Review: “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies” Is Satisfying But Stumbles Under The Weight Of Expectations
Title: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Fire Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriter: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay), Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), and J.R.R. Tolkien (novel “The Hobbit”)
Principal Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, and Manu Bennett
The Lord of the Rings is arguably one of the best trilogies ever made. It was a crazy idea when they first made it, and there was a very good chance that they could have turned out terrible. As the recent years have proven, good source material does not mean there will be a good movie. Once the trilogy ended talks immediately began about adapting The Hobbit. However, there were going to be problems with that from the beginning. The Hobbit is a much different animal compared to the Lord of the Rings narratively, and it also is a fairly short story. The idea to adapt the events of the The Silmarillion, a collection of J. R. R. Tolkien’s mythopoeic works, made a lot of sense, but people didn’t start to get worried until they announced what was supposed to be a two part movie has been expanded into a full trilogy. I’ve personally tried to keep an open mind as to whether or not the story needed to be a trilogy since I felt like it would be impossible to tell until we saw all three movies. I was also worried, going into this final chapter movie, that it wouldn’t be able to live up to its own hype.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Fire Armies is very good, but with nearly the entire runtime dedicated to a battle it ends up feeling anticlimactic in the end.
When we left our group of dwarves and a single hobbit at the end of the The Desolation of Smaug Thorin (Richard Armitage), the dwarven King, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), the hobbit hired as a thief, and their company had arrived at the Misty Mountain. Most of the troupe went to the mountain to take it back from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), while several members ended up staying behind in Lake Town. The attempt to take the mountain only angered Smaug who left his lair to unleash his fury on the unexpecting Lake Town. When the mountain is finally taken, Thorin and his troupe must protect it from the army of Elves, lead by Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the smaller army of humans from Lake Town, lead by Bard (Luke Evans), who want to take the mountain for themselves. Unbeknownst to them two armies of orcs are on their way to take the Mountain for themselves.
Allow me to begin that the movie was not bad by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve liked the previous Hobbit movies quite a bit and I’m a pretty big fan of the original trilogy. There are a lot of things that The Battle of the Five Armies does right. For example, the cast continues to be absolutely fantastic. As with the previous movie Bilbo almost takes on a supporting role in his own movie to Thorin, and Richard Armitage works that angle. He’s captivating as Thorin and his slow descent into madness is a perfect parallel to the corruption and decent that Frodo went through in the original trilogy. The moments when he truly lets loose, and lets everyone see just how far he has fallen, are some of the best moments in the movie. Martin Freeman does an excellent job of backing him up as well. Freeman seems to have built a career on his ability to look like he is the lone sane man in a world filled with crazy people. He did a great job of showing that in The Desolation of Smaug, and he continues to do so in this movie as well. His “are you kidding me?” looks bring some of the best laughs in the film.
Lee Pace looks like he is having the time of his life as Thranduil, as he is completely ridiculous. Every time he would show up on screen with his giant deer I wanted to laugh at him, and Pace plays him without a hint of irony, and he becomes the funniest thing on the screen. Luke Evans might have finally found the role that makes him a movie star because he’s great as Bard. The scene at the beginning as he struggles to keep Smaug from destroying all of Lake Town is great. A lot was made of Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel and how she was a new character for the movies. While I wasn’t happy that they went with the love triangle route, they don’t make it obnoxious. She doesn’t have quite as many great fight scenes as she did in the previous film, but I was glad with the direction they took her in the end. Ian McKellen pretty much IS Gandalf at this point, along with Orlando Bloom as Legolas, and they both get great scene stealing moments. The rest of the dwarven company also get their moments to shine,and Billy Connolly makes a great late in-movie appearance as Dain, Thorin’s uncle, who brings an army to help defend the mountain.
The special effects are still top notch as well. The motion capture for NAME with Manu Bennett is just as good as Gollum from the original trilogy, and he sells the role in a great way. We also gets to see fan favorites like Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) let loose and show off their skills. The battle with Smaug for Lake Town is intense, if not quite long enough (its over before the title credits). The score by Howard Shore continues to be a highlight and memorable in its own right.
If all of these pieces are good then the film should be good as well, correct? Well, it is good, but this is the problem that it runs into; it feels anticlimactic. This is being billed as the last time we return to Middle Earth, and that is a lot of weight for a movie that is almost entirely about a singular battle. It has the same basic set up as the final Harry Potter movie, but it lacks of the feeling of finality. If this was released in order, and it was the third movie and we still had three more films to go, it would be a lot better. In fact, this is going to be one of those cases where watching a series in order is going to make it better. It’s not, however, and as the “final chapter” of Middle Earth, it falls very short of its own ambitions. It wants to be Return of the King, and doesn’t quite stick the landing.
One of the things that made Return of the King so great is that it spent a good amount of its time saying “goodbye” to all of the characters we’ve come to love over the course of three movies. The Battle of the Five Armies attempts to do the same thing, but it doesn’t quite work. There are several characters that we barely get a closing scene for, until we’re moving along to the next scene. They could have cut some time between the battle to give these characters the proper goodbye’s they deserve. The battle can be confusing, as well, because there are five different factions fighting. Whenever the camera would pan over the armies, it was impossible to tell who was fighting whom. It made everything feel very cluttered, and it was hard to keep track of who was where and who they were fighting. As for whether the expansion into trilogy was necessary I’m still not entirely sure, I think I need to re-watch all three before I can definitively decide. At the moment I’m leaning toward “no”. I can think of places in all three movies that could have been cut, but again, I feel like I can’t make that call until I re-watch it all from start to finish.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies stumbles under the weight of its own expectations and while it doesn’t make the movie bad, it does make it feel anticlimactic and a bit of a let down. The final chapter in Middle Earth couldn’t ever live up to the hype surrounding it, though, and as long as you adjust your expectations, it’s a solid entry into a fantastic series.