Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The closing chapter to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit saga has arrived and finds that many of the series’ nagging problems still persist

battle of the five armies

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage,Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly
Running Time: 144 Minutes
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Once again, the time has come for Peter Jackson to close the book on Middle Earth. The prequel trilogy kicked off in 2012 with a lot of buzz after people were elated to see Jackson back into his career-defining work as perhaps one of the best novel-to-film adaptors ever seen. There is no doubt that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was some of the most compelling cinema ever created, introducing millions to the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a real shame that after such a high point the first two instalments of The Hobbit fell a bit flat, both for literary and cinematic fans. And it’s sad to say that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, indeed, doesn’t do much to remedy the problems of An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. In fact, in many ways, it probable exacerbates them even more. The overabundance of CGI, the strangely light visuals, and the unusual departures from the source material still persist across the board.

But let’s try and dwell on the brighter side of things. The premise of The Battle of the Five Armies is relatively solid. It continues where the previous film left off, after Smaug has deserted the Lonely Mountain and fixed his sights on Laketown. Numerous set pieces follow; a look into the madness of Thorin after reclaiming the mountain, the imprisonment of Gandalf in Dol Guldur, and the attack of two orc armies led by Azog, the White Orc. While this does provide for a series of compelling set pieces, it all moves a bit fast, the pacing is near-constantly unsteady. It does have its high points but it feels like there’s no respite and even moments of relative piece and heartfelt discourse just feels a bit unnatural.

The score is pretty brilliant as well. Much of the music matches the pace and mood of scenes and the return of the absolute classic Shire theme at the close of the film wraps everything together in a neat bundle, while tidily alluding to the events of the, chronologically, later films.

Of course, like the previous parts of the trilogy, the finale does deviate somewhat from the novel. While this is certainly annoying for fans of the literary side of things movie-goers should probably expect it by now. And it’s probably easier to accept that the changes are put forward as a creative interpretation and for the requirements of the movie formula. Except Tauriel; feel free to get angry over the inauthentic nature of her and Kíli’s relationship because it feels manufactured and completely unnecessary- especially when it comes to the closing segment of the film.

The performances, unfortunately, come across as a bit of a mixed bag. Actors like Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Richard Armitage, provide a wealth of skill, and yet, there are some surprises. Lee Pace is particularly noteworthy as he portrays genuine growth and development in the character of Thranduil, moving from impassionate elven king to a compassionate father and wise leader. Luke Evans is also quite commanding on-screen, as he fills the role of substitute leader in Laketown’s time of need. However, equally, some of the performances fall flat. Orlando Bloom, whose character has no place returning, is rather plain and boring and brought a much more immersive and convincing performance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Many of the dwarves yet again fail to really characterize themselves. The novel sets the dwarves up as quite a diverse and unique group but the trilogy has managed to blur them into a collective, instead of individuals with distinct personalities.

But the biggest gripe is back with a vengeance- the over-reliance on CGI. Don’t misconstrue, though, the CGI is extremely high quality giving the whole film a more childish and fairytale-like aesthetic. However, The Lord of the Rings had a budget of $281 million and The Hobbit had a budget of $745 million, so it would be really nice if someone, perhaps Peter Jackson, could explain why there was so much money spent on creating unrealistic computer generated armies when such as astoundingly real film series was created at a drastically lower cost. Understandably, it may be the result of time constraints on the studio, or, considering the slightly lighter content of the saga, it may even have been intentional. Whatever the reason, it feels like some opportunities were neglected here. A sense of realism and grounding would have done the film good, particularly when it comes to the dialogue scenes rather than the battle scenes.

All in all, the film is the perfect close to the trilogy, but it’s unfortunate that it’s kind of hard to impress when you’re perfectly mediocre. While many of the performances and plot details do give some strength to the film, the unfortunate dependence on computer imaging just makes the whole experience a bit hollow. You don’t involve yourself with the film because it is so aesthetically over-manufactured that it’s hard to get a sense of these events meaning anything at all. There were stakes in The Lord of the Rings; this just feels like a dream.