Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The villainous Tony Stark

The villainous Tony Stark

There’s quite a lot going on in Avengers: Age of Ultron, yet all of it starts to blend together about an hour in, which is around the time that I realized this was the exact same movie all over again, with twice the action and half the attention span.

I don’t know much about Ultron’s comic origins but it HAS to be better than this. There is maybe two minutes of development, which is just enough to prove that Tony Stark is about as intelligent as your average toddler shoving his finger in a light socket to see what happens. Based on this movie, I have no idea why Ultron is so popular. James Spader’s dialogue was occasionally funny (there’s a great exchange between him and Andy Serkis), but mostly he’s just promising death and destruction and all the other scary stuff we’ve heard from every Marvel villain so far. In the words of Janosz from Ghostbusters II, “I know, you told me all this.”

I didn’t understand Vision’s origin at all, even as it was being breathlessly explained after he randomly materialized. I’m sure someone more invested in the character could tell me what it all meant, but no amount of #marvelsplaining is going to fix the movie’s basic storytelling flaws. A movie should never rely on knowledge of the source material to be enjoyed.

The plot continues to depend on the lazy “character gets hypnotized by magic” device to pit allies against one another, because we didn’t get enough of that in the first film apparently. Even when they’re not entranced by Scarlet Witch or by Loki’s scepter, they’re bickering needlessly. There’s one almost interesting sequence where we see the Avengers’ fears and regrets come to life, but none of these moments have room to breathe. This felt like a small remnant of that more personal Avengers movie Whedon claimed he wanted to make.

The Natasha/Banner romance is odd. We’re suddenly expected to believe they always had smoldering chemistry. There’s some really silly flirtation between them at a party early in the film. There’s a scene where Natasha is wearing nothing but a bath towel and Banner doesn’t even seem tempted, which doesn’t exactly warm me to him. I get that he’s afraid of Hulking out during sex, but his whininess makes him hard to root for. Captain America and Black Widow had much better chemistry with far less dialogue in The Winter Soldier. And then there’s the totally pointless admission from Natasha that she can’t get preggers, and the sad way she pretends she doesn’t care about that. Would it be so bad if she truly didn’t care? It’s depressing to see her reduced to this cliché after such a strong turn in The Winter Soldier.

I liked Hawkeye this time around, as he had some of the best lines and he felt more like an everyman than anyone else on the team. Scarlet Witch was visually cool, and Elizabeth Olsen’s Eastern European accent is perfect. There’s just not enough of her, and she could easily sustain her own movie. Quicksilver gets the least screen time of anyone, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes the most of what he has.

The banter between Stark, Thor, and Captain America is where the film shines. The debate about the physics of Thor’s hammer had me cracking up. There’s a funny line of dialogue practically every sixty seconds, but once in a while Whedon drops an eye-roller like, “Sometimes exactly what I want to hear isn’t exactly what I want to hear.” What?

This movie is bogged down by its transparently petty need to show Man of Steel how much more “responsible” it is (since Marvel fanboys decided to fixate endlessly on the mass destruction at the end of Man of Steel). Way too much time is spent showing the Avengers saving the civilians, who, ironically, they put in danger in the first place. The greatest villain of the picture is Tony Stark, who started this whole thing by sticking his finger in that light proverbial socket. It didn’t shock him, just everyone else. He gets some flak from the team, but not nearly as much as he should (and they’re all such jerks to each other it’s hard to tell when they’re actually angry). He should have been kicked out immediately.

There are some cool action sequences, but nothing tops the siege on a Hydra castle in a snowy forest at the start of the film, where the skirmish moves along like the panels of a comic book in an unbroken shot, reintroducing each Avenger. The Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight is fun, but it feels like it was thrown in just because “HULK VS. HULKBUSTER!!!” and there aren’t any major consequences because of it.

After that first hour, the action becomes cynical in its waves of CG explosions and debris-scattering repetition, as though Whedon resented the bloated, mindless movie he realized he was making. The climax is a retread of the first movie in a less interesting setting, with the heroes mowing down hordes of generic CG enemies like a video game (first faceless aliens, now faceless robots). I was never worried for any of the Avengers. I never for a moment thought Ultron would win. It was all very familiar, and very exhausting.

“I’m in a loop,” yells Bruce Banner in a bout of frustration, after events have become too repetitive even for him. “I’m caught in a time loop.” I get the impression Whedon snuck in that line late in the production, shortly before he informed Marvel he would not return to direct a third.


Black Sails Season 2 Finale “XVIII” Review

“Everyone is a monster to someone. Since you’re so convinced that I am yours, I will be it.” 

Warning: Here be spoilers

Captain James Flint is just one of many monsters who have come into their prime in the second season of Black Sails, but he is by far the most compelling. The completely unexpected reveal of his homosexual love affair was not a gimmick, but a moment that brought glaring clarity to every action he has taken. The reserved, tortured, and seemingly one-dimensional villain of season one retroactively became interesting, and this facet of Flint’s character must have always been part of the plan. I applaud the restraint of the writers for not revealing it immediately. There have been perhaps too many Treasure Island prequel novels detailing Flint’s exploits, but Toby Stephens’ interpretation has become, in my eyes, the definitive version of this character.

There are so many big moments this episode, so much fan service, I’m going to have to watch it again very soon to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Seeing Charles Vane fight alongside Flint was thrilling. This version of Vane is more of a dark force of nature than a character, and I’m fine with that. Vane is the quintessential pirate, with no regrets and an insatiable appetite for death and destruction. He’s a fitting contrast for the nuanced Flint. I’m not sure how long they can last as partners, but they now have a common goal. It’s an understatement to say Jack Rackham and his gang are going to have a difficult time keeping their freshly-acquired treasure. And of course we know they can’t.

The gradual transition of John Silver from inspiring spinster to feared man who accidentally commands murder with nothing more than a dark glance has been fascinating to watch. In Treasure Island, Long John Silver was the only man Flint feared, and as of “XVIII” we see Silver closer than ever to becoming that man, even in his diminished state. While Vane is in Charleston attempting to free Flint, Silver’s dealings with the latest ambitious-but-thick-witted pirate to sit in the captain’s chair reveal a far more confident man who is falling into his new role, and maybe enjoying it more than he realizes. And then things go awry, and he’s literally hacked back into reality, bringing us that dreaded moment we all knew was coming. I’m surprised it came so soon, but relieved they didn’t draw it out like the Crispin Glover gag in Hot Tub Time Machine.

The attack on Charleston is glorious and horrific, with quick glimpses of what a cannon ball does to a human’s body. The effects are movie-quality, a marked improvement over the somewhat flawed CGI of season one. Sound design is top notch as well, with constant pistol and musket shot whizzing past, swords clanging, and the poor townsfolk screaming in terror. The slaves helping Flint kill one of their captors was a great detail, and a reminder of why so many became pirates when given the opportunity. The framing of Miranda’s coffin in the background of another big scene was perfect; Flint’s last tie to civilization forever lost as the structures of Charleston crumble around him. Black Sails can be a bit too talky, but this was visual poetry at its finest.

Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny basically bookend this episode, with nothing inbetween, but their journey is crucial, setting high stakes for season 3. One of my few complaints this season was the treatment of Anne Bonny, who spent most of it moping around feeling sorry for herself. But it was great to see her killing Jack’s attackers in the previous episode, and even better to see her finally where she truly belongs, on the deck of a ship, and I’m curious where she goes from here. I’d be fine with Black Sails recreating her capture and trial, but given the sudden death of Ned Low, it seems anything can happen.

No sign of Eleanor this episode, but I have a feeling her trial in London will be key. When pressed for information, she could be a valuable asset in undoing the pirates of Nassau.

The second season of Black Sails has improved on the first in nearly every way (characters, writing, and production in general). The only problem Starz faces now is topping this season. Casting Ray Stevenson as Blackbeard is certainly a step in the right direction. The wait is going to be painful.


Alien: Isolation – A Masterpiece of Sustained Terror

After completing the 20+ hours of relentless terror that is Alien Isolation, I feel like I’ve been through hell.

2416302-ai_360+rgb+frontI happened across a revolver early on, but this is not a first person shooter, as I quickly discovered when I made the mistake of taking a shot at the alien during our first encounter. Bullets only cause him to bleed acid all over poor Amanda Ripley as he latches on. A flamethrower works better, but your best bet is to save the fuel (which runs out fast and is difficult to replenish) and hide in a locker or under a desk. Much of this game is hiding, crouching, sneaking through dark hallways, and praying he doesn’t spot you. Be careful using that flashlight, and whatever you do, don’t run. The A.I. on display here is impressive. Just when I thought I knew the alien’s pattern, he would surprise me.

The levels are massive, and perfectly capture the aesthetic of Ridley Scott’s first film while exploring the full potential of his designs and taking them to the next level. Computers are no less antiquated than they were in the original film, housed in bulky yellow monitors, with pixelated green text that makes all the familiar bloops and beeps as it streams across the screen. Compulsively checking the motion tracker becomes habit, even though looking at the little green screen annoyingly blurs anything beyond that field of view (a nice detail). You can refocus your distant vision with the tap of a button, but that blurs the motion tracker. On Xbox One, this game sports incredibly detailed environments, with naturalistic lighting, steaming vents, and terrifying shadows.

The last three hours were the most intense “entertainment” I’ve ever experienced, and I doubt I’ll be getting a good night’s sleep any time soon. It was almost too much to handle, especially two thirds of the way through, where the game alarmingly transitions from Ridley Scott’s slow burn into James Cameron’s in-your-face breakneck pace when Amanda Ripley reaches an enormous and frightening generator room at the heart of the space station she is so desperately attempting to escape. Soon she finds rooms full of strung up victims and hatching eggs. The first time a facehugger lived up to its name, I involuntarily threw my controller.

Aliens are not the only enemy, of course. Some of the humans you encounter are a problem. It’s fun to dispatch them by tossing handmade “noisemakers” their way and watching the alien go to town. You don’t want to shoot at them, because the sound will only draw the alien down on you instead. There are also creepy, cheaply-manufactured androids made by a competitor of Wayland Yutani. These guys would make Peter Wayland scowl in disgust in much the same way Apple’s Jony Ive scowls at Android phones.

I was skeptical of the Ripley’s daughter plot at first, but Amanda proves a very strong character of her own, and the premise works well enough in a non-canonical video game. Andrea Deck does a wonderful job voicing her, complete with convincingly exasperated fucks, shits, and “CHRIST!” when she barely survives a close encounter. Sigourney Weaver provides some new dialogue, although I won’t reveal why and how. There are quite a few Easter eggs tying it all to the first movie, and even a few Prometheus references. Also, there’s a flashback mission where you’ll explore the derelict that started this whole mess.

Any Alien fan owes it to him or herself to play this one, provided you don’t mind spending several nights suspicious of the shadows in your bedroom… when you’re not dreaming of facehuggers fucking your mouth.


Sci-Fi Blockbusters: When Did Humans Become So Boring?

The summer movie season of 2014 has been filled with charismatic monsters, robots, apes, and aliens… and a wealth of slack-jawed humans to gawk at them while offering nothing resembling a personality. If you’d never seen Bryan Cranston or Ken Watanabe in anything else, Godzilla certainly wouldn’t cause you to scan their IMDB pages. Cranston plays an obsessed father who dies rather stupidly (on a falling bridge, like Captain Kirk) early on, leaving his son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass) to carry us through the remainder of the movie. Taylor-Johnson is one of those magical military types who just happens methodically through every major plot point (despite the story taking place across half the planet) and seems to be the only character with the powers of perception. He can command fellow soldiers with nothing more than a convincing speech. Of course, the titular monster does not disappoint, and the movie soars whenever he shows up. Godzilla obviously can’t talk, and thus can’t explain to the audience who he is, but it becomes clear through his actions. By the end of the film, Godzilla is a far better character than the humans who marvel at him. Perhaps that’s as it should be, but we spend much more time with the bland humans. Continue reading



I’m not sure who “Maleficent” was made for. A fan of the character will want to revel in her villainous antics, which this movie mostly denies… except for that one time she got carried away in a totally understandable fit of anger, which she quickly feels bad about. No one else will be given a reason to care. As a hero, she isn’t particularly captivating. 

Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast. She puts a lot into her scenes, but the screenplay tries too hard to make her sympathetic. It’s a testament to Jolie’s talent that she effortlessly rolls with the punches, but there’s only so much she can do.

Continue reading



(Spoilers contained within. Ye be warned.)

Name's Electro. The "DERP" is silent.

Name’s Electro. The “DERP” is silent.

Thanks to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn’t entirely suck. It only kind of sucks. It really sucks whenever Electro (Jamie Foxx) is onscreen, and composer Hans Zimmer, who apparently had one shroom too many while writing the score, insists on generic dubstep with a repetitious chant (“You used me! You lied to me! You are dead to me! Spider-Man is my enemy!”) evidently meant to echo the voices in Electro’s head. Unfortunately, the voices in Electro’s head are morons, and so is the character.

Before he becomes Electro, Foxx plays the under-appreciated Oscorp worker-bee Max Dillon with a nerdy passive-aggressiveness far too reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s Edward Nigma in Batman Forever. In a scene ripped from another Batman movie, Max is wandering down the very same street that Spidey happens to be battling an angry Paul Giamatti (I’ll get to him later), carrying a bundle of blueprints, which he of course clumsily drops, because that’s what Selina Kyle did in Batman Returns. Spidey saves Max’s life, because that’s what Batman did in Batman Returns. In a new development that the screenwriters came up with all on their own, Spidey notices Max’s name on his name tag, and addresses him by name while basically mocking him and his silly comb-over. Max is immediately smitten, overjoyed that Spidey has acknowledged him, and too stupid to realize he’s being mocked by a superpowered hipster in spandex. Continue reading


Black Sails Review: Exciting and Authentic Pirate Action

The-Black-Sails-gangBlack Sails immediately captures the brutality and theatricality of pirates with an opening that is as fearsome as it is breathless. The action is smartly portrayed from the perspective of the victims, as their ship is mercilessly set upon by vicious pirates. This exciting opening sparks a plot that is intended to lead directly into Treasure Island.

Black Sails is a stunning, lavishly detailed production, blurring the lines between big budget film and television. Bear McCreary provides a stirring score that isn’t overly piratey. The acting is surprisingly solid from a cast that is generally a little too good-looking. I’m not yet sold on this interpretation of John Silver (Luke Arnold). His charming rogue-ishness seems a little forced, and is one of the few genre cliches to be found. Of course, this is a younger Silver, before the loss of his leg. Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), on the other hand, is a very interesting character, and has some fun interplay with his quartermaster.

The dialogue (particularly Hannah New as the hard-as-nails Eleanor) seems to be trying a little too hard to be Deadwood at times. Poetic vulgarity is difficult to pull off, though Black Sails gets props for trying. There’s room for improvement here, but even the finest shows have spent much of the first season finding a specific voice and tone. This one starts out more confident than most, but it still needs a little work. A bit more humor wouldn’t hurt.

As a rabid fanboy of historical pirates, I appreciated much of the detailed authenticity of the setting. Real historical pirates make an appearance, including “Calico Jack” Rackham (Toby Schmitz) and Charles Vane (Zack McGowan). They’re only shown briefly in the pilot, but I’m looking forward to more. The only historical element I was put off by was the portrayal of Anne Bonny (Clara Paget). By all accounts, Bonny was attractive, brash, and Irish. Black Sails gives us a fetching (even though they try to hide it) but mousy tomboy with what sounded like a British accent. This characterization would be far better suited to Anne’s partner in crime, Mary Read. Still, we get a brief glimpse of a potentially fun and formidable female character.

The show appears to use CG for the longshots of ships at sea, which took a little getting used to. I’m sure there’s no other way, given that filming actual ships at sea is probably way too expensive for a TV show. The establishing shot of Nassau, however, is utterly breathtaking. Everything on deck is very convincing and appropriately grimy.

I like that, apart from Silver, it’s not treated as a self-referential pirate story thus far. It’s all very gritty and realistic. There’s a brutal sword fight at the end of the episode that Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion, and an episode of Game of Thrones) directs with his usual bloody fanfare.

There’s a lot to like here, but these characters will need to evolve in subsequent episodes to keep up the momentum. It’s certainly a better start than Spartacus had, and that show turned out great. Time will tell, but this is a promising first episode in what looks to be an exciting show, and I can recommend it on the production values alone.

Black Sails premieres on Starz on Saturday, January 25th.


Endless Fun in the Golden Age of Piracy: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

A kinder Blackbeard... at first

A kinder Blackbeard… at first

When I wrote the chapter in “The Devil’s Fire” which describes a pirate ship broadsiding a Spanish galleon in a tumultuous Caribbean sea at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy, I never expected I’d be able to experience such a thing. The latest Assassin’s Creed game has allowed me to do that, and a whole lot more.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag gives the player free reign of the Caribbean, starting in 1715, when history’s most infamous pirates made their names. The seamless transition between sea and land is exhilarating. As you explore the Caribbean, you’re free to furl your ship’s sails and leap into the crystal blue waters and explore any island you happen across. The gameplay yields to the wants of the player, rather than the other way around. You can attack ships, hunt whales and sharks, explore mysterious coves and Mayan ruins, or wander an island town and engage in a tavern brawl.

Black Flag stars Edward Kenway, a Welshman who has temporarily (he hopes) left his wife in order to pursue fortune in the Caribbean. He naively tells her he will be gone a year, two at the most. But Kenway’s plans change when he stumbles upon a Templar conspiracy.

Those who are unfamiliar with previous Assassin’s Creed games, which have constructed quite a complicated mythology, need not worry. Black Flag continues the story but doesn’t require players to have a deep knowledge of prior games. While the same Templar conspiracy that propelled Assassin’s Creed 1, 2, and 3 also runs through Black Flag, the story is fairly easy to get a handle on. It may carry the title of a popular franchise, but this is a pirate game through and through.

Edward Kenway’s story weaves conveniently in and out of history. He meets up with Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch (not Teach, in this telling), Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, “Calico Jack” Rackham, and Anne Bonny, just to name a few. Kenway acts as a behind-the-scenes instigator, sparking key events in history but wisely remaining under the radar. When Woodes Rogers claims Nassau and turns out all pirates, Kenway helps Captain Vane set a ship on fire in the harbor as an act of defiance. The incident is just one of many that actually occurred. Hornigold’s surrender to Governor Rogers, which earned him the bile of his former compatriots, was particularly fun for me to watch, given Hornigold’s part in The Devil’s Fire series.

Anne Bonny plays a large role

Anne Bonny plays a large role

Edward Thatch’s transition into Blackbeard is natural and surprisingly poignant. This is a slightly different interpretation of the man who would become the feared Devil of the Caribbean. He is not an overly cruel man who kills beyond necessity, but he plays up a frightful visage when it becomes clear that it will take him that much further.

Black Flag does not brush over the details, including the large role that women played in piracy. Kenway has run-ins with Mary Read and Anne Bonny. Bonny is a fiery Irish lass who takes what she wants when she wants it.

The graphics are stunning. The gorgeous Caribbean sea stretches for leagues, with beautiful, realistic water effects. Islands are green and lush, and the sandy beaches are white and inviting. The weather is unpredictable, and before you know it you might find your ship caught up in a violent storm, struggling to avoid dangerous funnels that stretch from the clouds to the sea. Rogue waves can be just as devastating as a frigate’s broadside.

There are three major cities: Nassau, Kingston, and Havana. Liberties have been taken with the geography, but that is probably a necessary evil when making a game that is both fun to play and easy to navigate. In concurrence with history, Nassau changes drastically over the course of the game, beginning as nothing more than rundown shanties and evolving into a bustling town.

A varied cast of talented voice actors bring every character to life. I particularly enjoyed Blackbeard and Bonny’s voice actors. The sound design is excellent, from the crashing of waves against your ship’s hull to the strange animal ambiance that accompanies nightfall in an island town or jungle setting. Brian Tyler’s (Watchmen) score is very cinematic, with a catchy main theme that I found myself humming when I wasn’t playing.

While I’ve progressed through most of the story missions, I’m nowhere near done with it. I’ve got plenty more whales to kill, ships to broadside, forts to terrorize, shipwrecks to investigate, and islands to explore. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a must for anyone even remotely interested in pirates.


World War Z: The Best Zombie Movie Ever Made (If You’ve Never Seen A Zombie Movie)

World War Z

Slight spoilers contained throughout.

World War Z taught me that in a zombie apocalypse, scientists, army, and government officials will stand around waiting for Brad Pitt (a magical guy who used to do important stuff for the government, or something) to show up and point out the obvious. Brad Pitt is also the only man on earth capable of investigation, the powers of seeing the obvious, and the uncanny ability to walk down a darkened corridor with a crowbar to obtain something vital. No one thinks to do these things until Brad Pitt shows up to take the initiative. And after escaping millions of zombies, he does the stupidest thing imaginable because ONE ZOMBIE is blocking his path.

They gave away every money shot of this movie in the trailers, and the last third is generic stuff that you’ve seen on any given episode of Walking Dead, only with an even less interesting leading character running around being the Perfect Male. And could they have cast a more boring woman for his wife?? She’s a complacent wife whose entire purpose is to make women in the audience feel like they’d have a chance with Brad Pitt. She has no personality of her own. She’s just so goshdarn lucky she got to make two boringly perfect children with Brad Pitt. And she doesn’t put up much of a fuss when he leaves, because The Government Needs Him.

It’s directed by Marc Foster, director of the insufferable Quantum of Solace. He has no sense of pacing or buildup. His shakycam shakes at everything except the things you want it to shake at. The movie is saturated only in shades of shit-brown. Actors are dubbed over when it’s not clear why they’re doing what they’re doing. At one point, someone is bitten, but the shakycam starts shaking in the wrong direction, and you hear the actor yell something to the equivalent of, “Oh no! I’m bit!”

The complete lack of blood is almost offensive. Marc Forster is either very desperate to get a PG-13 (and thinks that PG-13 movies must be bloodless), or he has hemophobia. Maybe he passes out when he sees red. He’s afraid of violent sounds, too. When a machete is used to hack off someone’s arm, it makes a pathetic “whoosh” noise. This movie had no balls, and thus very little impact. What’s the point of a zombie movie without a little gore?

The opening ten minutes of zombie-induced hysteria are somewhat intense. The jet sequence is suddenly not shit (kind of like the randomly good opera sequence in Quantum of Solace). The zombies are occasionally scary, when they’re not CG hordes. This is not the worst movie ever, but it reeks of too many cooks in the kitchen, and feels so very Hollywood. There are far better zombie movies.

If nothing else, it really made me want to watch 28 Days Later again.


Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit review by Matt TomerlinThe main problem with movie critics is that they’re doing a job. Many of them were clearly paying more attention to their watches than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Personally, I relished the time spent in Middle Earth. The leisurely pace allows every scene to flourish and breathe. This is old fashioned cinema.

Martin Freeman does a good job as the intentionally stilted Bilbo, who is far more courageous than he knows. Freeman never goes over the top with his performance, and he’s somewhat of a relief from the oh-so-innocent Frodo. However, my favorite character was Thorin. Richard Armitage was perfectly cast. The relationship between him and Bilbo is the heart of this movie, and it builds toward a wonderful payoff. If this hadn’t worked, nothing else would have.

I don’t think any narrative magic would have me reciting all of the dwarves’ names on command, but they are all visually distinctive, and they feel like individuals. They are constantly moving and talking, and I’m sure I missed a lot of what they were saying because their dialogue is not always focused on. Every once in a while I’d catch some hilarious bit of background dialogue.

The cameos were nicely done, especially Bilbo and Frodo (Elijah Wood does not age). I loved that the older Bilbo sequence takes place *right* before Fellowship begins. Christopher Lee’s scene mostly foreshadows coming events with Saruman, although he already seems so dark that it’s kind of strange no one sees his betrayal coming.

The movie is not as emotional as any given Lord of the Rings movie. Dramatic beats are not milked for everything they’re worth, and the camaraderie never gets as hammy as it could get in the previous movies. I found this to be a welcome relief.

Most of the effects are a step above Lord of the Rings, which makes the bad effects all the more jarring. Azog The Defiler looks surprisingly awful, as if he wasn’t finished. I’m honestly not sure why this character was CG. The Goblin King, on the other hand, is exceptionally detailed (with a chin that will have parents exchanging nervous glances). The warg effects are pretty much just as flawed as they were in The Two Towers (especially when they’re running around in a field in broad daylight).

Despite some questionable effects, this movie was very easy on the eyes. The detail and scale of Goblin Town (which was the inspiration for Pirate Town in The Devil’s Tide, FYI) blew my mind. I can’t wait to watch this part again, because there’s so much going on. Gollum and his cave look great. Rivendell is absolutely stunning. I wanted to pause the film at times just so I could drink in every detail of an image, even though Peter Jackson kindly lingers on establishing shots.

A 6.3 Earthquake jolted our theater in Anaheim right as Bilbo was posing his final riddle, but no one made any move to leave their seats. In fact, I heard this exchange: “Was that an earthquake?” “Yes. Shh.”

The action scenes in the final half are excellent, although I found the thunder battle somewhat tedious, and I’m not sure it even needed to be in the movie. Sure, it looks cool, but it didn’t serve much of a purpose. The physics are more cartoony than Lord of the Rings. Characters can survive falling from ridiculous heights or being crushed by debris.

Howard Shore’s score is like a familiar warm blanket. Themes from Lord of the Rings seep into several scenes. The heroic dwarven theme is so stirring that I wanted to jump into the action and fight alongside these guys. I’m guessing Shore will add more themes in future installments.

The final moment is touching. Again, Jackson never gut punches you with emotion in this film, but I did get a sizable lump in my throat when Thorin finally sees Bilbo for who he is.