The Good: Decent performances, Generally good effects, Much of the plot development and theme resolutions, Special effects
The Bad: Light on character development, Predictable plot repetition, Begins at an awkward place/resolves oddly
The Basics: Likely to work much better in context, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies holds up poorly on its own, though it is entertaining-enough!
As we reach the end of the year, the final big film of the year has hit theaters. It is, of course, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, the final of three films in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is a final act in the three-film journey that had Bilbo Baggins joining a company of Dwarves on their quest to retake the Dwarven land of Erebor. The thing about The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is that it becomes the perfect argument against what Peter Jackson did with turning the single novel The Hobbit into three films. The final film of The Hobbit stands very poorly on its own.
Filled with subplots and the end of character arcs, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies hits the ground running without any explanation, prologue or attempts at explicitly connecting to the prior film. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is an immediate follow-up to The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (reviewed here!) and opens with the world of Middle Earth turned up on its end and it ends with an anticlimax that returns Peter Jackson to his horror roots. At least he does not force the audience to endure multiple endings, a la The Return Of The King (reviewed here!).
With Smaug furious and released from his mountain prison in Erebor, the dragon turns his attention on nearby Laketown. Burning Laketown down with his flame breath, Smaug runs afoul of Bard, who was imprisoned by the master of Laketown. Using the ancient weapon designed for such purpose, Bark kills Smaug and news soon spreads through Middle Earth that Smaug is dead and Erebor is ill-defended and filled with treasure beyond measure. Inside the mountain stronghold of Erebor, Thorin Oakenshield becomes obsessed with finding the Arkenstone and he is driven mad with desire for the treasure. Confirming that Thorin’s condition is not likely to get better should he get the Arkenstone, Bilbo keeps the stone hidden from him. Seeing that Thorin’s party has survived, Fili, Kili and those who were stuck in Laketown head to Erebor, with Kili telling the elf maiden Tauriel he is in love with her.
When the Elves and refugees from Laketown arrive at Dale, the human ruins adjacent to the Dwarven kingdom, Thorin feels threatened. Gandalf is rescued from his prison by Galadrial, Radagast, and Saruman, in the process pushing the non-corporeal version of Sauron back in the process. As Gandalf makes his way to the ruins of Dale, Bilbo sneaks out from under Thorin’s nose to do the same. There, Bilbo tries to broker a deal between Thranduil, King Of The Elves, and Bard before war breaks out. Thorin is withholding promised gold to Bard and the refugees and the return of gems stolen from the Elves; Bilbo presents Thranduil with the Arkenstone to use in trade for the treasures Thorin is holding. Thorin’s determination to let the Elves and humans attack is bolstered when the main force of the Dwarven Army arrives to repel them. Almost immediately, though, Orcs attack and the humans, Dwarves and Elves find themselves united against two armies of Orcs led by Azog The Defiler. As the struggle for Middle Earth is fought before them, Thorin shakes off his dragon sickness to begin a very personal fight against Azog!
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is surprisingly fast-paced for a film with a running time over two and a half hours. Despite having plotlines that seem incongruent with the main plot surrounding Thorin Oakenshield and his madness fueled by greed for the Arkenstone, like the Kili and Tauriel love story, the recurring weasel Alfrid, the rescue of Gandalf, and the conflict between Legolas and his own father (Thranduil), the pacing of The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is remarkably tight.
In fact, almost all of the actual issues surrounding The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies involve how the film fails to stand on its own or how it fits into Peter Jackson’s larger Middle Earth Saga. On its own, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is a film that is mired by its failure to explain itself. It begins with Thorin mad and having achieved most of his goals. In The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Thorin has a somewhat unexplained obsession (the importance of the Arkenstone is vastly understated in the film), goes mad and overcomes it on the strength of his own will (not reason or the threat of being wiped out). Similarly, Gandalf’s imprisonment is not explained within the film; the whole Necromancer concept seems dropped in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies!
In the context of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga, the big issue in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is Legolas. Legolas has one truly huge character moment in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings Saga (reviewed here!). Legolas witnesses Elven death at the Battle Of Helm’s Deep and it leaves him shocked and shaken (in the commentary tracks, Jackson talks about how he has never seen Elves die because they are otherwise immortal). With that in mind, Legolas’s place in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies seems utterly ridiculous. We are meant to believe that Legolas arrives at the field of battle, albeit late, and sees none of the elven bodies around that his father does?! Come on!
That said, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies has pretty wonderful acting, getting viewers to invest in the characters, no matter how minor they are. The film has issues in the larger context, like how the eagles play the same trick as in The Lord Of The Rings (Tolkien’s fault, not Jackson’s) and a bloated cast that leaves the majority of the dwarves in the company unexplored as far as fleshing out actual characters, but the performers all play credibly in the environment. Luke Evans shines as Bard and Richard Armitage manages to make Thorin’s tormented persona pop on the screen.
Ultimately, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies finishes Peter Jackson’s tenure as a master of Tolkein’s works for screen with a film that ties everything together, even if it does not stand very magnificently on its own.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Seventh Son
The Imitation Game
For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |