The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Posted: January 5, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Sir Ian McKellen.

 

And so we reach the final instalment of The Hobbit. We join the action mere moments after the end of the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, with Bilbo (the ever reliable Freeman) and several of the dwarves, including Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) finally ensconced within the fortress at Erebor, but with Smaug very much alive and on his way to destroy nearby Laketown.

Bard (Luke Evans) has been imprisoned by the Master of Laketown (a moustache twirling turn from Stephen Fry) whilst the remaining dwarves are with Bard’s family, along with the Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily). When Smaug attacks, Laketown appears to have no defence from the fire breathing monster’s attack, but perhaps if Bard can get free…

Meanwhile Gandalf is held prisoner until being rescued by Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman in a scene that has more to do with foreshadowing the Lord of the Rings Films than really adding anything to the Hobbit. Once free he makes his way to Erebor to find that Thorin, afflicted with Dragon Sickness, has fortified the mountain and is refusing to give the share of gold promised to the people of Laketown, treasure the survivors need if they’re to rebuild their township. He’s also refusing to let an Elven army take its own share of the treasure and has summoned a dwarf army to help defend the mountain.

Increasingly paranoid and obsessed with the Smaug’s hoarded treasure, Thorin begins to doubt even the loyalty of his own Dwarves, and for a while it looks like there will be battle between the Dwarves on one side, and the Elves and Men on the other…until the massed Orc army appears, and the scene is set for an apocalyptic conflict.

 

And so we come to the finale of a trilogy of films based on a single book. The debate about whether Jackson should have strung the story out so thinly will go on for many years, but in the end The Battle of the Five Armies shows the way the other two films should have been handled, being shorter, pacier and far less bloated than the first two films, even if it still clocks in well over 2 hours long.

For a man who started with small scale, low budget fare, Jackson knows how to marshal an epic budget, and it’s clear to see every penny up on screen, even if, after six films, he still hasn’t found a way to properly show Hobbits in longshots with humans and the like without making it look like Ian McKellen’s just stood next to a child or Warwick Davies…

Still the epic battles are truly epic, even if they perhaps lack the magnitude of those in the latter two Lord of the Rings films. As usual Jackson is aided and abetted by the stunning New Zealand scenery which truly has made Middle Earth come alive, and by a cast of thespians at the top of their game, and unlike George Lucas Jackson seems to genuinely appreciate his cast, and never elevates the special effects above the living breathing elements of his film (well at least not here, King Kong still blots Jackson’s copybook a little).

The overarching title of the film might be The Hobbit, but this is far less Freeman’s film than it is Richard Armitage’s. That isn’t to deny Freeman’s importance to the film, but Armitage dominates every scene he’s in and he’s given a great character arc to work with, showcasing paranoia, madness, greed, nobility and redemption.

Of the rest of the cast McKellen’s been playing Gandalf so long now that he must be able to slip into character at a moment’s notice, but he still manages to add the occasional bit of darkness into his jovial portrayal. As Bard, Evans has little to do beyond playing decent and heroic but he does both well, Lee Pace gives an intriguing performance as the Elven King, at once aloof and uncaring, yet also clearly affected by the deaths amongst his armies. As Legolas Orlando Bloom is as effortless as always, but as with the second film, the standout Elf is the one who wasn’t even in the book, and Evangeline Lily is once again excellent as Tauriel.

One of the major problems of all three films though has been the dwarves, and aside from Thorin and Kili I could barely tell them apart, which is odd given the likes of Ken Stott and James Nesbit are playing some of them, but right from the off they’ve been more of an amorphous mass than a set of distinct characters, and whilst Ryan Gage’s weaselly Alfird might be as two dimensional as they come, he is at least recognisable, and Gage does the best he can with the stock coward role.

Hopefully this will be the end of Jackson’s involvement in Middle Earth, unless Hollywood decide there’s no reason we couldn’t have all new adventures that weren’t written by Tolkien (in which case I’ll happily sign up for a Tauriel film right now) but I hope not. He might now get around to making his Dambusters remake, and it would be good to see him return to smaller scale films, whatever he does next I hope he takes on board the positives of this film, sometimes less is more and the best directors are those that edit!

The first Hobbit film was longwinded and laborious, and in comparison the second felt like a roller coaster ride, unfortunately it was a roller coaster ride that went on and on so long that the loops that should have been exciting became mundane. By contrast, and much like Baby Bear’s porridge, The Battle of the Five Armies is just right, and so, for the moment at least, it’s my favourite by far.

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Comments
  1. Mim says:

    Interesting. As much as I enjoy the films, I do wish it had been kept as one charming, lightweight film. We didn’t need another bash at LotR, which is what the Hobbit films always feel like.

    • starkers70 says:

      Yeah I know what you mean. I haven’t read the Hobbit since Secondary school but I definitely recall it being a lot smaller in scale! I wonder what Del Toro’s 2 film version would have been like?

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