Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

I personally felt like the biggest risk of the early days of the MCU was Captain America (Chris Evans, Gifted, Playing It Cool). As a character, he ran the risk of being the goody boy with too many morals and stances to be an interesting or layered character. I wasn’t concerned with Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk. I even thought Thor has a better chance of success. It was Captain America, especially with Evans leading as the character. I’d seen him do good work, but I didn’t see him as Cap. I’m glad I was wrong.

In 1942, the villainous Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mortal Engines) has just acquired the Tesseract, a weapon of the gods. With it he plans to turn the tide of the war and change the world forever. In America, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Big Night, Nomis) plans to do the same with a weapon of his own: a Super-Soldier serum. He selects Steve Rogers (Evans), a physical weakling with a big heart and mind and an interest to help people. Now, Rogers is ready to end the war and take down Schmidt before he masters the Tesseract and unleashes its unlimited power.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a sign that the MCU is making films that have a similar flavor but make conscious tonal decisions. The previous film, Thor, was made as a Shakespearean superhero film, complete with Kenneth Branagh as a director. The First Avenger is a period serial film in the vein of The Rocketeer or The Phantom, an adventure film with a noted director, Joe Johnston (October Sky, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) at the lead.

Chris Evans does great work as Captain America. He completely surprised me. With the aid of CGI, he performs quite well as pre-Cap Steve Rogers. He is somehow able to convey dialogue that could appear cheesy do-gooder lines with purpose and meaning. He is dedicated. As Captain America, it is his stance that drives the story forward. It is his convictions to best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, Destroyer, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and to his country.

Hayley Atwell (The Duchess, Christopher Robin) is also quite good as Peggy Carter, who assists with the Super-Soldier program and develops a strong connection to Rogers. Their chemistry is sizzling and it holds the whole film together. She played the character with a physical toughness matching the Cap’s and conveyed strength. She isn’t a damsel in distress but an equal.

Marvel struggled with villains a lot but their focus on hero development was so strong, many seemed to forgive. Unfortunately, Red Skull was just not very compelling here. He could have twirled his own mustache if he had one. With an actor of Hugo Weaving’s caliber, a compelling villain should have been easier, and Red Skull is serviceable in moving the plot and arc of the MCU in this film, but that’s about it.

Joe Johnston created a 1940s Marvel movie and it works pretty damn well, even as the weakest in the Captain America trilogy. Chris Evans gets a great start in his tenure as Steve Rogers, and his relationship with Peggy Carter ties the film to something real and tangible. The action is fun and eye-popping and the wide array of supporting players are fun. It struggles with a villain but not with its musical score, very American muster type of music. Overall, this risk paid off quite well.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

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Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Justin Theroux

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Remember way back when the MCU just had a few films and we were shocked to find that there was already a sequel? Oh wait, we were still shocked that there was a cinematic universe…

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Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the first film (running somewhat concurrently to The Incredible Hulk) as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef) opens the Stark Expo to continue his father’s legacy to create new technology to change the world, but he is facing an internal problem: the palladium core in Tony’s arc reactor is slowly killing him. As Stark places Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Se7en, Mortdecai) in the role of CEO for Stark Industries, he is also faced with vengeance from a new villain: Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), the son of a man wronged by Howard Stark, who has taken on the moniker Whiplash, to punish Tony for the sins of his father. To put it short, Tony Stark is having a rough time.

Iron Man 2 gets a lot of flack for being a lesser film than its predecessor, but I prefer it. Tony Stark is faced with a lot of conflicts in the film and it gives him the opportunity to be a good person, something he wasn’t given the ability to do in Iron Man. I enjoyed the villains in the film (again, something that others didn’t care for), and I really liked how it set up the rest of Phase 1 of the MCU. It’s strange, that same tactic was unimpressive in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but here it really worked for me.

Iron Man 2 adds so much to the mythology with new heroes Rhodey (Don Cheadle, TV’s House of Lies, Crash) becoming War Machine and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Hail, Caesar!) showing up as Natalie Rushman. There’s the building up of SHIELD and the references to upcoming installments Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

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Iron Man 2 has detractors (the film hasn’t aged well), but overall its a pretty damn fun time, and while it was mostly a transitional film for the MCU as it found its footing. I liked it a lot, but I can kind of see what others don’t like.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Chef, click here.

 

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

 

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the work that Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) and his creative team has accomplished. Six films, two trilogies, and hours upon hours of extended editions have comprised the Middle-Earth Saga.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz) and the company of dwarves have just let the diabolical Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Penguins of Madagascar) loose on Lake Town. It’s up to Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6) to stop the evil dragon and reclaim their lives. Tempers soon flair up as the treasures of Erebor are up for grabs and Thorin (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm), consumed by greed, has decided not to honor the agreement made with Bard and his people. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) continues his battle against the dreaded Necromancer.

The finale to The Hobbit trilogy is a far different film from its predecessors, and with a very simple plot, revolves entirely around the Battle of the Five Armies, one of the biggest battles in Middle-Earth history. It is very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where the entire film revolves around the climactic ending as opposed to standing on its own. It is definitely my sixth favorite Middle-Earth film.

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Ian McKellan is a torn Gandalf here, caught between his allegiance to the Company of Dwarves and his commitment to reason and peace. McKellan continues to impress.

Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, Real Steel) is great as Tauriel here, the elf who has developed feelings for the poisoned dwarf Kili. Her relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) and his father Thranuil (Lee Pace, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, Guardians of the Galaxy) are further delved into in this film and helps to increase her internal and external conflicts as the story progresses.

As far as the Company of Dwarves, we get more great but wholly underutilized work from Ken Stott (Shallow Grave, One Day) as Balin, the dwarf who will one day claim Moria, and James Nesbitt (Coriolanus, Match Point) as Bofur, the dwarf who, above all else, just wants his home back.

I also loved the continual references to future events and foreshadowing from The Lord of the Rings, like the cameo appearances from Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Ian Holm (Ratatouille, Lord of War), Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas). My only major issue was that I wanted more. Tolkien fans will know that Balin ends up in Moria with Oin, we know that Gloin has a son named Gimli, we know Saruman’s fate, but I wanted to see more in this film.

Director Jackson continues to prove he can handle action and large-scale battle sequences, the action here is incredible. His cinematography mixed with the amazingly well-put-together sequences, and Howard Shore’s deep and thunderous score.

It took me a while to really enjoy Billy Boyd’s final song, “The Last Goodbye,” but once I did, I really felt it tied together not just this film, but the trilogy and in fact the entire saga.

If you get the chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance capture for Smaug and the Necromancer, do it. He is incredible to watch even without the CGI placed over it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t Jackson’s best work, but it certainly is a perfectly fine finale to an epic series. I feel like the theatrical cut of the film is missing some key details, and I hope that the extended cut has the ability to expand this on the film and show us some more connective tissues.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

Man of Steel (2013)

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Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayalet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer

143 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.

 

So what happens when the king of green-screen takes on the most famous superhero in history. Why, you get Man of Steel. My review is here.

On the far-off planet of Krypton, science officer Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, Noah) tries to convince his dying planet that they do not have any time left and must abandon all hope to the stars. As he quells a coup from military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon, TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Take Shelter), Jor-El realizes that all hope for saving his race are gone except for a miracle which has resulted in the first natural birth in years. His son Kal-El is born. Jor-El does one of the most insane things in comic book history by launching his infant son off into space in hopes of saving the Kryptonian species.

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Years later, an adult Kal-El (Henry Cavill, Immortals, The Cold Light of Day), now under the guise of Clark Kent, tries to keep his superpowers under wraps as he lives a normal life raised to Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves, Draft Day) and his wife, Martha (Diane Lane, Unfaithful, Secretariat).That is, until General Zod comes to Earth in search of taking the planet and terraforming it for his own. Now, with the help of Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, Her), Superman must stop Zod and save the human race from extinction.

I wanted to like this movie. I am a major fan of the Superman mythos. I love director Christopher Nolan and his work with The Dark Knight series, so when I saw his name on the producer credits for Man of Steel, I was overjoyed. I even like somewhat likable director Zack Snyder, and find him to be a slightly more skilled director than Michael Bay, so I was excited. Then I saw it.

It felt like the team behind the film didn’t know anything about Superman or why his character is so important. We see virtually none of Clark Kent. He reveals himself to Lois Lane way way too early for there to be an actual romance to develop. I like General Zod, but he isn’t nearly as strong as previous incarnations have made the character. He comes off as a lost little leader looking for someone to blame as opposed to the cold and calculated military beast he should be. His flunkies are not anything more than flat uninspired flunkies.

The film has some strong performances from minor characters due to great work by Costner, Lane, and Crowe as well Laurence Fishburne (TV’s Black-ish, The Matrix) as Daily Planet bigwig Perry White and Christopher Meloni (TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) as Colonel Nathan Hardy, but unfortunately, when you cast an unknown, you might get a dud. Henry Cavill is a dud.

Then there is Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch), who definitely brings the spectacle, and a lot of it, but he doesn’t give us any heart. This film is all spectacle, no substance. We don’t get any Daily Planet or Jimmy Olsen. We don’t get any Lex Luthor (though I can get waiting on the sequel for him). We don’t get what an origin story needs. Here’s some advice. Don’t do an origin story if the previous incarnation did it so well. Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie did the origin so well, so why try to top it. Do what The Incredible Hulk and just skip past it while referencing little moments. This film was too much like The Amazing Spider-Man and not enough like a reboot should be.

And if I might have a moment to speak to David S. Goyer. Sir, please take a break from superheroes. It’s becoming a little weird.

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Sadly, Man of Steel was not the movie I was looking for. The character of Superman has a little camp, and that’s fine, at least Marvel took on the camp with their version of Captain America: The First Avenger and embrace it a little. Have a little fun. Isn’t that what superheroes usually are about (with the exception of a select few). Hopefully this team can pick up the pieces with Batfleck and fix it for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I said hopefully.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

169 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

It took eleven years for The Hobbit to be made. I’m talking from the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of An Unexpected Journey. Difficulties with securing rights and two bankruptcies as well as shifts in director and a few actors, it seemed very unlikely that The Hobbit would ever see the light of day. Well, it took some time, but now we have not one but three Hobbit films to witness, but they certainly have a lot to live up to, so do they?

As Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Lord of War) gets prepared to disappear from his 111th birthday, he begins writing a book of his most important physical and emotional journey, which took place sixty years previously. His story involves the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm) on a quest to free Erebor, the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from the treacherous dragon Smaug. Along his journey, Bilbo will come across many perils, including trolls, rock giants, and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas).

You can bet your ass I was first in line for the initial Hobbit film, and I walked out supremely satisfied. There was a lot of nervousness standing in line. I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a massive tome squeezed into three films, and yet The Hobbit, shorter than any of the individual volumes was crafted into three movies. I worried about pacing, and also the nine years from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to then. So much of the film was up in the air.

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Ian McKellan worried me, as his performance, along with Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), who portrayed Saruman, completed their performances over green screen. My worry was met with joy as I found McKellan provided another powerhouse nuanced performance yet again.

Then there was Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz), newcomer to the franchise in the roll of young Bilbo, who had a lot of weight to carry. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, where large sections were split amongst several major characters. This was The Hobbit, and he was The Hobbit. Thankfully, given the comedy that features a lot more in the livelier of the two tales gave Freeman plenty of room to play and ultimately, he proved his dramatic chops nicely as well.

Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin was another importantly placed action, and another well-placed one. Armitage is virtually unrecognizable in the extensive dwarf makeup (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) but still proves himself worthy of the dwarf prince.

Filling out the dwarven party are some terrific little performances for Bofur (James Nesbitt, Millions, Coriolanus) and Balin (Ken Stott, One Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as, really, the entire party. The whole cast just fires on all cylinders here, including returning players Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) as Elrond, Elijah Wood (TV’s Wilfred, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Frodo and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) wields the camera differently in this film, taking full advantage of his cinematography grasp with RED cameras, 3D sequences exploding off the screen, and 48 frames per second (which takes a moment to get used to, but really looks gorgeous when utilized).

I also really enjoyed the musicality of the characters here. We get some great musical moments here especially in the opening with “Misty Mountains” performed by the dwarven party. It is a beautifully realized moment to open the franchise on and becomes a truly hummable song through the entirety of the viewing.

As far as the visual effects go, I would have enjoyed a little more practical work, but with the grandeur of the franchise at this point and the physical limitations of the aging cast, I can understand, and it looks just fine.

Now for fans of The Lord of the Rings, there are certainly plenty of callbacks for characters including Gloin (Peter Hambleton) who is Gimli’s father and a member of the dwarven party. Fans will also recognize Balin’s name. It is interesting to note that many of the returning characters like Frodo, Galadriel and Saruman are not actually in The Hobbit, but they certainly help with the suturing of both massive stories into one large saga.

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I loved the first installment of The Hobbit franchise and I am so happy to see Peter Jackson behind the camera again. The film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and it pisses me off that it was the first film in the Middle-Earth Saga to be snubbed, but such is life. We move on. Home is behind…the world ahead.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

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