I've heard the music, I've seen the posters and I've read about the hype but at long last I can claim to have finally actually seen the film (though not yet the stage show). My thoughts? The hype is real, but I also see why this isn't a slam-dunk critics choice.
As I've never seen the stage show I don't know how faithful the adaptation was, but from what I gather it sticks pretty closely to the source material. With that in mind, Les Misérables is an absolute triumph as a stage-to-film adaptation. It consistently feels somehow real yet the constant use of verse rather than dialogue never feels at odds. The set pieces have a hint of spectacle but they never feel like a "number", unlike films like Moulin Rouge. It manages to feel somehow stage like yet doesn't feel staged or stilted; actors behave naturally and interact with their surroundings on a logical way, but the direction and camera angles emphasise them in a similar manner to stage lighting. It's clever and beautiful and utterly spellbinding.
Indeed, purely from a cinematic point of view, Les Mis is stunning. The colour-grading, compositions and shot sequences are brilliant, creating a film as visually entertaining as it is just plain entertaining. Costume, set design and makeup are equally exceptional and really help emphasise the tone of the film. Of course, the sound design is brilliant too, not just the score (obviously great) but the folly work and various sound effects all slot together incredibly well. The result is a brilliant piece of cinematography, start to finish.
That isn't to say it's all good. Whilst I felt the casting was spot on and every actor gave a great performance, there are the occasional odd moments. I'll admit to being pulled out of the film several times during the opening sequences as Hugh Jackman's vocals flitted between Australian and Irish, leaving me slightly confused as to where his character was meant to be from. This was reinforced by several minor characters also appearing to have Irish accents, something I can only assume was weird casting or poor sound mastering. Above all though, there is the utterly appalling and unintentionally comical sound effect dubbed over Javert's death. I have no idea why they didn't have his body hit the centre of the whirlpool, as that seems far more fitting as a framed shot when compared to the style of the film, but even with the impact in shot... why that sound effect? I'd heard it was a bit crap but it took me so utterly by surprise and was so poorly done I burst out into laughter at what should have been a very sombre moment. Misstep is a little too kind.
From a plot perspective, characters were not always introduced in the most straight forward of manners and backstories are sketchy at best. You find out most of the main details the plot necessitates, but these aren't fleshed out and wildly interesting characters. Everyone you meet is fairly one dimensional, becoming utterly so the further they are removed from Jackman's focal point. For the most part this is both acceptable and not much of an issue, but it does occasionally leave irritations in the plot. Why doesn't Valjean just leave France? Why does he try to steal the priest's silver, despite seeming petrified of going back to jail? Why are the rich aristocrat's sons plotting revolution (or is just genuine empathy)? Why doesn't Valjean flee with Cosette? How are they still living in Paris so many years later? As I've said, none of these issues are that great but they do leave you wishing for just a little more exposition. That lack of exposition also leaves you feeling like the film is about to end several times, which does begin to get a little Return of the King-esque in pacing.
Minor niggles aside though, Les Misérables was an excellently crafted, thoroughly entertaining, stunningly acted and brilliantly executed film that no one should miss. The music and vocals are brilliant, the adaptation remains pleasingly theatrical whilst embracing the realism of film, the cinematography is beautiful and the story is wonderfully miserable. Les Mis is not a happy film, but it is a triumphant one, especially with that incredibly emotional ending. You really should hear the people sing.