The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies

Director Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Billy Connolly, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro based on the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Around the time that George Lucas was putting out his joyless prequels, Peter Jackson started us out on a joyful quest with The Lord of The Rings. Each of the films burst at the seams with character, brilliant animation and a concise screenplay. Changes were made here and there, things were cut out for reasons of streamlining the story. There were some outlandish moments, like when Legolas took a ride on an Oliphant, but overall, the films paid almost as much attention to gravity as it did the source material.

Now, at the end of Peter Jackson’s joyless prequel trilogy, the quest feels more like a financial obligation. We’ve committed the funds to see the first two, might as well see the last one and get it over with.

The first two films have been a progression steadily downward. The weight of added characters and story lines to push one book to two, then eventually three films have made the enterprise of a delightful story into a bloated animated collection of wholly unrealistic scenes that barely connect to one another, much less to anything of the universe Jackson created in the first film series.

Luckily there is not much more he can do to Middle Earth. The story that is left to tell leaves little room for embellishment. In short, they have to slay a dragon, argue about the spoils of a Dwarf Kingdom and then fight a big battle. We also have the Jackson story lines: inter-racial lovebirds Kili and Tauriel (Turner and Lilly) and the rebirth of Sauron. He has no more need to add more baggage. At 144 minutes, it feels like a sort of parole for the viewer as compared to the first two that came out over 161 minutes each.

Story execution is mixed. The death of Smaug (Cumberbatch) is mercifully brief. There is a lot of scrambling by the townsfolk and the remaining dwarves and then there is one of those monologues that lasts just long enough for Bard (Evans) to get off a clean shot. The interplay between Bard and his son works well here and pays off in multiple ways.

Back to the Lonely Mountain, we discover that Thorin (Armitage) has been afflicted with dragon sickness, making him doubt everyone around him and ramps the greed up to 11. It is easy to extend the idea of dragon sickness to Jackson. Viewers don’t need to make too big a leap to see themselves in the position of his Dwarf companions; struggling between the loyalty to the master who leads them to the promised land, and incredibly uncomfortable and bored with him now that they are forced to live there.

Thorin really wants the Arkenstone, and Bilbo (Freeman) has it. After negotiations go sour with the people of Laketown and Thranduil’s Elves due to King Thorin’s spiraling madness, Bilbo gives the Arkenstone to Bard. This goes nowhere too.

Thankfully, at Dol Guldur, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman (Blanchett, Weaving and Lee) arrive to rescue Gandalf (McKellen) from Sauron and the Nazgul. This scene is new to the book’s story, but it fits well within the sequence of events. It’s a nicely played resolution to the subplot as well.

Back at the battlefields below The Lonely Mountain, as the battle is about to start between the Elves, Men and the newly reinforced Dwarf army led by Thorin’s cousin Dain (Connolly), the orcs surprise them and begin to attack from two sides, splitting the newly joined 3 forces.

From here, Jackson just lets loose. Some of his better sequences, along with some of his worst take place within the ravages of the battle. The original is kind of a free for all, so for this viewer, it is fine if Jackson wants to add some structure to it. Attempting to inject some levity and tension throughout, we see some really neat things. In particular, Thorin’s battle with Azog and Bolg’s battle with Kili. Unfortunately, both of the battles go on too long and become convoluted.

Convoluted is the best word to describe Legolas’ continued fight with Bolg. It goes on forever and defies any sense of physical space whatsoever.

One of the best scenes from the original trilogy is the battle with the giant ogre within the Mines of Moria. That scene set up the foundation for much of what is to follow. The best thing about it is seeing how incredibly hard it was to take just one of those things. Then to see many of them falling over in unison with phantom punches is disturbingly sad and indicative of a “let’s get it over with” type of laziness.

The singular scene that stands out as a plus with an ogre is when assaulting the city next to the Lonely Mountain. As the troops of orcs run towards the wall, one ogre bearing a large helmet of rock attached to his head runs directly into a wall and breaks through. Immediately he bounces back from the blow, stands for a second and then falls back, out cold.

The pacing of the majority of the film is uneven. So much is going on, it’s impossible to figure out whether it’s momentum or kinetic confusion that the viewer is witnessing. Even so, this film is definitely the best of a bad second lot. Given that the first series is nearly perfect, this one doesn’t even belong in the same conversation.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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