Two years ago, I found myself in the theater waiting for the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, to begin. I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, but when it came to the Hobbit, I had to wonder what the purpose was. The trailers had failed to spark too much interest in me and the story wasn’t one that I particularly connected with. But, nevertheless, I sat and watched the film in 3D. Within the first couple of minutes, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) strolled across the screen and for a brief moment I was hooked. Perhaps this new trilogy of movies (based off of a single book) would be a worthwhile addition to the cinematic canon of Middle-Earth. With the release of the final part of this trilogy, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, we can finally render a verdict.
I’ll start by saying this: by this point, you’re either hooked or you’re not. Chances are you either own all the extended cuts of the movies on Blu-Ray or you don’t know the difference between Sauron and Saruman (yes, those are both actual characters). If you fall into the former category, see this movie and enjoy it; savor your last trip to the beautiful and, at this point, nostalgic world that Peter Jackson crafted nearly a decade and a half ago. If The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit aren’t your thing, then this film certainly won’t do much to persuade you.
The sad reality is that when you evaluate this movie on its own, devoid of the goodwill its predecessors (mainly The Lord of the Rings movies) have built up, it’s a fairly average film. Like the first two entries in the series, this movie follows the party of Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman, who is easily one of the standouts of the film) and a slew of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) as they seek to evade the orcs that pursue them as they battle the dragon Smaug in order to reclaim their mountainous home.
The initial plan was to adapt the Hobbit into two films. The decision was later made, presumably for financial reasons, to instead stretch the story into three parts. This is clearly evident in the narrative (or lack their of) in this third part. The movie starts off strong by delivering the most thrilling and compelling scene in the entire trilogy. This, however, is wrapped up surprisingly fast and the rest of the movie is a build up to the climactic end battle. Ironically, the weakest part of the Battle of the Five Armies is anything related to the battle of the five armies. The build up is dull and clichéd and the pay off looks like it ripped straight from a video game.
Unlike the other two Hobbit movies, which prominently featured Freeman in the lead role (complimented by Ian McKellen in his iconic role of Gandalf the Grey), Battle of the Five Armies looks to Armitage’s Thorin to shoulder the biggest load. From a strictly acting perspective, Armitage is more than capable of this task. Unfortunately, his character isn’t given much to work with. It’s mostly exaggerated insanity and barking heartless orders that reveal his exaggerated insanity.
Another problem with the narrative is the shoehorned presence of original trilogy characters for no apparent reason other than to create artificial connections with The Lord of the Rings films. The most painful of these is the downright cheesy reference to a certain ranger towards the end of the movie. While it is fun to see Orlando Bloom’s Legolas firing arrows again, none of the characters Jackson chose to add to the story are able to justify their presence.
As with the other Hobbit movies, there is an abundance of CGI. In fact, the drama of the actual battle of the five armies is undercut by the way that nearly everyone and everything involved looks fake. It’s decently done CGI, but clearly CGI nonetheless. The final showdown between Oakenshield and the Pale Orc should be the highlight of the battle. Instead, it looks like the boss battle from an Xbox 360 game. It’s entertaining enough as mindless popcorn action, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
There are some sparks of greatness within the movie. Smaug’s showdown with Laketown, Freeman and McKellen’s performances, and the typically impressive scope of the battle sequences all help redeem this movie. It appears that the decision to go from two movies to three cost the trilogy as a whole. Had the Hobbit been adapted as two books, it’s entirely possible that this would have been a tremendous film. But, unfortunately, we’re left with three good, but not great, movies instead. The saddest part is that the Battle of the Five Armies is an entertaining popcorn blockbuster while The Lord the Rings managed to be both action-packed and thought-provoking. The Hobbit movies were heavy-handed and CGI-filled while The Lord of the Rings films provided a moving, symbolic story of good versus evil. Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about the Battle of the Five Armies is that it is almost completely forgettable. The film, like the trilogy as a whole, is a big missed opportunity.
I began this three-film journey wondering what the purpose was and I left, disheartened, feeling as though the purpose was only mindless entertainment and a shameless money grab. Underneath it all, there is a story of greed, home, revenge, honor, friendship, and rising to the occasion; at it’s heart, the Hobbit is about Bilbo Baggins stepping out of his comfort zone and becoming braver and stronger than he ever imagined; it’s about the dwarves learning just how far they’re willing to go to reclaim their home; and it’s about Thorin learning that leadership is earned through respect, not demanded from authority. Unfortunately, these touching themes are buried under cheesy CGI and a bloated story. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is worth seeing but fails to become a truly transcendent classic like The Lord of the Rings movies.