On the Silver Screen – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Peter Jackson’s closes out his trilogy with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and gives a sendoff to his Middle Earth saga.
Many had said over the course of this trilogy that turning a short and uncomplicated book like The Hobbit into 3 films was absolute madness and initially I was in agreement with that assessment. I could just about get behind the notion of doing 2 films but to do 3 seemed excessive. Despite this I watched the previous 2 films and really enjoyed them. I never really felt that they dragged too much or were stretching the story unnecessarily. As far as I’m concerned Peter Jackson has more or less justified turning this into a trilogy as on the whole it has worked really well.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies picks up directly after the conclusion to the previous movie where Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is ready to begin his attack on the poor defenseless residents of Lake Town and takes us through to the end of the story from there.
A lot of ground is covered -figuratively at least, most of the movie actually takes place in a relatively small area- from Smaug’s defeat to Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) corruption and the titular battle. Since the previous two films deal with getting to this point there’s plenty of time to give the situation and the characters the necessary attention to give this section of the story the heft it really needs.
There are lots of character stories going on here and the majority of them have a really satisfying resolution. Thorin’s arc is among the most interesting as the prior films established it as something resembling Aragorn’s with the notable difference of Thorin wanting to be king. The narrative explores what happens when someone obsessed with gaining that title actually gets it and produces some really interesting non violent conflict for the characters to deal with.
I found these scenes to be the best and the film creates two sides on this issue really nicely. The conflict was almost Shakespearean as Thorin comes in direct opposition to Bilbo (Martin Freeman) which keeps The Hobbit directly involved in the story named after his race. Bilbo naturally represents a simple country morality bereft of greed and any real ambition which directly opposes Thorin’s desire to keep all of the riches under the mountain to himself. It is slightly disappointing that the notion of The One Ring corrupting Bilbo is all but dropped here as I could see a a parallel between Thorin and Bilbo both being corrupted by gold make for really interesting stuff.
Luke Evans does a great job as Bard. His desire to help his people and his altruistic leadership skills help them to survive the loss of their home. He creates a good foil for Thorin throughout the film and makes a nice companion to Bilbo’s morality. It also adds an extra layer to the conflict since Bard only wants what he feel he is due where Thorin wants everything and Bilbo wants nothing.
The battle takes up a fair chunk of the screen time and it’s really nicely handled. Peter Jackson has always been good at these mass army battles and really shows all the pretenders who have tried to ape this in every fantasy movie since Return of the King how it’s done. In terms of scale the battle is so grand that it’d be easy to get lost in a sea of CGI but the focus is more on the characters and their personal struggles.
Naturally Thorin’s nemesis is Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) which results in the film’s most exciting one on one battles. Nobody else has a personal antagonist in this way but attention is always kept on the characters we know. Everything is spectacularly handled but sometimes it can look a bit cartoonish with ropey CGI effects that occasionally stand out. The battle was filled with some notable conveniences to make everything look a bit cooler but it worked on me, it looked cool so I don’t really have an issue with it.
There were some other great sequences such as Gandalf’s (Ian MacKellan) rescue from Dol Goldur by the Lady Galdriel (Kate Blanchet), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) stuntman. It was great to see the full force of Galadriel’s power and it provided a satisfying enough answer for why everyone would seem so surprised that Sauron had returned so soon in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Some scope is in this narrative for comedy such as Billy Connolly’s laughable Dwarf commander Dain. The character is clearly there to be laughed at and Connolly looks somewhat ridiciulous in this role. He does have some really cool moments but the comedic nature of him makes it a little difficult to take him seriously.
The film has multiple endings but it’s not anywhere near as ridiculous as Return of the King and I never found myself bored by any of them. Everything seemed to wrap up well and the story does a nice job of coming full circle into the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. I had the luxuary of watching all 3 films back to back which really helped show how everything hangs together nicely. Thorin and Bilbo in particular have a defined arc that carries through all 3 of the films with the others having minor stories that begin and end throughout. It’s a nicely crafted trilogy for the most part and I never felt unsatisfied by the way it was wrapped up.
Some small things brought the film down slightly such as the very quick resolution of the Smaug story. The sequence depicting Smaug’s attack on Lake Town as well as his defeat felt like it should have been in the previous film. There even appears to be a cutting off point that would have been the perfect place for the final film to start. Smaug’s attack on Lake Town was a great sequence and really laid the ground work for Evans’ Bard’s more heroic stance in this film.
I still found myself not really caring about Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a character created for this series of films who falls in love with Kili (Aidan Turner). I appreciated the attempt to round out this sausage fest with a female character but her arc isn’t terribly exciting and the story is almost typical of the female role. She only exists to be in a love triangle involving Kili and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and for her to learn what love is. There’s nothing dynamic about this and it completely falls flat. Her attraction to Kili isn’t something that receives an awful lot of attention so when it’s resolved it’s not something I felt terribly invested in.
The above mentioned Legolas annoyed me as well. He’s a character who isn’t supposed to be here at all yet received an awful lot of screen time. There’s a lot more of his “one man army” battle style and some of the stunts put grinding down a Mûmakil trunk to shame. I still don’t know why Legolas is here as he doesn’t add anything to the story beyond some clumsy foreshadowing. Is he Peter Jackson’s favourite character or something?
One of the problems that has plagued this trilogy since the first one is that there are simply far too many main characters. Following a company of 13 Dwarves, a Hobbit and a Wizard creates some problems in terms of character development. Most of the Dwarves are lacking in a defined character which means it is at times difficult to feel connected to them in any meaningful way. I don’t think Stephen Hunter’s Bombur has any lines through all 3 films. It was always going to be a problem with such a large collection of characters and I don’t think shoehorning Legolas into the story really helped this.
An exciting end to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga that nicely caps off The Hobbit trilogy as well as creating a suitable bridge to the Lord of the Rings movies.
Lots of character stories are already in play when this film starts and the narrative does a good job of resolving most of them in a satisfying way. Thorin’s opposition to Bilbo and Bard directly provides some really interesting Shakespearean level drama that very much carries the film. The strong performances from the actors involved really help to sell this conflict.
The titular battle is well handled with heavy reliance on occasionally ropey looking CGI. Peter Jackson helps to remind audiences of how to do the mass army conflict and focuses in on the personal battles involving the characters we have been following throughout the trilogy. There are some really exciting moments and it’s a spectacular looking battle with immense scope.
Carrying over from the last movie is the manufactured love triangle between Tauriel, Kili and Legoalas which isn’t something I really cared about in the last film and cared about even less here. It’s not a plot that is dynamic or interesting so I kept waiting for these scenes to end. Legolas being in these films at all is baffling enough.
Throughout all 3 films the problem of underdeveloped characters has existed through the issue of having such a large group of Dwarves to follow. In this film the issue of most of them lacking any sort of defined character isn’t resolved meaning that some of them end up filling out the background.
None of these issues really hurt my enjoyment as I had a blast throughout and think this holds up among the other fine entries in these two trilogies.