The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

Posted: December 31, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I remember being a little disappointed earlier in the year when it was announced The Hobbit: There and Back Again would be retitled The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The original title had a nice sense of humility and was also a pretty nice reference to the Lord of the Rings which was natural and free of pandering. The Battle of the Five Armies seemed a much more generic title that emphasized that there would be lots of action and fighting. It just felt lesser. However upon the first trailer, the title change made a lot of sense. There was an emphasis on armies of all sorts of races clashing throughout and a crown wearing Thorin boldly declaring he, “will have war!” It seemed Peter Jackson intended to end his Hobbit trilogy in a big, bold, and epic manner. I haven’t exactly been fond of the previous entries of The Hobbit trilogy, but given how much time I had already invested, it made sense to go for the pay off, especially since I had friends and family who wanted to see it anyway.

The Battle of the Five Armies begins immediately following the events of the last film. Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and the other dwarves have infiltrated their home in The Lonely Mountain, but their actions have set the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) loose on Laketown. Problematic as this is, their struggle with Smaug will eventually lead to far greater repercussions, as the dwarves have to deal with their own internal struggle, as well as the demands and desires of the humans of Laketown and the elves of Mirkwood. All of this is overshadowed by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) discovering the evil power behind the orcs is the Sauron, and his army proves a threat to all of Middle-Earth. All of these subplots will come to a head in the titular battle.

One of the most major problems of The Hobbit series from the start as been poor pacing brought on by the decision to split one children’s book intro three epic films. No film suffers from this more thoroughly than The Battle of the Five Armies, which has a very unbalanced structure. Desolation ended on something of a cliff-hanger with Smaug flying off to Laketown with malicious intent, and while this film does depict his reign of terror, this subplot is resolved within the first fifteen minutes. It feels strange that they wouldn’t just end Desolation with this climax, but it also gives the film a sort of false start since it isn’t until after he is killed that the plot to this one really kicks in. It’s also disappointing because Smaug is one of the few major bright spots in this trilogy and to see him cast aside so carelessly is frustrating. After this opening, the film becomes about building to the central battle. Conflict is explored between the dwarves and the elves, as well as Gandalf discovering Sauron and his orc armies. The build-up is a little tedious and not too interesting, while also being plagued by some really dumb elements (which I’ll get into later).

Eventually, the titular battle occurs, which takes up a majority of the film’s runtime. Early on, I was fairly interested in this sequence. There are some cool details, like the dwarves riding war sheep, and I also lacked how the fighting felt more like the restrained battles seen in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, rather than the more cartoony and over the top battles The Hobbit trilogy has provided. However as the action continues, it gradually becomes more and more ridiculous until by the end it resembles a videogame. This is most noticeable in any action scene involving Legolas (Orlando Bloom). The original trilogy would also use Legolas for more outlandish action moments, but even they were somewhat grounded, especially when compared to the completely silly action he’s involved with here. The battles also suffer from an overreliance on CGI which sucks out the humanity from the action. Worst of all though, the battle is so endless and over the top that it becomes not only exhausting, but boring. By the end of it all I had lost sight of why all of these characters were even fighting, and to be honest I didn’t care. This is partially because of the fact that I’ve never really connected with this trilogy, as well as the fact that the story has been so thoroughly stretched that it has kind of snapped, but it doesn’t change the fact that I was completely apathetic toward most of the action.

The Battle of the Five Armies also continues the Hobbit tradition of totally bizarre and grating story decisions, some new, and some carried over. The most frustrating new addition comes from the character of Thorin, who becomes a greedy and ruthless character after finding the treasure of The Lonely Mountain due to something called “Dragon Sickness”. It’s comparable to the One Ring’s corruption throughout the Rings trilogy, but where that idea was fully fleshed out and explored in interesting ways, here it’s just thrown in as a means of excusing Thorin’s dickish behaviour, which in itself doesn’t really make sense since the series has been building Thorin as a fairly selfish and greedy character. When the subplot is finally resolved, it’s clear that the only reason any of this material was there was for the sake of the plot, because has soon as the film needs Thorin to be a hero again, he overpowers his “Dragon Sickness”. Meanwhile, the love triangle between Legolas, elf Thauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and dwarf Kili (Adrian Turner) returns and is just as stupid as ever. It’s completely contrived and the emotional ending they go for is laughable. Speaking of laughs, the minor character of Alfrid (Ryan Gage) is enhanced to being prominent comedic relief who is extremely annoying and serves no purpose. Not only that, but he makes all of the other characters look like idiots for continuously giving him important tasks despite his selfishness and incompetence.

Another disappointment is how the titular character is once again brushed aside. Martin Freeman’s casting as Bilbo is one of the most on point decisions Jackson made with this trilogy. He is a very natural actor and his presence is a welcome one, but he serves very little purpose in the movie. He has some moments, but is reduced to mostly reaction shots through the first act and is completely useless in the epic battle. Even the dwarves’ role feels reduced here. The goal of these characters has seemingly been for them to return home, but once this film gets going they feel forgotten. In addition to its failings as a story, I can’t even embrace The Battle of the Five Armies on a visual level. Some effects may love great, notably the CGI for Smaug, and the sets and costumes look really good, but a lot of the green screen effects look awful. Additionally, many of the battles are rendered digitally and the movements are highly unnatural and off-putting. This is a far cry from the masterful special effects work Jackson has displayed in previous films.

I think it’s pretty clear I was not at all fond of The Battle of the Five Armies, in fact if I had to rank it among the other Hobbit films, I’d say it’s clearly the worst. While of the films have their problems, the other two each felt a bit more substantial, and each had one great scene (Unexpected Journey had Gollum, and Desolation had Smaug). The Battle of the Five Armies has some decent moments, like the opening, or a small fight between Thorin and an Orc on ice, but they don’t really compare and I even have reservations regarding those moments. Taken as a whole, The Battle of the Five Armies is a complete mess and by film’s end I felt nothing. Leaving the theater, I was left to ponder the legacy of The Hobbit trilogy and I can’t help but see these films as a colossal waste of time. If the goal was to tell the humble tale of a young hobbit, than these movies failed due to constantly dismissing his character. If the films were meant to explore new aspects of Middle-Earth, they failed due to frequent allusions to The Lord of the Rings that distract from the experience. If the goal was to make rousing epics they fail due to tonal imbalance and passionless action. Of course, if the goal was to make a ton of money than mission accomplished, as all of these movies have been tremendous box-office success stories. So kudos, but there’s no denying the palpable disappointment of fans, which will likely accentuate as the years go by and people really reflect on these films.

D-

Comments
  1. le0pard13 says:

    I hope, as others have wished for, someone re-edits the three overblown films down to one 2-3 hour film. Adapting author J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel as it should have been.

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