Movie Review: “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom
Peter Jackson

The conclusion to Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy is being marketed as “The Defining Chapter,” so why does it feel like less of a triumphant celebration than a weary sigh? It’s probably because the films as a whole have been such an exhausting experience, largely due to the decision to expand the initial two-part plan into three movies. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it simply wasn’t necessary, and that’s never been more evident than with “The Battle of the Five Armies,” a 144-minute marathon of masturbatory excess in which the titular set piece (one that’s contained within a single chapter in Tolkien’s novel) makes up almost half of its bloated runtime. The fact that “The Battle of the Five Armies” is the shortest of any of Jackson’s Middle-earth films proves the futility of the three-movie model, but that hasn’t stopped him from dragging it out anyway. After all, a two-hour film just wouldn’t feel as epic.

The story picks up right where “The Desolation of Smaug” left off, with the treasure-hoarding dragon flying towards Lake-town to wreak havoc on the city. While the townspeople flee as their homes are burned to the ground, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) manages to slay Smaug by shooting a dwarven-made black arrow into a weak spot in its armored scales. But when Bard and the survivors head to the Lonely Mountain seeking refuge and payment for their services, Thorin (Richard Armitage) – who’s since been consumed by the dragon sickness that plagued his grandfather – refuses to help them, believing that it’s all a ruse to steal his beloved gold. As Thorin and his fellow dwarves prepare for battle against the men of Lake-town and Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) elven army, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) escapes from Dol Guldur just in time to warn them of a much bigger threat: Azog the Defiler is marching upon Erebor with a battalion of orcs to seize the stronghold, and they’ll need to put aside their differences and fight alongside each other in order to stop them.

Much like the first two installments, “The Battle of the Five Armies” has its share of great moments, but they’re surrounded by a lot of extraneous filler. Once again, Bilbo (the hobbit of “The Hobbit”) is pushed to the background in favor of silly love triangles and a painfully unfunny comic relief (Ryan Gage’s weasely Alfrid) that has no place in this more serious outing. These movies are supposed to be about Bilbo’s journey “there and back again,” but you wouldn’t know it from the ever-changing protagonists, shifting focus between Bilbo, Thorin and Bard the Bowman so frequently that it leaves very little room for actual character development. Thorin is perhaps the only person with anything resembling an arc in this film, but his descent into madness is pretty one-note for the amount of screen time that’s dedicated to it. At least Lee Pace gets more to do this time around as the elf-king Thranduil, because he’s one of the better characters in the story. Sadly, the same can’t be said of fellow elves Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who were admittedly a lot of fun in “The Desolation of Smaug,” but whose involvement here feels forced.

Even with the movie’s many flaws, you can’t deny that Jackson knows how to stage a massive battle. While the opening scene with Smaug is excellent in its own right (if a bit anticlimactic due to its placement), he really delivers with the show-stopping finale, which gives “The Return of the King” a run for its money in terms of sheer excitement. Almost every character gets their moment to shine (although Legolas’ gravity-defying fight borders on ludicrous), including those damn giant eagles, who swoop in to save the day at the eleventh hour yet again. (On a side note: you really have to wonder how many people would still be alive in Middle-earth if those eagles were a little more punctual when it came to rescuing their friends, because they only seem to show up when absolutely necessary. Get it together eagles, sheesh.)

“The Battle of the Five Armies” is the weakest entry in the “Hobbit” series, but it’s a nonetheless fitting end to a trilogy that’s biggest problem was taking so long to get there. Could it have been better? Absolutely, especially when measured against the far superior “Lord of the Rings” films, but that doesn’t make “The Battle of the Five Armies” any worse than its predecessors; it’s merely unfortunate to be the final chapter in an already overstuffed adaptation suffering from fatigue. Fans will love it regardless, and that’s to the credit of the fantastic ensemble cast, incredible visuals (Thranduil’s elk is as majestic as the elf-king himself) and Jackson’s limitless creativity. If only someone had been brave enough to speak up during the initial proposal to stretch the two films into three, because “The Hobbit,” both as a series and separate installments, could have been great instead of simply good enough.