Review: “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies”

Anyone who has groaned, moaned or voiced your opinion behind the safety of a geek-driven message board over the “The Hobbit” movies and there lack of excitement can finally give stern nod to the final installment, “The Battle of the Five Armies”. As the name implies this finale is a non-stop barrage of carnage, stylish sword-play, wizarding badassery and soooo much fire—all that if not much else.

It reminded me of the final installment of the “Harry Potter” franchise: It’s the shortest of all the films, half the movie is nothing but destruction, everything is on fire, there are wizards fighting well beyond their years, and there are a lot of tiny people who are way over their head. But most notably it pick up immediately after the previous installment left off—which in this case felt like a mixed bag.

In this case it involves the devilish dragon Smaug (voiced deliciously by Benedict Cumberbatch) lighting an entire town on fire, as Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) scatters around rooftops to kill it. He’s like Batman if he dressed like a homeless. While watching I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, as it becomes clear that Smaug will not be around for long due to his meeting like a can of whoop-ass. The whole bit seems out of place and a bit of a tease given all the posters with Smaug on them, but ends up working on reflection of the “doom is coming” end of the second and “this is only the beginning” of the start of this one. The stage is set and the tone is injected. It’s just a shame the best thing to come out of this trilogy had to go to make it happen.

Then what follows is a bit of exposition wherein the dwarves hunt for the Arkenstone (a shiny rock) while their leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) deeps into what is called “dragon sickness” but is really madness fueled by greed—a recurring theme in Tolken’s series—not knowing Bilbo Baggin (Martin Freeman) has had it in his tiny pocket the whole time. After there’s more exposition with elves and men trying to get the dwarves to come out of their mountain (to no success). Then there’s a pretty sweet prison-break of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) by Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman (Cate Blanchet, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee). This is their only seen but they make it work as they stylistically fight ghosts. It’s okay to laugh, a few other did.

Finally after that we get to the big battle against Elves, Dwarves, Men, The Eagles (late as per usually) and that dastardly Sauron and his Orcs. Needless to say this battle is the definition of epic as it spans fields, mountains and the town of Dale. Think a combination of Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields from the original trilogy. Anyone who slept through the past two installments will have their eyes pried open from sheer awesomeness.

There are armies colliding, Elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) taking on a bazillion Orcs alone, lots of Trolls bashing everything in sight, and yet again, everything is on fire displayed through plenty of landscape swooping crane shots. Peter Jackson knows how to set up a battle while still developing the characters—most notably Thorin as he struggles to overcome his vain lust for gold.

However, there are still plenty of problems to be had that I cannot let go unscathed. For starters, this series has always done a great job at brining to life grand set pieces and characters (see Smaug) but struggled with the little details. Some objects and characters stand out as obviously CGIed pieces against a green screen while other bit just look flat-out cheap. Most noticeable is Dwarf leader Dain who—probably the victim of rushed production—looks like a Pixar character. He is voiced excellently by Billy Connolly but even his voice can distract from the almost unintentionally funny presentation of this hardened dwarf. He looks more cuddly than vicious.

As well, no matter how grand in scope the finale is Jackson and co cut enough out to make it seem like they just wanted this to be over. Some people like the less important dwarves (who don’t seem to have had any lines this whole series) barley get any screen time and we don’t even see fight in the battle. Even trolls are easily disposed of with a single arrow (where were these guys in Moria?).

Certain characters like Legolas and Tauriel (Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly) still kick-ass but have little to do other than that. Tauriel spends most of her time trying to find her dwarf love Kili, but I’ll let you see how that ends. It’s a B-plot that never had much depth, but enough to break things up amongst the vast number of supporting characters.

Even after the battle has quelled things can’t wait to get out of Dodge. Legolas is hastily and even out of contextually sent to find young Aragorn, Thranduil and Tauriel are left in this odd state of depression and Bilbo, the hobbit of “The Hobbit”, simply says goodbye after we realize he didn’t have much to do outside of showing up where he was need precisely when he was needed.

People complain about the totally valid 15 endings of “Return of the King”, but here it goes to show how necessary it was. There are so many characters we care about going their separate ways and we needed to feel like they meant something to us therefore its prudent to show what happens to them after the dust settles. Here it’s the dwarves celebrate, the elves evaporate, the orcs dissipate…and that’s it. There is little to no sense of emotional conclusion. The battle is done and everyone goes their separate ways. It’s like going on a life-changing road trip with someone to at the end just say, “Well…see ya.)

This was the opportunity to make it all seem worth it as a trilogy that can stand on its own feet. Ultimately it settles for a companion piece that merely shows another side of Middle-Earth. Granted, on that stage it soars, illustrating areas and characters we have never seen as Peter Jackson gloriously expands the visual palate of this world. But as for the characters and story, though it was greatly acted and suitably epic, just never seemed to have the weight to justify this many movies or leave the mark of a truly great franchise. It stands as a fine addition to the Middle-Earth canon but next the all-star quality of its older sibling it will always be the brother who simply owns a successful chain of tire shops.

Grade: B


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