So with The Battle of the Five Armies, we are now at the end of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. In some ways this series could have ended a bit sooner as the book it is based on is nowhere as long as The Lord of the Rings, but we cannot doubt this filmmaker’s determination to go through all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s appendices to discover how truly epic Middle Earth was in scope. I came into this third Hobbit movie with mixed emotions as the previous two were not bad movies, but they never came close to matching the majestic power of any of the Lord of the Rings movies which have are now just impossible to top.
Looking back, The Battle of the Five Armies has its problems as it contains a storyline that is hard to follow and filled with characters we have a hard time keeping up with. This is surprising as this one is the shortest Hobbit or Lord of the Rings film Jackson has ever directed (2 hours and 24 minutes to be exact), but it still feels just longer than the others. Having said that, the movie improves as it goes along and contains a number of strong action sequences and terrific performances from a cast that has come to inhabit these characters to where we can’t picture anyone else playing them. Whatever its flaws, The Battle of the Five Armies does prove to be a very entertaining chapter in the Hobbit trilogy, and that’s even if doesn’t end it on quite as powerful a note as The Return of the King concluded The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Previously on The Hobbit, the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) had escaped from the aptly named Lonely Mountain, and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the Dwarves watch helplessly as Smaug lays waste to Laketown and its inhabitants. However, it’s not much of a surprise to see that the fiery dragon is dealt a quick death blow by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), and his dead carcass ends up falling on top of the Master of Laketown who meets a fate not unlike Dr. Robert Romano’s on ER. From there the survivors of Laketown anoint Bard to be their new leader, the dwarves come to see that Thorin (Richard Armitage) has been afflicted by Smaug’s dragon sickness which makes him far too protective of the vast fortune Smaug once protected himself, and a number of familiar characters come to rescue Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) from Sauron’s stronghold in Dol Guldur.
As you can see from the above paragraph, that’s a lot of story and characters to take in and it threatens to take away from the sweeping emotional power Jackson has given this franchise from movie to movie. This is not to mention the Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) who leads his army to the foot of Lonely Mountain to retrieve a priceless treasure which belongs to his people, the love Kili (Aidan Turner) has for Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) who leads his fellow Orcs into battle and orders them to kill anyone who isn’t an Orc. After a while I kind of gave up trying to follow all the separate storylines because it felt like far more than anyone should have to deal with.
But then The Battle of the Five Armies starts to improve once it focuses more on characters instead of just spectacle. A deep inner conflict arises in Bilbo as he debates whether or not to give Thorin the Arkenstone which he successfully swiped from Smaug. Freeman has succeeded in making Bilbo his own after Ian Holm portrayed him previously, and it has been a lot of fun seeing the Sherlock actor take this character from being an innocent Hobbit to one who is forced to stand his ground when danger arises. Freeman made Bilbo a somewhat jokey character when we first met him in An Unexpected Journey, but now he reminds us why this particular Tolkien character is one of the author’s most beloved creations.
I also have to give props to Armitage who portrays Thorin at his most weak, vulnerable and also at his most triumphant. It’s painful to see Thorin fall victim to a sickness that really equates with a person’s drive for infinite wealth where they have more money than they could ever possibly spend in a lifetime. For Armitage, this gives him a wonderful opportunity to take the character from rock bottom to back into fighting form, and he gives his character a strong dignity that for a time looks to be completely lost. His final scene is a deeply emotional one as he works to seal the bond of friendship between himself and others, and watching Armitage is to realize the power of redemption and forgiveness.
It’s hard to find fault with any of the performances in The Battle of the Five Armies as each actor brings their character around full circle. I was very glad to see Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee return in the roles they made so unforgettable in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Blanchett is especially noteworthy despite her brief appearance as she dominates the special effects to where she makes all the powers men possess seem puny in comparison. It’s also nice to see Orlando Bloom back as Legolas, and that’s regardless of the fact that he essentially gives a one-note performance throughout.
As the movie reaches its thunderous climax, Jackson reminds us why he is one of the best fantasy filmmakers working today. He gives us visual wonders and endless action scenes which leave you exhausted in the best way possible. Even if I didn’t understand everything that was going on, I still was enthralled by the battles such as the one between Thorin and Azog who each face a bloody beat down. Also, in a time where most filmmakers prefer to blast our eardrums out from scene to scene, Jackson finds a power and beauty in the silence of things, and it’s that silence which helps render these fantastical characters as human and distinct from the superheroes which have been appearing at multiplexes on a regular basis.
And once again, Jackson is joined by composer Howard Shore who is to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as John Williams is to Star Wars. Shore’s music continues to give great emotional depth to action and the story, and it’s impossible to imagine this franchise without his music.
In some ways it is sad that The Hobbit trilogy didn’t have the same effect on audiences as The Lord of the Rings did. Even with Jackson directing each of the movies, it still feels like there is something missing. But in the end the best parts of each Hobbit film tend to make up for their weaknesses. While the plot goes in what seems like too many different directions in The Battle of the Five Armies, this movie does prove to be a relatively satisfying chapter to The Hobbit trilogy. It also doesn’t the way The Matrix Revolutions did, and that is a huge relief.