The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast Headliners: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly
Original Release Date: December 17th, 2014
It’s hard to believe that this time has finally arrived. Not that this is the third Hobbit film of three parts or that a adaptation of the novel even came out in the first place. The bittersweet realization is that The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies represents the likely end of the works of JRR Tolkein on the big screen. With such big circumstances come big expectations, and this film bites off an insanely massive amount. But can it handle that “bite”, or is it more than it could chew? Like Samwise Gamgee’s bread in the Two Towers, there’s a satisfying soul to its few traits resembling the old. But this isn’t Sam’s era, this is Bilbo Baggin’s.
Bilbo (Martin Freeman) shared the most screen time with the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the last film but when it comes time for the final showdown with the beast he can only join his companions in looking on in terror as Lake-town is destroyed. This segment wraps up the dragon storyline with great spectacle. Although it perhaps would’ve been better suited and felt like more of a resolution last go-around, one can see why it was put here as it makes for an exciting start to the film.
A trend which can be felt many times through these newer films in director Peter Jackson’s repertoire is that there are great things but they get lost or underutilized with the massive amount of other things happening. Freeman’s Bilbo maintains his charismatic charm but because of the large amount of action and smaller perspectives his actions come across as having little importance. The same reduced presence goes with the ever brilliant Gandalf played for a finale by Ian McLelllen, though viewers should know he has many more awesome adventures ahead in the age of Frodo..
Peter Jackson creates a tale here that more or less makes sense to the audience but because of the massive cast it’s hard to empathize with some of them because of the angle placed on others. Thorin (Richard Armitage) gets a great arc focusing on the madness of suddenly obtaining control of Smaug’s treasure but some of the other dwarves in the company get no lines at all. It’s also interesting that Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel ( Evangeline Lilly) are made arguably the most important characters in the story when their characters weren’t even mentioned in the original novel. And this prequel trilogy has gotten its own Jar Jar Binks in “comic relief” scenes featuring Alfrid of Lake-town. While his humor is a nice change of pace and makes sense for a work that is meant to be ligher in tone than the Lord of the Rings; it can be said in those films that Jackson gave equal time and importance to the (even larger) cast.
But what is that’s pushing these characters aside and causing distruption? Well, this is the movie’s strongest suit. When a film has the word “battle” in its name it’s expected that there will be a large amount of battling. Large doesn’t even begin to cover how much there is. Once the various factions come clamoring for Smaug’s gold it nearly doesn’t let up until the final minutes of the film. This may be a detraction to some but in my personal opinion I can’t complain about these scenes. The orc and troll combat in the sieges reminds me just why I loved the Lord of the Rings franchise in the first place and it captures a feeling similar to the great battles of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith just like those. I think that the siege of Dale will be regarded as one of those great scenes as well.
The avalanche of action and intense cries would be nothing if not also for visuals to back them up. Peter Jackson has put full effort into driving home the spectacle, and everything looks gorgeous especially when viewed in IMAX3D. Some of the models are a bit curious such as when Legolas does “elf-tricks” (of which now have reached Fast and the Furious levels of wacky but are located in a much better franchise than those) or the fact that Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly) is an entirely CGI creation even when the rest of the dwarves are live action. But these are minor spots in an otherwise breathtaking set of locales and fight sequences.
These moments of either adrenaline or shock (from their extreme levels of weirdness) are also interspersed with some true dramatic emotion. The material between Thorin and Bilbo is the best, and of course the movie has some tearful losses. It does a nice job ending the movie as opposed to the multiple endings from Return of the King which aids its snappy 2 and a half hour runtime (the shortest of the Hobbit films) and when the final credits roll it has quite a impact. While the book might have not needed to be split into three different parts, it has allowed us to see things which would never have been on film from the Tolkein world such as the material with Gandalf and his White Council. Hardcore fans, myself included, have been wanting to delve more into those subjects through media more and it delivered past our expectations. For the others, for people who just know the movies, it serves as a great if perhaps slightly inferior companion to the series which put Peter Jackson and so many other actors on the map. There’s been some high ups and low downs overall but there’s been some amazing times across the franchise. May you sail peacefully into the Grey Havens, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film franchises!! 9.1 out of 10