Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

by Chad Liffmann on December 17, 2014

H-O-B-B-I-T! Fight! Fight! Fight!…and joke…and Fight! Fight! Fight!…and joke…

Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) size each other up.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) size each other up.

Let’s get this out of the way — The Hobbit should’ve been 1-2 movies, not 3.  Most of us came to terms with this years ago.  That’s a conversation for a another time, however.  For now, let’s concentrate on the third and final installment of The Hobbit trilogy, and the final chapter (without debate) of Peter Jackson’s exploration of Middle Earth.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (HTBotFA) is not the best of the trilogy – it trails HTDoS (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) but is a bit ahead of HAUJ (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).  While the middle chapter had some interesting character transitions, HTBotFA has very little substance outside the constant fighting taking place.  We’ve seen better battles before, so the ones featured here seem tired and stale, and therefore overwrought with unique creature designs to help grasp for freshness.  And once again, it’s an exciting but sometimes silly feast of CGI, the kind that makes you miss the hillside skirmish in Fellowship of the Ring or even the large battle at the end of The Return of the King, which featured a lot of actual actors in costumes.  Here, it’s commonly 1-2 actors versus scores of CGI creatures.  It’s just not as thrilling.  And so the newest Hobbit film is a tired, ultra climactic end to a superfluously extended journey which was generally fun to watch, yet constantly played second fiddle to the far superior LotR trilogy.

As the title suggests, there’s a five army battle in the newest Hobbit movie.  In fact, that’s nearly all there is in the film.  It rather quickly ties up the loose ends involving Smaug from the end of the previous film, and sets forth with tension between creatures and nations — escalating to war with each other and then a common foe, Orcs and other baddies from the depths of Sauron (who is in some type of in-between giant eye and fire ghost form — very psychedelic).  Thorin (Richard Armitage) is struck with dragon-sickness…and greed…and won’t give up rightful shares of treasure freed from the clutches of Smaug to the folks of Lake Town (who’s town is no more, btw, thanks to Smaug) and to the Elves.  Like a good neighbor, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is there, and he tries to make peace between nations — to no avail.  But, as the adventurous children’s story written by Professor Tolkien in 1937 goes, good forces team up to battle the evil forces in a grand metaphor for anti-war sentiments, peace and love, and, wait…

CAN YOU DIG IT!?

CAN YOU DIG IT!?

Yes, the above image is a prime example of how The Hobbit movies glorify war, which flies in the face of the message from the original Hobbit book.  But as a cinematic spectacle, it works.  It’s just a shame that the “deeper” thematic material couldn’t accompany the plot material from page to screen as it did so well in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (keep in mind that there isn’t nearly as much “deeper” material in The Hobbit as there is in The Lord of the Rings).  In fact, in terms of third installments, HTBotFA plays much like The Return of the King but lacks the emotional power of the characters involved.  The stakes are similar but the setup is just too ridiculous to take seriously — with a Dwarf king hiding behind a wall of stone on one side and a grey, snarling, CGI warrior monster leading the evil forces on the other side, with giant elk and battle goats and a Scottish-accented Dwarf General in the middle of the action.  Sounds silly, right? Can you guess which parts weren’t in the original story?

But of course, I don’t want to take away from the effort put in by the actors.  It isn’t their fault that the script lacks poignancy, or that it extends through three long films.  Martin Freeman remains a perfect choice as Bilbo Baggins.  In the new film, he once again demonstrates a somewhat reluctant hero, but now with a stronger taste for adventure and risk taking.  It feeds well into Ian Holm’s older Bilbo of the LOTR trilogy.  Richard Armitage does a good job of descending deep into greedy lunacy, and he plays up the moments where the boundaries become blurred between the actions of a cautious King and those of a psychotic dictator.  Sir Ian McKellen is, well, Sir Ian McKellen, so you can expect great things from him.  I won’t get into the folks of Lake Town, led by Bard (Luke Evans) and featuring an extremely annoying stab at comic relief in the form of Alfrid (Ryan Cage), who is like an almost unwatchable goofy version of Grima Wormtongue.  Think Jar Jar Binks bad.  He just keeps getting screen time!  Nevertheless, the Lake Town people are just boring.  Plain and simple.  Every scene expanding upon the Lake Town populace, whether it’s Bard’s family or innocent bystanders readying for battle, is just wasted minutes spent away from more compelling storylines.

I’ll leave you with this scenario (Warning: battle spoilers):  Thousands of armed soldiers from four different armies are engaged in combat.  Giant tremor-like creatures erupt from beneath the adjacent hills, allowing for armies of Goblins to come pouring into battle against the Elves, Humans, and Dwarves. Other giant troll-like creatures carry catapults up to the frontline and fling boulders upon the good guy armies.  Swords clang, heads are lopped off, main heroes fight main villains for what seems like ages, and Legolas defies gravity a few times but looks cool doing so.  About an hour and a half later, giant Eagles show up and turn the tide immediately in favor of the good guys (like they seem to always do after enough blood has already been spilled)…

…Now, are you glad the Eagles have arrived because 1) giant eagles are cool!  2) you get to see more action between even more creatures. 3) the battle must be coming to a close, and the end credits can’t be too far behind.

Your answer may very well have lots of insight into how much you’ll like this film.

———-

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in Bay Area theaters today, Dec. 17th.

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