The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Why not just add a sixth?
I’ve given Peter Jackson a hard time on the two previous overwrought Hobbit movies, but somehow I feel shortchanged on our grand finale in Middle Earth. The Battle of the Five Armies (a suitably long title) embellished the least on the epic trilogy’s single source material, which by all means should have been a good thing. But with an entire movie to fill and only about one chapter of the book left to cover, all that was left to do was strip down the gooey sentimentality that made the previous two movies cheesy but memorable, and instead inject empty-calorie action scenes that try so hard to be “cool” they should have come wearing a spiky leather jacket.
The film picks up with the dragon Smaug (transcendently voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) terrorizing a nearby town after someone certain provoked him in the previous movie. Bilbo the Hobbit (Martin Freeman) and his mostly silent group of dwarf friends watch uselessly from the mountain, admiring Smaug’s truly impressive CGI. “Wait, there’s more movie?” Bilbo mumbles, flicking through the screenplay while Cumberbatch’s voice once again is a highlight of the film, even if he is (dare I say) underused.
I hypocritically wouldn’t mind more of the Smaug sequence, if it meant exchanging some of the pseudo-political, faux “are they or aren’t they?” war buildup we sit through for the next chunk of film. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) teeters on a Gollum-level obsession with the treasure he is finally reunited with. If only the Arkenstone, the symbol of power in the dwarf kingdom, wasn’t missing – Bilbo the Thief stole it to protect his dwarven friends from something. Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellan) is in a faraway tower for some incoherent reason, fighting random villains alongside random good guys from the original trilogy, in a scene that was probably supposed to be ‘look, prequel!’ but wasn’t actually anything.
Then we get to the war. For a movie that runs almost two and a half hours, it feels quick while watching, though a lot does happen. This must be what good pacing feels like. Thorin refuses to give up any small amount of his treasure, even to the elves and humans who were promised a portion long before Smaug ruined everything. An army of orcs shows up because an army of orcs always shows up, and they’re followed by an army of things called Wargs who also want the treasure. As far as I’m concerned the Wargs are completely unmentioned until their arrival. If only Jackson had more time to flesh that plot point out.
There’s a lot of the dead brain cell action I mentioned earlier – Bard the bowman (Luke Evans) decides the coolest way to save his kids who are being hunted by their fifth orc of the series is to ride a wheelbarrow and then JUMP OUT OF IT. This is balanced by a genuinely chilling sequence atop a frozen waterfall where most of the main characters end up duking it out, and to my surprise I felt invested in the good guys surviving. Most nail-biting is Thorin’s battle with his long-time enemy Azog (Manu Bennett), the orc who, despite being shoehorned into the trilogy, ended up being an antagonist worthy of his excessive screen time.
Freeman again proves to be a great leading man, even with his sometimes-limited dialogue. Whether it’s his endearing awkwardness or his natural progression from tea-sipper to adventurer, he makes Bilbo is a protagonist worth cheering for. The same sentiment can be somewhat expressed for Legolas (Orlando Bloom) in the character’s fifth and possibly most over-the-top appearance in Middle Earth. Legolas Logic is unique to only him – oh, being attacked by an orc? Better swing through the air by its horns twice, land on a collapsing bridge, and then trick a nearby animal into colliding with it. The elf has a tendency to ride on things. I’m getting nauseous thinking about Orlando getting into character on set, dangling from whatever moving film equipment he can get his hands on. The camera was hard to follow at parts in the battle sequence – probably because Bloom was hanging from it. Peter Jackson probably thinks he’s so cool.
The film wraps up with a dribble of sentimentality when it should have been a tidal wave, given every other Lord of the Rings movie ever. It may have just been Freeman convincing me to suddenly care about the large group of dwarves that had less than three minutes of collective dialogue throughout the trilogy, but for a second I felt sad it was over. Just for a second, though. Out of everything Jackson could have minimalized, he chose to wait until our final farewell.