The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Genre: Fantasy

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

Running Length: 144 minutes

Synopsis: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. The Dwarves of Erebor have reclaimed the vast wealth of their homeland, but now must face the consequences of having unleashed the terrifying Dragon, Smaug, upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town.

As he succumbs to dragon-sickness, the King Under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield, sacrifices friendship and honor in his search for the legendary Arkenstone. Unable to help Thorin see reason, Bilbo is driven to make a desperate and dangerous choice, not knowing that even greater perils lie ahead. An ancient enemy has returned to Middle-earth. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide—unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends as five great armies go to war.

Review: By this third installment, it’s safe to say that The Hobbit trilogy is kind of a misnomer, since the titular character doesn’t really factor all that much into the proceedings, made most abundantly clear in this episode, The Battle of the Five Armies. This is a natural outcome of trying to stretch out what is essentially a children’s storybook into a fantasy epic, in an attempt to make The Hobbit trilogy’s breadth and scope similar to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So much material in the three Hobbit movies aren’t even in the novel that it is moot to discuss the faithfulness of the movie to the source, and not all additions work in the movies’ favour.

That said, The Battle of the Five Armies is easily the best film in the trilogy, far trumping the soporific An Unexpected Journey and an improvement upon the sporadically interesting The Desolation of Smaug. The film opens with Smaug raining fiery destruction on Lake-town, and the CG effects, especially Smaug himself, remain a sight to behold. The action never really lets up from there, culminating in an epic battle sequence lasting more than an hour, with the expansive battle coming close to the best scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bookended by these two setpieces, The Battle of the Five Armies feels closest to being a complete entity of its own, unlike the two films that came before it, both of which ended very abruptly. There can be a case made for too much CGI as the trilogy progresses, but it’s hard to argue that the end results are very impressive and rightfully lends an epic feel to the sequences. (A side note: HFR 3D remains a little too sharp for my own preferences, but at least the 3D is not entirely redundant in the film, unlike almost every other title that decides to open in 3D.)

It’s no secret that there are plenty of embellishments in The Hobbit trilogy to pad out the thin storyline, even creating characters that were not part of the canon – most notably the female Wood Elf Tauriel. Sure, the interspecies romance between Tauriel and Kili will probably make the film more appealing to a greater number of moviegoers, but it just flat out does not work well as a plot device because it feels so ill-fitted in the Tolkien universe. The decision to include Legolas as more than just a cameo probably stems from the same desire to appeal to a specific fan base, but the action sequences involving Legolas have devolved into near-farce, especially one in which he seems to be in a different movie – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon perhaps – altogether.

The same can be said of many returning faces, and everyone (save for Gollum) makes an appearance, making it feel almost like some Middle-Earth reunion movie of sorts. However, such extraneous filler also manages to diminish the central plot and character, and much of The Battle of the Five Armies sees Bilbo Baggins being sidelined as a spectator of the proceedings. It’s a shame, because Martin Freeman is excellent in his role, but the audience simply does not get to see enough of him despite it being an almost two-and-a-half-hour movie (for those keeping count, this means the combined running length of The Hobbit trilogy is a whopping 474 minutes).

And so, thirteen years after embarking on a journey to Middle-Earth, Peter Jackson finally concludes his six-film saga with a big (enough) bang. Jackson has stated that there will be no third set of films based on The Silmarillon from him, but one can never be too sure about such things – after all it does seem that rights issues is what’s stopping potential production. When looked upon as a complete body of work or as a part of the entire Middle Earth saga, The Hobbit doesn’t do all that badly (though I still maintain that it should never had become three movies – even the originally planned two-parter was a dubious decision), and is already a qualified box office success even before The Battle of the Five Armies opened. This last movie singlehandedly raises the trilogy to above mediocrity, and whilst The Hobbit never comes close to its predecessor on any level, The Battle of the Five Armies rounds out one of the better film trilogies in recent years, paling only to Christopher Nolan’s superlative Dark Knight trilogy. That’s not to say that the films are without their flaws, but at the very least the journey there and back again has a decent payoff.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

Overall Rating for The Hobbit trilogy: * * * (out of four stars)

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