The Hobbit trilogy ends with bloodshed and tears, but is it any good?
Peter Jackson’s ‘Hobbit’ trilogy comes to an end and we bid farewell to Middle-earth after 14 years. But can ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ stand up against ‘The Return of the King’?
There is probably just as much folly in trying to review The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as there was in making three movies out of a very slim volume of a book. If you’re a fan of the films, you’ll see it no matter what some critic says, and if you’re not a fan there’s nothing I or anyone else could say to convince you to see it (and who would go see the third part of a trilogy without seeing the first two parts anyway?).
The plot, in a nutshell, picks up exactly where we left off in The Desolation of Smaug. The fearsome dragon is launching an all-out attack on Laketown, Gandalf is still imprisoned somewhere, and Thorin and his compatriots are hoping to reclaim their land, their home, their birthright once Smaug is dispatched. Once that happens, everyone in Middle-earth shows up to claim the land (and the treasure) for themselves. There’s bloodshed, there is death, there are tears, but in the end can this trilogy stand up next to The Lord of the Rings? In a word, no. Think Star Wars Episodes I-III compared to Episodes IV-VI (but maybe not quite that bad).
- The best thing in this movie is Richard Armitage’s performance as Thorin. He grieves for the lives lost in Laketown, then succumbs to the madness of Smaug’s treasure, turning on his friends whom he believes may have stolen the Arkenstone, and descends further into madness before coming to his senses and joining the battle to save his homeland. Armitage gets to run the gamut of emotions here and it is some fine work indeed.
- Martin Freeman is also very good in what little he has to do. His big moment really comes as he tries to talk Thorin down from his madness, but even though the movie is called The Hobbit, it’s really not about our friend Bilbo by this point.
- The destruction of Laketown is a harrowing, dramatic, thrilling moment of filmmaking that will have you on the edge of your seat.
- During Gandalf’s rescue, the moment Galadriel shows that she can kick everyone’s asses if she really wanted to, the psychedelic showdown between she and Sauron, and Saruman’s own kick-ass moves.
- The beautifully edited final descent into madness of Thorin before snapping back to reality, and his battle on the ice with Azog.
- Billy Connolly’s late arrival as Thorin’s cousin.
- The closing theme sung by original Hobbit Billy Boyd.
- Almost every plot thread left dangling at the end of part two is pretty much wrapped up within the first half hour or so of part three. Smaug is dispatched rather quickly, Gandalf is rescued and I’m still not even quite sure why he was caged in the first place (or by who), elves show up and a name is dropped just to connect these films to the LOTR trilogy. There is very little plot leading up to the titular event outside of Thorin’s madness.
- After Smaug is killed (is that a spoiler?), it seems that everyone in Middle-earth just shows up at Thorin’s doorstep to collect what they believe is theirs. How did the elves, the orcs and all the others know so quickly that the Lonely Mountain was now vacant? I remember that sweeping scene of fire signals being lit across the mountaintops in one of the original LOTR movies, but there’s nothing like that here. It’s like everyone got a text that read “Ding-dong the dragon’s dead.”
- Five armies is really too many to keep track of during a battle, which takes up way too much of the movie’s running time. It’s easy enough to keep track of the characters we know, but who they’re fighting most of the time is just a jumble.
- Again, too little plot, too much fighting. And some of the CGI looks almost unfinished.
In my humble opinion, The Desolation of Smaug was the best entry in the trilogy because it moved the story along after the deadly dull meandering of the first movie. This one drops the ball a bit because we know many of the characters do survive into the next/original trilogy. There are, however, three surprising deaths (at least to those who haven’t read the book, and may not even be in the book) that do hit hard emotionally. Outside of Armitage’s terrific performance, it’s these moments that give the movie the heart and emotion it desperately needs.
And as you deal with those tragedies, the film closes with a hauntingly beautiful but sad song that really feels like we’re saying goodbye to a group of characters and a world we’ve come to know over these last fourteen years. It’s those moments that I wish the rest of the movie would have had (and perhaps it will in the inevitable extended edition) because it was those moments that had me nearly sobbing as the credits rolled past. Saying goodbye to Middle-earth was more emotional than most of the movie, and I almost feel that the movie didn’t earn that reaction (but I’m a softy).
The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t the worst of the trilogy and it isn’t the best. It certainly demonstrates the folly of stretching a single book into three films, but I suppose we should applaud Peter Jackson’s tenacity in getting these films made. Now here’s hoping he focuses on something a little smaller in scale to recharge his creative batteries.