Peter Jackson's Battle of the Five Armies ends his Hobbit trilogy on a somewhat underwhelming note, but it's worth taking that final trip to his Middle-earth.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right after Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves have successfully driven the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) out from the Lonely Mountain, only for Smaug to take revenge by raining fire down on the citizens of Lake-town. Thorin then becomes stricken with "dragon sickness" while he searches for the Arkenstone within the vast treasure rooms of Erebor, causing him to grow mad with power, paranoid, and unwilling to uphold the deal that he struck with Bard (Luke Evans) and his people.
Meanwhile, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) marches with an army of Orcs toward the Lonely Mountain, even as King Thranduil (Lee Pace) leads an army of Elves there in order to claim his own portion of Erebor's treasure horde. Not long thereafter, though, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) discover that another Orc army, from Gundabad, is also making its way towards Thorin's stronghold.
As Thorin and his kin fortify Erebor and wait for reinforcements, the stage is set for one epic showdown - a final battle that will determine, once and for all, who shall take control and rule over the Lonely Mountain...
Battle of the Five Armies is designed to not only serve as the conclusion to director Peter Jackson's Hobbit movie trilogy, but also as the "bridge" chapter to his adaptation of Hobbit author J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's a tall order; and, at the end of the day, Battle of the Five Armies is able to juggle both balls without dropping either one (entirely). At the same time, though, this film might be the least satisfying of Jackson's Middle-earth adventures to date.
The main story issue is that Battle of the Five Armies - scripted by Jackson along with his trusted collaborators, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (with Guillermo del Toro also credited) - never overcomes feeling as though it's the second half of a movie (and perhaps that was the original plan, when The Hobbit was planned as two films) that's been stretched out to fill the mold of a three-act narrative.
There is a complete thematic arc - concerning the dangers of greed and the lust for power - offered between Battle of the Five Armies and its predecessor, The Desolation of Smaug. The Hobbit finale also payoffs a handful of character threads introduced in the two preceding films (if not always in a satisfying fashion). Problem is, Battle of the Five Armies just doesn't work as a self-contained experience in ways that (arguably) all five of Jackson's previous Middle-earth movies managed, to some degree. As a result, its setup for the Rings trilogy feels more heavy-handed and extraneous to the (already strained) story being told.
Visually and technically, Battle of the Five Armies reaches the bar set by previous Hobbit films, but it's lacking in terms of inventiveness. The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie is as solid as ever. He, working alongside Jackson and the Hobbit film trilogy's massive production team (composed of costume designers, set decorators, prop designers, etc.), again paints a gorgeous portrait of the Middle-earth setting and the colorful fantasy creatures that inhabit the region.
Yet, there aren't really any specific sequences that stand out as innovative, and the action/combat feels even more video game-like and over-processed than those in past Hobbit movies (as does the blending of practical and CGI components). The combat situations often serve as the "substance" of the movie, but tend to be too repetitive in their construction to serve that purpose well. Maybe it's just too familiar at this point, but judging by his work on Battle of the Five Armies, Jackson the filmmaker needs his batteries recharged. Even this film's use of 3D isn't creative enough that it necessarily justifies the ticket surcharge (same goes for the HFR 3D format).
Battle of the Five Armies nonetheless does fly by fairly quickly on the whole, despite some clunky editing and jumping around between plot threads early on. Once everyone's in place, though, it's a smoother run to the finish; the third act of the film narrows its focus to a more intimate conflict that involves only a handful of characters, and manages to be comparatively more emotionally impactful (despite all the meandering it takes to get there). These positive elements help compensate for what doesn't work.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo is as charmingly aloof and plucky as ever, but he's (somewhat awkwardly) replaced as the protagonist by Richard Armitage's Thorin, who has the most well-defined character arc of the many players in Battle of the Five Armies. The two actors not only play their respective parts well, their scenes together are, by far, the most engaging when it comes to the non-action-driven material. Battle of the Five Armies doesn't have a huge "heart," but the one it does possess comes from the Bilbo/Thorin relationship.
Other relationship subplots - such as the "love triangle" between Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Kili (Aidan Turner) - are likewise wrapped up, though not nearly as effectively. Bloom and Lily are comfortable in their respective roles, but the inclusion of their characters in the larger Hobbit storyline ultimately feels unnecessary, now that it's been played out in full.
Lee Pace as Thranduil and Luke Evans as Bard, respectively, are once again strong as their respective characters - yet their own story threads in this film ultimately resolve themselves with more of a fizz instead of a bang. Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey is, of course, great as ever, though even he feels a bit superfluous to the larger storyline in Battle of the Five Armies, once the conflict with The Necromancer (also portrayed by Cumberbatch) has been settled.
There are several other familiar Middle-earth residents who make an appearance here - including Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown - but sometimes their inclusion doesn't feel organic or meaningful ... or, at worst, it feels very forced (like when Ryan Gage as scheming Alfrid of Lake-town is called upon for comic relief). It seems as though many of these supporting characters in Battle of the Five Armies are there mostly so they can take one last bow, as filmgoers bid farewell to Jackson's Middle-earth... Or, in the case of Billy Connolly as King Dain II Ironfoot, to show up just long enough to become part of the Middle-earth saga.
To sum it all up: this Hobbit installment (all criticisms aside) deserves a look, assuming you have kept up with the previous Hobbit movies. Peter Jackson's Battle of the Five Armies ends his Hobbit trilogy on a somewhat underwhelming note, but it's worth taking that final trip to his Middle-earth. It might not complete the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings movie sextet in spectacular style, but Battle of the Five Armies does, in fact, properly finish the story that Jackson started. And for that, it can be applauded.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is now playing in 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D, and HFR 3D theaters. It is 150 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you have seen this movie and want to discuss details about it without worrying about spoiling the experience for those who haven't seen the film yet, please head over to our Battle of the Five Armies Spoilers Discussion.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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