Super Mario 3D Land Review

Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land was the first standout original title on the Nintendo 3DS. Before its release in 2011, the 3DS’ library mainly consisted of quality remakes (Star Fox 64 3D) or uneventful original titles. But then 3D Land brought the handheld up to speed, and it hasn’t looked back.

Super Mario 3D Land looks and plays closely to the 3D Mario platformers, though its level structure and pacing make it more resemble the plumber’s 2D iterations. Your control over Mario feels similar to Super Mario Galaxy, though the spin attack is absent, and many of Mario’s acrobatics altered (no more triple jumps, long jumps are performed after rolling, and somersaults now need a brief charge-up). Mario’s moves are back to basics.

An inclusion of a run button makes things feel more in line with the 2D sidescrolling Mario games, meaning that Mario will leisurely stroll through a stage unless the button is held at all times. It may pay homage to Mario’s roots, but the run button feels slightly awkward when controlling Mario in a 3D space.

The stages, while having the appearance of those found in Marios 64 and Galaxy, are more closely associated with Super Mario Bros. 3 or New Super Mario Bros. The levels are timed, like in the 2D games (though you can find clocks to add to your time), and the goal is not to collect stars, but to reach the end of the stage (in the form of a flag pole, naturally).

In terms of structure, 3D Land enjoys paying tribute to a number of Mario’s most beloved games, but it doesn’t stop there. One of the big draws of the game is the return of the Tanooki Suit, which returned here for the first time since its debut in Super Mario Bros. 3 over two decades earlier. Some changes have been made to how Tanooki Mario works. He can no longer fly, instead being restricted to fluttery jumps (making trickier platforming levels a bit easier) and the ability to turn into a statue is reserved for post-game content. Tanooki Mario does retain his tail whip attack, which basically functions like the aforementioned Galaxy spin attack. Tanooki Mario may work differently, but you can’t deny the pure joy of seeing Mario in that ridiculously fluffy outfit once again.

The other power-ups include the Super Mushroom (which makes small Mario return to his normal stature after being hit by an enemy), the ever-present Fire Flower, the Propeller Box from New Super Mario Bros. Wii returns, and the game introduces one new power-up to Mario’s arsenal: the Boomerang Suit.

Super Mario 3D LandSimilar to Hammer Mario from Super Mario Bros. 3 (which saw Mario turn the tables on the Hammer Bros.) Boomerang Mario follows suit and gives Mario the same boomerang throwing capabilities of the Boomerang Bros. This new suit serves as a good compliment to Mario’s repertoire of zany power-ups, though it can feel like little more than a slightly altered Fire Mario. Jumping over your boomerang repeatedly and watching it take out enemies from both sides of you is entertaining, though the power-up is neither as inventive and strategic as Cloud Mario nor as destructively fun as Rock Mario of Galaxy 2.

The game was the first to make extensive uses of the 3DS’ namesake 3D effects. I dare say that playing the game without the 3D turned on may even take something away from the experience.

Super Mario 3D Land boasts a number of 3D visuals at just about every instance: blocks will float into your immediate view, piranha plants spit ink more at the player than at Mario, the difference between foreground and background have never been more evident, and in some top-down sections (such as a level dedicated to The Legend of Zelda series), Mario will leap up at the player with every jump.

The visuals are joined by a fun musical score. The new tunes are catchy and charming, and compliment some returning favorites. It may not be one of the best soundtracks in the series, but it suits the game.

3D Land is definitely a solid Mario title, though it does suffer from a few drawbacks. If you’re a Mario veteran, the game will be a breeze for the first five of the game’s eight initial worlds, and when the difficulty picks up, there are still few instances in which a couple retries won’t suffice. The difficulty does, however, take a strong spike after you beat the game and the new challenges begin.

Another downside is that, for a Mario game, 3D Land is strongly by-the-book. While certainly fun and engaging, the level design of 3D Land lacks the constant sense of creativity of a Mario World or Galaxy.

Super Mario 3D LandThat’s not to say the game doesn’t have its own sense of inventiveness. Nintendo once again shows that they can conjure fun gameplay and level structure like no other. But the game’s very best moments feel like condensed iterations of Galaxy’s machinations. Even the boss fights are variants of the same three enemies: Boom-Boom from Super Mario Bros. 3 returns alongside his new boomerang-wielding female counterpart, Pun-Pun, who join the perennial Bowser. They’re fun, but the boss fights are too few in number and too lacking in variety.

Super Mario 3D Land may be by-the-book by Mario’s standards, but perhaps that’s only because Mario’s standards have been set to such heights. It may not be a Mario World, 64, or Galaxy, but Super Mario 3D Land is a great platformer nonetheless, and it’s helped pave the way for just about every great 3DS title since.

 

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Review

Captain Toad

Super Mario 3D World is one of the best games on the Wii U, with some of the best platforming gameplay in the history of the Mario series. But among the highlights of 3D World were the Captain Toad segments, in which Captain Toad would navigate small stages without the ability to jump. But these stages were in short supply, leaving many players hungry for more.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is here to answer that call. It takes the same basic concept of those 3D World bonus stages – navigate small levels and solve puzzles, no jumping – and not only gives players more of it, but expands the concept in many thrilling and creative ways.

Captain ToadTreasure Tracker tweaks the rules ever so slightly. Instead of exhausting a stage of its green stars as he did in 3D World, Captain Toad now only needs to reach a single (gold) star to complete a level. But each stage also houses three diamonds – which you’ll need to unlock more levels – as well as a bonus objective (finding a hidden item, collect a set number of coins, use a minimum of a stage’s trinkets, etc.). The bonus objective isn’t revealed until after you’ve played through a stage once, so you’ll usually find a good reason to go back to replay levels to mark off every objective.

Most of the stages are small, diorama-like entities, with their entirety being visible on-screen from the get-go (only a select few stages are large enough for the action to scroll elsewhere), and they’re all puzzles based around a single mechanic.

In some stages, 3D World’s Double Cherry returns, leaving players to navigate stages while controlling multiple Toads at once. Some levels have Toad flipping the stage over, piece by piece. Some of the best stages see Captain Toad (or Toadette) riding mine carts, which may not have the hectic action of Tropical Freeze’s mine cart stages, but they do bring a unique take on puzzle-solving.

Every stage is a showcase of a fun idea and gameplay hook, and the attention to detail is surprisingly deep. It’s amazing how many creative directions Nintendo takes the Captain Toad concept. Only a handful of stages are truly head-scratching, but they are consistently fresh.

Captain ToadAnother highlight is how well Captain Toad integrates the Wii U Gamepad. As mentioned, most of the stages are bite-sized, and this allows for the camera to search every nook and cranny of the environment. Players can rotate the camera 360 degrees around most stages, and even go for a bird’s eye view to find every last piece of treasure. Players can control the camera with either an analogue stick or through motion control. The former is ideal for newcomers, as the motion controls can be a bit too sensitive, but their implementation in the aforementioned mine cart stages (in which players get a first-person perspective of the action on the Gamepad’s screen) is some of the best on the system.

Touch screen controls and yes, even blowing into the Gamepad’s microphone are used at points to alter the environment and aid the Toads from point A to point B. It may not provide any radically new uses of the Gamepad, but Captain Toad uses the it’s features in various meaningful ways, and they never feel forced.

Aesthetically, the game is beautiful. Yes, it’s using the same visual scheme as 3D World – and even borrows some of that game’s music – but it’s a testament to just how gorgeous that game was that it still looks and sounds so pleasing a second time around. And Captain Toad uses these materials in enough of its own ways to not just feel like a rehash (though a little more original music would always be welcome).

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker also boasts a surprising amount of content. The adventure is divided into three ‘episodes’ (one in which Captain Toad is the star, one where Toadette takes center stage, and one where they both share the spotlight), with each episode housing a good chunk of levels. An additional “Bonus Mode” has a good number of special stages, including some from Super Mario 3D World (retooled to accommodate for Captain Toad’s lack of jumping), provided you have Super Mario 3D World saved data on your Wii U.

Captain ToadOn the downside, the game isn’t quite so creative when it comes to its boss fights. You’ll only encounter a handful of boss monsters throughout the adventure, and all of them are variations of the same two bosses. They provide some fun, but with how creative the game is in most of its other aspects, the lack of variety in bosses is a bit of a disappointment.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker may not be the biggest or best game on the Wii U, but it is one of the best showcases of the Wii U’s features, and another great addition to the system’s increasingly impressive library. And it’s charming like nobody’s business.

 

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Shrek the Third Review

Shrek the Third

If Shrek the Third proved anything when it arrived in 2007, it’s that sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. Even a franchise as entertaining as Shrek could go wrong. And boy, did it go wrong.

 

The first Shrek is still one of Dreamworks’ best movies, and Shrek 2 isn’t too far behind, being one of the better sequels out there. But Shrek the Third is not only a disappointment in relation to its predecessors. It is, quite simply, a bad movie.

The first two Shrek’s were smart, well-written, and were built around the clever motif of turning the world of fairy tales on its head. That motif is still present in Shrek the Third. But the smarts, the writing, and the cleverness didn’t come with it.

Shrek the ThirdThe story – or more accurately, stories – lack any real focus, and the results feel more like a series of unconnected events loosely roped together than a proper story. The movie begins with Fiona’s father, the king of Far Far Away, dying. Shrek would then be the proper heir to the throne, but being an ogre is the furthest thing from royalty in Shrek’s eyes, and so he – along with Donkey and Puss in Boots – sets off to find Fiona’s cousin “Artie” who is next in line.

That setup alone is already pretty weak, which might explain why Dreamworks saw fit to toss in two other major plots: One of which, as it turns out, is that Fiona is pregnant, which gives Shrek something to think about while on his journey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, still angry about the events that occurred in Shrek 2, seeks revenge on Far Far Away by recruiting a small army of fairy tale villains to siege an attack on the kingdom.

 

Admittedly, the plot with Prince Charming actually provides some fun. I’ve always enjoyed when a secondary villain gets promoted to big bad, and this particular instance gives us a few funny moments with the fairy tale villains, and it has an amusing resolution. But it never really meshes with the other plots, nor are those other plots particularly good on their own merits. It’s almost as though the three stories were all thrown around Dreamworks as pitches for a third Shrek film, and then the movie began production before any one of them were really decided on. But Dreamworks picked up the pieces anyway, slapped them together, and hoped for the best. It didn’t work.

The first Shrek was genius for making an ogre the hero in a fairy tale world, and for turning those fairy tales into a series of jokes for all ages. Shrek 2 was almost equally genius for showing us that even fairy tale couples can have marital issues after their happily ever afters. But Shrek the Third lacks anything near the levels of creativity of its predecessors. It really is little more than a cash-grab.

The animation remains more or less the same as Shrek 2. It doesn’t have the same leap as the second film had from the first, but there’s nothing particularly bad about it, either.

Shrek the ThirdEverything else, however, is either relying on recycled ideas that have run their course (Donkey and Puss’ comedic tandem feels like its out of steam), or are new additions that are poorly thought out and sloppily executed. Even the new characters introduced here aren’t memorable. Artie (or Arthur, as in “King Arthur”) is an annoying high school kid with very little to offer outside of that description, and only seems to serve as a means of getting Justin Timberlake into the franchise. Meanwhile, Merlin the wizard shows up (mainly for plot convenience), but his ‘crazy old man’ persona feels like a forced (and ineffective) source of humor.

The returning characters haven’t changed much, and their voice work is all good (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz all return), but even they seem like they’re just going through the motions. Shrek himself seems Shreked out.

 

Shrek the Third may promote itself as a comedy. But seeing Shrek fall this far from greatness, after he once boasted so much promise and exuded such entertainment, is nothing short of tragic.

 

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Shrek 2 Review

Shrek 2

Back in 2004, Shrek was all the rage. The first Shrek became one of the most beloved animated films of the time, so it was not too surprising when Dreamworks decided to make a sequel. Like the first Shrek, Shrek 2 proved to be an influential animated movie, with animated sequels now being common place due to the massive success of Shrek 2. And just like its predecessor, most of what was inspired in its wake may make Shrek 2’s influence a dubious honor, but Shrek 2 itself is still a very enjoyable film.

 

Most animated fairy tales end with a kiss, a marriage, and the promise of a happily ever after. Shrek 2 puts itself into a fun place where the happily ever after is the starting point. The fairy tale ending is replaced with the ups and downs of married life.

The movie begins with a montage of Shrek and Fiona’s honeymoon. It serves as a mostly-successful means to reintroduce us to the characters, though it also strangely feels as though Shrek himself became aware of his reputation in 2004. The opening moments of the film prove funny, but the heavier usage of parodies is a little foreshadowing to their stronger overall presence this time around.

The real story begins shortly after the honeymoon, and Princess Fiona’s parents invite her and her new husband – unaware that he’s an ogre – over to their castle for a visit and to receive the king’s royal blessing. So Shrek, Fiona and Donkey set off for the kingdom of Far, Far Away, unaware that a conniving Fairy Godmother and her son Prince Charming plan a takeover of the kingdom.

What’s interesting is that Dreamworks, rather than taking the “bigger” sequel route, actually went with a relatively smaller plot for this follow-up. Sure, the locations are bigger this time around and there are more characters, but the action set pieces are smaller, and the story less extravagant. Shrek went from rescuing a princess from a dragon to meeting his new in-laws.

Shrek 2But that’s exactly why Shrek 2 works. It isn’t just a sequel that relies on being a bigger spectacle than the original. Instead it shows us another side to the curmudgeonly ogre and his friends. The story allows for some added character moments, and the dialogue and writing are on par with the first film as Dreamworks’ most hilarious.

The animation also holds up better than the first film. Understandable, given the success of the original, Dreamworks’ now had more to work with, and could fine-tune their animation. It may not be the most eye-popping animated film around, but its colorful, full of energy, and the human characters look more believable than in its predecessor.

There are some drawbacks to Shrek 2, however, that prevent it from reaching the same heights as the first film in the series. The most notable being the overabundance of pop-culture gags and references. It’s not that they aren’t ever funny (some of them are hilarious), but too often they feel center-staged. The writing is still great, but sometimes it seems to take a backseat to the sight gags, which largely consist of modern references and parodies refitted for the fairy tale theme of the movie (the home video release regrettably features a post-credits American Idol tribute). They’re fun ideas a lot of the time, but it’s a bit much.

Shrek 2Another aspect working against Shrek 2 is that, although the story is smaller than the first film, it has a lot more characters to work with. Shrek, Fiona and Donkey return, and along with new characters in Fiona’s parents, the Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming, there’s also Puss in Boots. Puss works great in small doses as his own character, but pairing him up with Donkey as a comic duo can feel more like extra baggage (weren’t Shrek and Donkey already the comic duo?). Then consider that minor characters from the first movie like Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and the Gingerbread Man all get promoted to bigger roles, and it becomes clear that Shrek 2 is trying to please too many people, and it ends up with more pieces than its smaller plot knows what to do with.

Shrek 2 doesn’t quite match it’s predecessor then, but it’s a much closer call than anyone would have predicted in 2004. After all these years it’s still one of Dreamworks’ most hilarious and heartwarming films.

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Shrek Review

Shrek

When it was released in 2001, Shrek was a revelation. An animated fairytale that was irreverent, sarcastic, and made just as much for the adult crowd as it was for kids (if not more so). It inspired countless other animated movies over the next decade that tried to replicate its style, none of which even began to approach the charm and wit of the originator. While these cheap imitators are (mercifully) falling out of favor, the original Shrek still holds up.

 

Shrek tells the story of its titular ogre Shrek (Mike Myers). Shrek prefers a life of solitude in his swamp, away from all the people who wish him ill for just being who he is. But Shrek’s world gets turned upside down when his swamp becomes overrun with fairy tale characters. It turns out, the fairy tale lot have been dumped in Shrek’s swamp by one Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). After Shrek ventures to meet Farquaad accompanied by a talking Donkey – aptly named Donkey (Eddie Murphy) – Farquaad agrees to give Shrek his swamp back, provided Shrek can rescue the fair Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the clutches of a fire-breathing dragon.

So Shrek and Donkey set out to rescue the princess and get Shrek his swamp back. But along the way, Shrek realizes his swamp may not be the thing he needs most in his life.

What set Shrek apart from the crowd back in the day was its attitude. The 90s animated scene had been dominated by Disney musicals that largely followed the same formula. Audiences in the early 2000s wanted something different, and Shrek gave it to them.

ShrekIt’s still a fairy tale, like so many animated films, but Shrek is no Prince Charming. Shrek is large, cranky, and down-to-earth. He burps and scratches his rear whenever he feels the need to. And he’s immensely likable. Donkey may be an annoying sidekick, but he perfectly compliments (and irritates) the curmudgeonly hero. Princess Fiona similarly goes against many princess stereotypes. Lord Farquaad – while maybe deserving of a little more screen time – also proves to be a memorable and hilarious villain.

The main characters all went against the conventions Disney established into animated films, and they all became memorable, adult personalities. The overall flavor of the movie reflects this, with characters like Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs and the Gingerbread Man (referred to here as ‘Gingy’) all being turned into hilarious parodies of themselves. There are plenty of innuendos, sight gags, and winks to the adult crowd that made Shrek feel far more grownup than the movies of Disney and their contemporaries at the time. Yet, Shrek was, and is, still very much a movie kids can enjoy.

ShrekThe film remains bright and colorful, though the character models are looking dated by today’s standards. It’s forgivable when one considers the animation was groundbreaking in its day, but perhaps the attempt at making more ‘realistic’ looking humans is what has aged. Comparing it to the more exaggerated character designs of some other early CG animations (including Toy Story, released six years prior to Shrek), you may find that the human characters in Shrek no longer look nearly as believable as they once did.

But again, that’s forgivable. The one aspect of Shrek that simply doesn’t hold up is the soundtrack. Shrek makes extensive use of licensed songs, and while some of them are appropriate for their respective scenes, I’m afraid nothing screams “this movie was made in 2001” quite like Smash Mouth. While the story and humor of Shrek hold up brightly, the soundtrack is the aspect of the film that feels dated.

It’s a small price to pay, however. While the movies it inspired may have lacked its heart, Shrek is still a great film. It’s smart, hilarious, and appeals to all ages. The years may have proven that Dreamworks couldn’t consistently replicate this winning formula (Shrek’s own sequels fall short, though Shrek 2 comes close), but Shrek still represents Dreamworks at their best.

 

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Top 5 Animated Antagonists Who Aren’t Really Villains

Anton Ego

Animated films are often just as remembered for their villains as hey are their heroes. Disney alone has created so many colorful personalities with their villains that they’ve made an entire franchise out of them. Animated villains can be scary and wicked, which prevents a good deal of animated films from being too sugar-coated. But oftentimes, the best animated villains are the ones who aren’t evil, and are instead more emotionally complex, misunderstood, or are simply people with conflicting interests to the heroes’. Sometimes, the best villains aren’t ‘villains’ at all. But, due to their role in their respective film’s narrative, they can still be considered antagonists.

 

The following animated villains fall into such a category. They aren’t evil, but they are antagonists in one way or another, and they create obstacles that the heroes must overcome. Be warned, there will be some spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Top 5 Animated Antagonists Who Aren’t Really Villains”

In Defense of The Hobbit Films

The Hobbit

With The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies having been released, The Hobbit film trilogy has officially come to a close. As was the case with the first two Hobbit installments, the reception to the film has been somewhat mixed (to put it lightly). Some hail it as a fitting end to the series, while others continue to cry foul at the film’s deviations from the source material, among other complaints.

Sadly, while the Hobbit trilogy’s box office numbers are on the positive side, it seems the overall outlook of this trilogy will be less positive, with some even negatively comparing them to the Star Wars prequels (which is grossly unfair. Even with their missteps The Hobbit films never created gaping plot holes in their mythology like the Star Wars prequels did). This is a crying shame, because while The Hobbit films do have their flaws, and are not on the same level as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations, they are much better than they get credit for.

Yes, the Hobbit films do have an abundance of CG, which makes them look more artificial than the Lord of the Rings films. And yes, there are some unnecessary fan service moments. And yes, the first two Hobbit films had some pacing issues (something I think the third film ironed out). But none of these issues are hardly as film-breaking as they’re made out to be.

 

Besides, don’t the much-beloved Marvel movies of today have an abundance of CG? They certainly cake-on the fan service, and don’t seem to get any flak for it. And they haven’t exactly been consistent, either (for every Guardians of the Galaxy there was a Thor: The Dark World). So why do the Marvel films get a free pass? It may be easy to say that The Hobbit has the unavoidable comparison to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which case it falls short. Though “not being as good” as a previous work doesn’t really justify the level of criticisms The Hobbit films have received, and it’s not exactly like The Lord of the Rings films would be an easy act to follow.

The HobbitMore importantly, The Hobbit trilogy isn’t The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s The Hobbit trilogy. The Hobbit was always more lighthearted and simplistic than Lord of the Rings. So if The Hobbit films are more blockbuster-y (more action, humor and some cartoony moments), well then it just makes sense given the source material. The Hobbit trilogy didn’t need to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it only needed to be The Hobbit trilogy.

Of course, there lies another source of contempt for The Hobbit’s detractors: The Hobbit was a shorter novel than any one of the Lord of the Rings books, so did it need to be a trilogy? Admittedly, no. It didn’t. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s innately a problem that it did become three films. After the three Lord of the Rings films, a single-film follow-up may have been underwhelming to audiences. The original two-part adaptation made sense, but three films, while maybe stretching the material, works for the kind of adaptation the films ended up being.

 

TaurielOne thing that’s important for people to remember is that these are adaptations. They were never going to be identical to the books. Just like The Lord of the Rings weren’t identical to the books. Changes were bound to be made. But if you’re a purist, you can at least say that all the added material in the Hobbit films still comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s various writings, whereas the changes made to Lord of the Rings were mainly made up by Peter Jackson and company. The only notable addition Peter Jackson made to The Hobbit that I can think of is Tauriel, and while her love story in the films may be a tad forced (though ultimately harmless) at times, at least she brings some much-needed femininity to the series.

 

But the rest of the added material is all taken from Tolkien’s works in one way or another. Although Tolkien himself only lightly touched on most of the side stories that were brought into the films, it made sense for the filmmakers to shed more light on them. The whole side story with the Necromancer, for example, is only mentioned in passing in the original book, but had strong connections to the bigger goings-on in Middle-Earth involving the “War of the Ring.” After already having brought The Lord of the Rings to life on the screen, it makes sense that the filmmakers would put a stronger emphasis on that connection between stories.

 

There’s plenty to be justified within the aspects of the Hobbit films that people seem so ready to write-off. But even more so, it seems that people outright ignore all the good the Hobbit films have going for them.

First and foremost is the world building. Very few fantasy films have so much love for the world they depict, the story they’re telling and the characters within them. It helps that Tolkien put so much attention to even the most minute details, but just as much credit goes to Peter Jackson and company, who clearly love this world as much as anyone. The Hobbit films, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, feel just as much like a love letter to their source material as they do an adaptation of it. Even with the added humor of The Hobbit films, they never have that snarky, tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that downgrades the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the like.

The HobbitJust as important, the performances in the Hobbit films are memorable, and make the fantasy world of Middle-Earth a very believable place. It’s probably one of the best cast fantasy franchises out there, with the likes of Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage bringing life to the characters. Even the smaller roles like Stephen Fry’s Master of Lake-Town prove memorable.

It also doesn’t hurt that The Hobbit films are fun. Though the first film gets off to a slow start, after Bilbo leaves Bag End and the flashbacks become less frequent, the films become a series of spectacles. From visual effects to action scenarios to the dedication of their world, the Hobbit movies do ‘spectacle’ better than most blockbusters. They may not stack up to The Lord of the Rings from an overall filmmaking perspective, but (sans the aforementioned opener) the Hobbit movies are always fun. The third film even adds a good dose of emotion to the series, and tops the book as far as fleshed-out characters are concerned.

In the end, The Hobbit trilogy is flawed, but much better than a good deal of its reputation suggests. No, the Hobbit films don’t reach the heights of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but when compared to the majority of today’s blockbusters – which often amount to little more than noise and explosions – The Hobbit trilogy is in a unique place among fantasy films where things like world-building and character actually mean something.