[Movie] Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans Review

This review of Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans is spoiler-free.

It’s difficult to end any story in a satisfying way, and bringing Tales of Arcadia to a close is an even more difficult proposition than most. Stemming from a book series by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kaus, the grand sweep of the tale has comprised several seasons of Netflix shows Trollhunters3Below, and Wizards, has played with high fantasy and sci-fi, done fish-out-water comedy and political allegory, and now looks to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion in Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans, a feature-length finale that combines all of del Toro’s favorite themes and toys with years’ worth of characters, mythology, and baggage. If it were perfect, it’d be a miracle.

Trollhunters - Rise of the Titans– Hollywood Movie

Trollhunters – Rise of the Titans– Hollywood Movie

It’s not, obviously. Sometimes, though, it scarcely matters. In an opening action sequence on the subway, I was so blown away by the visuals that I barely even bothered to parse out the machinations of the Arcane Order and their scheme to cleanse Earth of its life to make way for a new world order. That’s standard fantastical villain stuff. Their plot involves awakening the titans by opening a magical seal with the help of earth-spirit Nari (Angel Lin), and it turns out Arcadia is the center of the universe, which for the characters in these stories – and the fans who have hungrily devoured them over the years – it always has been anyway.

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans has an obvious objective, and it isn’t anything to do with its plot or even its characters, many of whom are underused and virtually none of whom really get a satisfying, definitive arc that suggests we’ve reached the end of their story. You could make a case for Jim (Emile Hirsch), and 3Below’s Aja (Tatiana Maslany) is good value, but really, the point here is to bring things to as epic and exciting a conclusion as possible. People die. Important moral lessons – the strength of friendship, the value of fear – are learned. But most importantly of all the DreamWorks Animation team does bang-up work bringing a lot of del Toro’s impulses to life. This is a great-looking film, clearly built with an indulgent fan-centric mentality, designed to feel big and provoke reactions rather than always make complete storytelling sense. It’ll prove divisive, and some parts of it could have been trimmed out without losing anything, but it never stops looking and feeling like a grand send-off for this world.

What people will quibble with, I think, is whether or not in all this bombast their favorite characters were really given their due, and that’ll depend on personal taste. As a sight-and-sound exercise, Trollhunters is frequently remarkable, and it has its share of sweet or impactful character moments too. But its themes are tokenistic, it can’t commit to real dramatic import when the time comes, and there’s a sense of contrivance in the final stretch that makes the drama feel a lot less organic. Different strokes for different folks, of course, but it’s easy to see how Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans prioritizes spectacle over storytelling.

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