The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
(Warning: contains spoilers for the first ten minutes, which isn’t usually a problem for a movie, but…well.)
We finally have the final installment of the Hobbit trilogy – which, sadly, does an excellent job of demonstrating why it shouldn’t have been a trilogy.
The film throws us right into the action by commencing immediately where The Desolation of Smaug left off, as Smaug the dragon comes bearing down on Laketown. The scene itself is dramatic and thrilling – but it means that Smaug is killed before the words “The Battle of the Five Armies” even appear onscreen. I know that the story has to climax with the battle, but Smaug is still the terrifying, villainous monster whose actions led to the whole adventure, and killing him off in the first scene of the third movie doesn’t do his role justice. Would it have been better to end The Desolation of Smaug with this scene? Maybe, but then this film would probably have suffered.
Following all this, the first half of the film covers the buildup to the Battle of the Five Armies – with men, elves, dwarves, and two armies of orcs all converging on Erebor – while the second covers the battle itself and the finale. And the inherent problems of having a trilogy are still very evident. The pacing of the first film was mostly fine and made me believe this could actually work. In the second film, things were noticeably more stretched. But I think this film is the worst. Everything is long and padded out and takes far more time than it has to.
Even in the climactic battle itself, I was fidgeting in my seat at some points. We start off with the clashes of the main armies; while it’s no Battle of Minas Tirith – it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly what’s going on – it’s generally very watchable and well-choreographed. But then we cut away to a separate area to focus on smaller-scale fights involving the main characters, and again, these take much too long. By the latter stages, I just wanted to find out what was going on at the site of the main battle by this time.
That’s the most major issue, but there are a few more nit-picky problems with the film as well. There are some points where we get out-of-place comedy in the middle of dramatic scenes, many of which involve Alfred, the Master of Laketown’s deputy. Giving Alfred so much screentime doesn’t work anyway because he’s a walking cliche of a snivelling, cowardly minion (down to the moustache and dressing in black) and doesn’t even get any comeuppance in the end. While I don’t mind the filmmakers creating the character of Tauriel to increase the female presence in the story, I do mind that she is repeatedly overpowered in battle and needs a big strong male warrior to swoop in and save her. Legolas gets just as many improbable combat moves as he did in the original trilogy, because he’s just that awesome; these are cool at first but get pretty ridiculous. There was one point where I actually laughed out loud at what he was doing – but I won’t spoil it.
So this is all sounding very negative, isn’t it? But I didn’t hate this film, honest. For starters, it’s still The Hobbit, and thus still a good story at its heart. The visual effects are still brilliant; and like I said, the action is good – it’s just too drawn out to be really good. And there are some very cool moments scattered throughout, like a fight scene in Dol Goldur where we actually get to see the Nazgul in their true forms.
Martin Freeman has some very good acting moments; I particularly liked the scene where he’s explaining why he’s trying to help the dwarves in spite of Thorin’s behaviour – you can see how, in spite of this adventure maturing him, he’s still a pleasant hobbit at heart. Richard Armitage also does very well as Thorin, who spends much of the film suffering disturbingly from “dragon sickness” as a result of having so much gold – at one point, he actually starts talking like Smaug, possibly mirroring how the various Ringbearers tended to repeat certain phrases. And I really, really wish we could have seen more of Billy Connolly as Dain. It’s Billy Connolly as a dwarf – hard to go wrong with that.
The Battle of the Five Armies is worth a watch – definitely if you’ve already seen the first two – but I ultimately found it disappointing. While The Lord of the Rings trilogy got stronger with each film, The Hobbit trilogy gets weaker. Maybe one film wouldn’t have been quite enough to do it justice in the way Peter Jackson wanted, but certainly two would have sufficed. Rating: 3/5.