never gets involved and that the antagonists know what's going on, despite getting rid of any technology that ties them to the world at large. You're simply expected to go along with it. If you're able to, then more power to you. I wasn't.
Much of the rest of the film is well done. The cinematography is as good as you would expect. The acting varies. Paul Bettany, Johnny Depp, and Rebecca Hall are all sufficient here. Morgan Freeman feels wasted as he has very little to do but get led around. But again, the entire thing suffers from a poor script and story. It's hard to give praise to something so completely let down by it's core, but there are glimmers of brilliance here. This being Wally Pfister's first film, it's not too surprising it falters. But with Nolan having his name attached and surely having guided the cinematographer who worked on most of his films, it's hard to believe that this managed to go through with such a faulty script. There are far too many holes and leaps in logic to ignore, which makes this a huge disappointment in my eyes.
Silicon Valley (2014)
Hilarious and Scathing
Silicon Valley is a TV show that was much talked about even before it's debut on HBO. With the Silicon Valley now finding a Hollywood-like atmosphere in the way it's viewed, the entertainment industry's focus on Silicon Valley and it's unique lifestyle and culture is somewhat new and has yet to find it's equilibrium of representation between the reality of the innovation happening there and the bizarre, comedy ammunition that lies in some of the more eccentric aspects. Mike Judge's Silicon Valley is a damn good start. It's witty and scathing, and takes an sarcastic approach to it with an outsider's eye. Of course, Mike Judge is no outsider, having worked in Palo Alto during the late 80's, and his disdain for it's people and culture shows.
What makes the series work is that Judge is able to focus on all the small, ridiculous things that have become such an icon of the culture. From CEO's innovators with Christ-like followings, to the idea that the industry is somehow spearheaded by college dropouts, Judge wastes not time and has no problem putting every Silicon Valley cliché/reality on a pedestal for people to laugh at. As a native, I can say that the show does exaggerate a lot of things, but it also gets a lot right. If you've seen Judge's other work, then you will quickly see how well this fits in. With Beavis and Butthead, we got a critique about the stupidity and waste of a generation, with King of the Hill, we got a look at Judge's insight into Texas culture and the ideologies of an American culture trying to cope with the changes of a modern world, and here we have a completely new sub-culture that Judges dives head first into.
The show most certainly has it's falls, but I was hard pressed to find them as I was too busy laughing most of the time throughout. I may have a skewed view of the show, with me observing this through a filter of the real Silicon Valley, in all it's great and weirdness. But in general, this bites down hard in the most hilarious way on a truly unique and fairly bizarre place in the world. And you don't even have to know the technobabble being spit out. I do think HBO has another winner here.
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)
This Movie Will Blow Your Face Off
The first Raid remains one of my favorite action films of all time. It's a ruthless, brutal, and realistic approach to action films. So, it's hard to believe that they could top the film. And yet, they did, in almost every way. From a deeper story and plot, to more bone crunching, blood letting violence, everything here is bigger, better, and hits harder.
Picking up pretty much where the last one left off, our hero Rama is the last survivor of the original film and is wanted by a special, small law enforcement group attempting to out crooked cops. They want to use Rama to go undercover and get close to the head of the organized crime gangs in Jakarta in an effort to uncover names. What follows is a twisted plot of shifting alliances, as our hero navigates the underworld while punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing everything that gets in his way.
While the first film was confined to a single location with lots of closed in fights, this is all out, balls to the wall action that has little boundaries. And none of it is very pretty either. While stylized, this film continues the bone crunching, hard hitting, blood shedding violence of the first one. There are no soft punches here. There are some moments so hard hitting, you'll have expletives leaking out of your mouth. And once again, the true hero here is Gareth Evans, who is saving action films with a superior touch. His cinematography is fantastic, as is the editing which adds tension and suspense to every fight. And much like the first film, the action is greatly varied, but different enough from the first film that it never feels like we've seen it all before. Opening up the film to an entire city, we get a fantastic car chase scene and several changes of scenery. These are some of the most memorable action scenes captured on film, ones you will keep thinking about as you leave the theater.
But beyond this, a lot of other things have improved as well. The plot, while not all that original, does make strides in having some complexity and making Rama more sympathetic. For as brutal as the first film was, this film truly makes it seem like Rama isn't entirely safe. Yes, we believe he will win all his fights, but not without shedding some serious blood. It gets to the point that we're not entirely sure he'll survive in the end. But Rama is still a complete badass and every bit the action hero, but still coming off as more human than the average hero.
My one, minor gripe with the film is the pacing. The film is about an hour longer than the first one, with about as much action. This gives for a bit of a slow down. But again, that's a minor complaint. There's still more than enough fantastic action. Here's to hoping there's more Raid films in the future. This is, as far as I am concerned, a near perfect action film and I can't get enough. So bring on The Raid 3!
A Fantastic, Exciting Adventure
While I enjoyed the first Hobbit film, it did feel like it left a bit to be desired. This was no surprise, as everything that I loved about the book was in the second half. I knew that I would be waiting for all the good stuff with the second and third films. And sure enough, the second film delivers where the first film didn't quite excite as much as I had wanted. While it isn't perfect and does unnecessarily deviate a bit, this is easily better than the first film, giving us a bigger, bolder adventure and a more interesting Bilbo Baggins this time around.
Before I get to the good stuff, let me get my complaints out of the way. My biggest complaint are the unnecessary plot threads. There seems to be a big need for this series of films to tie into LotR, and I really don't understand why. A great deal of time is taken in this film to introduce us to things we already know the outcome of. We're, at points, taken away from the dwarfs and Bilbo to follow Gandalf as he goes off on his own adventure to uncover the growing evil of Sauron and his armies. Like the first film, it's completely unnecessary, but unlike that film, it's jarring. We're ripped from a fantastic adventure to a story that we don't really need to know and has no real relation to the dwarfs and their adventure. In fact, any time we're taken out of the company of the dwarfs, it almost feels cheap. The almost romance between Evangeline Lily's elf and the dwarf Kili feels something of the same, the whole lot of these stories coming off as filler in an effort to make time for three movies instead of just two. It feels like a stretch and brings a screeching halt to the momentum of the main story.
That said, the rest of the film is an excellent and expertly crafted adaptation. There is a definite sense of character growth, especially from Bilbo, who seems to struggle with the power of the ring and it's greed. We already know where this goes, but it is none the less fascinating considering who he was when we first met him. The dwarfs seem to almost take a back seat here. They are less prominent, with the exception of Thorin and Balin, who take front and center. That isn't to say they aren't entertaining, as they usually are every time they are on screen. Thorin is the real standout though, as he goes through similar changes as Bilbo, which lends them an interesting comparison in their mutual struggles. The actors are all excellent once again in their respective roles, with Freeman once again being the standout. Evangeline Lily is also a pleasant surprise in an original role as an elf created for the film. She adds a much needed feminine touch to an otherwise predominantly male cast. She proves herself to be a fine silver screen presence and hopefully this will net her some further film roles.
While the film does an excellent job of not simply being the middle film, something The Two Towers struggled with in the LotR trilogy, it is the action, set pieces, and effects which are the true stars. This may not be a LotR movie, but it's close. We almost immediately start out with a bang and it rarely lets up. Of course, much of what happens early on, as exciting as it may be, pales in comparison to it's explosive and lengthy climax. Smaug is quite possibly the best creation of any of the film, Hobbit or LotR. He is as awesome as you could have hoped for and Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent in the role. While effects have been applied to his voice to give it more boom, he does a fantastic job as the sneering, wise, and boastful dragon. Watching and listening to him face off against Bilbo is a delightful treat, and that is before we get to any fire breathing and chasing. What follows is a lengthy conclusion to the film that will excite and delight all. I have no qualms in saying that Smaug makes the entire film worth the admission of price. But don't go in expecting a solid conclusion. This is, after all, the second of a trilogy, so you can surely expect the film to leave you salivating for the next one.
While this new Hobbit film still doesn't reach LotR heights, it is superior to the previous film, especially when it comes to being an enjoyable adventure. It feels like it matters to the trilogy and delivers on being an epic. And I simply can't rave enough about Smaug. If you didn't enjoy the first film, you may find yourself feeling about the same here. But at least this one has a cool dragon.