WRITTEN REVIEW – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom & Evangeline Lilly
Music: Howard Shore
Release Date: December 12th 2014
After 13 years, 6 movies and 1032 minutes of content, Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth saga comes to an action-packed end with ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies‘. The two previous instalment, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‘ and ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug‘ have been the subject of much debate due to their length compared to the source material, but I’ve been a dedicated defender of this new trilogy due to the clear passion behind-the-scenes, the state of the art production values along with the incredible story-telling that has become a stable of this franchise. Both movies easily made my Top 10 Best List for their respective years and I truly believe that many of the criticisms levelled against them are completely unfounded.
However, with ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies‘, I’m forced to concede that, with this instalment at least, the naysayers may have a point. Now that we’ve come to the end, the last hurrah for this franchise and a transition between the Hobbit trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we’re left with an incredibly entertaining and action-packed movie, but an anti-climactic end for a trilogy from a story and character perspective.‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies‘ picks up immediately where ‘The Desolation of Smaug‘ left off; with the savage Dragon’s assault on Lake Town. Bard the Bowman (Evans) swiftly takes it down before the opening titles leaving the treasure of Erebor up for grabs. Word spreads across Middle-Earth that the dragon has been slain and an army of Dwarves, Elves and Men show up to fight over the riches. However, the Dark Lord Sauron’s forces are growing in strength and are ready to join the battle with the fate of Middle-Earth at stake. Meanwhile, Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) finds himself becoming corrupted by the treasure he fought for and it’s up to Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) to make him see sense and try to survive the Battle of the Five Armies.The previous two movies have provided brilliant examples of subtle visual story-telling and nuance when it comes to character development. However, while many moments of that are present in ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘, Peter Jackson seems to have lost a lot of that subtlety. As Thorin starts to get corrupted by the gold (something the movie calls “Dragon Sickness” but doesn’t actually tell the audience what “Dragon Sickness” is for another 4 or 5 scenes…) he starts to repeat lines of dialogue spoken by Smaug in the previous movie. It’s a great callback to the last film to show Thorin’s fall, but they put audio filters over these lines of dialogue making this subtle touch feel far too melodramatic to be effective.
There’s also a magnificent shot where Thorin is wandering the halls of Erebor and the floor is completely made of gold (after melting the golden statue at the end of the last movie in an attempt to defeat Smaug) and it’s a marvel of shot composition and reflects Thorin’s deteriorating state-of-mind through camera angles and visual metaphors. But this is promptly followed by an over-long sequence of Thorin hearing voices in his head, the gold beneath him melting and swallowing him whole
Going from a conceptually brilliant subtle piece of filmmaking to such an unnecessarily overblown sequence causes a moment of pathos to become unintentionally hilarious and there are many moments where the audience in my screening were actively laughing AT the movie instead of with it. Two stand-out moments (without getting into specifics) is the way Bard the Bowman arms the black arrow to take down Smaug (it’s so stupid that it almost defies comprehension) and what started off as a well directed scene of Bard and Thorin negotiating terms as they communicate through a small gap in a stone wall, only for Richard Armitage to slowly shuffle out of sight once he’s finished arguing. After two prior instalments where the humour and drama were on-point, many sequences in ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ feel uncharacteristically tone-deaf.That’s not to say that there aren’t any moments of great drama or great humour in the movie. It’s a Peter Jackson Middle-Earth production so of course you’re going to get quality, but it’s the curse of raised expectations. The highs are so high that it makes the low-points all the more noticeable. But the performances are strong, as per usual with actors disappearing into these iconic roles. Martin Freeman is incredibly understated as Bilbo Baggins and is consistently adorable and engaging to watch. This is a man who had a 15 minute long conversation with a dragon in the last movie but your eyes were on HIM most of the time. Ian McKellen is predictably brilliant as Gandalf the Grey and Richard Armitage goes through a whole pantheon of emotions throughout his character’s journey.
One of the stand out performances of ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ is Luke Evans as Bard. Evans effortlessly portrays the gravitas required for the character’s rise and prominence throughout the movie and he’s a very capable action-star with a dash of heart as he aims to protect his family. It’s a shame that he doesn’t have more to do in the 3rd act of the movie which nicely brings me to ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ next big problem and that’s the completely mismanaged priorities.What justified the side-stories in ‘An Unexpected Journey‘ and ‘The Desolation of Smaug‘, particularly Gandalf’s digressions to Dol Guldor, were to set up the threat of Sauron returning to Middle-Earth to lead into Peter Jackson’s previous trilogy. However, when the chance to transition the two stories comes up, Jackson completely ignores it. Basically, all the sub-plots that people have decried the existence of over the past three years have all been for nout. The Kili/Tauriel romance dissipates with little meaning or impact on the events or character’s around them, Saruman (Christopher Lee) disappears from the movie leaving his initial alliance with Sauron before ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘ up in the air and undefined (his “Leave Sauron to me” line in the trailer is, honest to Smaug, the very last time we see him in the movie and he’s never mentioned again) and the presence of Alfrid, who is hanging around after the death of his master at the beginning of the movie to provide comic relief, has “extended edition” written all over it. There’s a scene where all the women who have barricaded themselves inside a building to stay out of the conflict decide to rise up and help their husbands.
These women are never seen or heard from again.There’s an aggravating lack of closure to be found in ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘. For what’s meant to be a transitional movie leading into ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘ there are enough gaps and loose ends left open in the plot to block the gates of Mordor. Bard, Alfrid, Tauriel, Elrond, Saruman and countless others exit the movie without any indication of where they’ve gone and the very ending of the movie comes across as an obligation as opposed to a definitive conclusion to this 474 minute story. Over the past decade, the dozen-or-so endings of ‘The Return of the King‘ has been the subject of ridicule and parody, but ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ desperately needed something like that, especially with all the sub-plots included that weren’t in the book.
There’s nothing wrong with expanding the world or adding to story in a movie adaptation, but by the time the credits roll, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ has done nothing to justify their existence which can only make you question their existence in the first place. Tauriel, Alfrid and Gandalf’s behind-the-scenes adventures weren’t in the original book so you can’t even argue that their inclusion is out of obligation to the source material (while the latter’s adventures were explored in Tolkien’s expanded universe works, they weren’t alluded to in the original book).With the titular battle, it would seem that Jackson has finally bitten off far more than he can chew. The spectacle we get is terrific, but with five armies fighting simultaneously, along with the main cast of dwarves splintering off, plus Legolas and Tauriel, plus Bard defending his family and also following the misadventures of Alfrid means that there’s no flow to the transitions and that the audience go for long periods of time with no idea what the other characters are doing. After spending upwards of 10 minutes watching Legolas fight his way through Orcs (incidentally, if the Battle of the Five Armies was a video game, Legolas would be playing with all the cheat codes on) the viewer is left with no reference of what is happening on the actual battlefield. Especially when we know that on that battlefield is a CGI Billy Connolly dwarf, riding a war-pig and wielding a giant hammer.
If there’s one thing this movie needed more of (besides closure) it was more CGI Billy Connolly dwarf, riding a war-pig and wielding a giant hammer. If the extended edition includes that, all is forgiven and it gets an instant 5 stars out of 5.
The spectacular action sequences of the previous movies felt on-point and immediate because the audience were usually only following one or two narrative strands. The Goblin-Horde fight in ‘An Unexpected Journey‘ was intercut with slower scenes with Bilbo playing riddles with Gollum and the barrel-riding scene in ‘The Desolation of Smaug‘ only followed the dwarves escaping the elves and orcs in one location. In the titular Battle of the Five Armies, the cast is too big and the geography so vast that there’s a lack of immediacy and while the spectacle of the fight is terrific and ultimately worth seeing, it’s not a patch on the Battle of Helms Deep from ‘The Two Towers‘ or the initial assault on Minas Tirith in ‘The Return of the King‘. The best action moments are the one-on-one battles that become more prevalent as the movie goes on, but they don’t fix the problem of the disjointed pacing.‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ is a good movie with some incredibly enjoyable elements, ambitious action, great character moments, terrific performances and the peerless world-building that we’ve come to expect from the franchise. But when it comes to wrapping up this trilogy and providing a satisfying jumping-off point for ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘, it leaves much to be desired. Its completely mismanaged priorities concerning which characters it chooses to focus on and its disregard for the plot-points that have been included to extend this from the initially proposed two-movies into a trilogy makes ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘ a significant let-down.
Peter Jackson on a bad day stands head and shoulders above many filmmakers on their best day and the movie has significant merits, but there’s a certain expectation when it comes to Middle-Earth movies. Due to the scenes in the trailers that are absent in the movie (many battle clips, lines of dialogue, the wolf chase and Gandalf’s “How shall this day end!?” are nowhere to be found) it’s pretty safe to say that the inevitable extended edition that’ll be released on home media in late 2015 will provide the extra closure that this franchise deserves and I am looking forward to viewing it.
But I’m not reviewing the extended edition. I’m reviewing ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies‘.
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Posted: 12th Dec 14