And lo, we have reached the end. An end that, by many accounts we should have reached long ago. First there was hesitation, then setbacks, a director dropping out, an expansion from two to three films, then finally an inevitable release date push back. I can’t help but comment on the fact that anticipation levels for this final Middle Earth movie seemed lower than ever before. I didn’t bother going to see it on its opening weekend as I had the previous two, ultimately going with more a sense of obligation to watch it than any genuine excitement. And for the record, I liked both of the other Hobbit films, but it all for me boils down to what I wrote in my original review of An Unexpected Journey two years ago; this was never going to be as good as Lord of the Rings. Even if Peter Jackson had just made it into one film as many of his critics wanted, it still wouldn’t be in the same league as Rings. The source material lacks the depth, scope and scale. I argued against the notion that it was an inherently bad idea to stretch out the book in my Desolation review last year, and there’s no point in getting into that again now really, three films is what we have, so how does the final chapter measure up?
The Desolation of Smaug was the only film in the whole saga to really end on a cliff-hanger; as the Dragon heads for Lake Town. There’s certainly an argument to be made that it needn’t have been any longer but the opening sequence of Battle of the Five Armies should probably have been placed in the previous film. It picks-up right where we left off; the citizens of Lake Town are doing their best to evacuate while Smaug is burning it to the ground. The heroic Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) cleverly escapes from prison to face off with the beast as best he can. It’s a tremendously exciting showdown, and with it Evans makes more of a case to be a future action leading man than all of Dracula Untold did. However it’s only minutes long, it’s all over before the title of this movie even appears on screen. As I said, it would have been better off in the previous film, it finishes Smaug’s story and would have let that film feel more like a standalone chapter than it did.
The majority of the rest of the film concerns itself with the build-up to and execution of the titular battle. I wonder if that’s what inspired Jackson to divide this into three films in the first place; the mere fact that a battle takes place at the end. Did he just think; ‘Battle? I can make a whole movie out of that’.
There is still a fair bit of character establishment before the real fight breaks out. The dwarves are all holding up in the Lonely Mountain now, and Thorin (Richard Armitage) has apparently begun to lose his mind in a desperate search for the coveted Arkenstone (which Bilbo has stolen). Meanwhile the survivors of Lake Town are camped out nearby, and an Elf army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) soon shows up.
Here’s the main reason why Battle of the Five Armies could never dream of living up to Return of the King; they’re just fighting over treasure. There are no high stakes here, this isn’t about good versus evil, and the fate of Middle Earth isn’t on the line. The humans want a share in repayment for what they’ve lost, the elves want some precious gems, but the dwarves are too stubborn and want to keep it all for themselves. Later, two orc armies will also show up, wishing to slaughter everyone and claim the prize too. It’s much harder to truly care about any of them except Bilbo. It can’t help but feel a little silly at times too, a lot of these characters seem to be willing to let dozens of their people die in pursuit of this treasure, and Thorin’s band of dwarves are so ludicrously outnumbered it’s a surprise all the others don’t just give up straight away.
However, one thing we do know about Peter Jackson, is that he knows how to stage a battle. When the fight gets into full swing, he gets in a good number of excellent moments to remind us of his directorial prowess. It’s exciting enough at times to enable you to overlook how comically incompetent the vast orc armies are in comparison with the others too (each dwarf has no qualms about taking on multiple orcs at once). Yes it goes on for a bit too long (what else would you expect?), but provides a number of highlights for the Hobbit series.
One such moment in fact belongs to Legolas (Orlando Bloom), whose unwanted reappearance in the last film is mainly remembered for introducing a cross-species love triangle into the equation. He remains a little cringy when talking about his feelings, but gets one fantastic fight scene, and the film actually pays off said love-triangle surprisingly effectively.
Like the last film, this is still just as much about Thorin as it is Bilbo. It’s not that Thorin is bad (he too has a big moment toward the end), it’s just that Biblo is a more compelling and endearing lead. This series probably should have focused on him more, Martin Freeman’s been consistently excellent to the extent that I kind of wish he’d been given a role in the original trilogy.
Speaking of which, a trio of original characters also make more welcome reappearances in this film. It’s in one of the few scenes that take place away from the mountain, and at first seems quite out-of-place, but is all connected to the larger mythology, and proves to contain some of the biggest surprises this film has to offer.
On the downside, Battle of the Five Armies also contains a character called Alfrid (Ryan Gage), who begins as the corrupt Master of Lake town’s sleazy assistant. He pops up frequently throughout the film, mainly as a foil for Bard and he is, without question, the worst character the Middle Earth series has ever had. He’s supposed to be comic relief, but this generally involves his various cowardly ways to escape fighting, such as dressing up as an old woman. To my irritation, he somehow fails to die is each of the deadly situations he finds himself. If the Hobbit films were the Star Wars prequels (they’re no-where near as bad), Alfrid would be their Jar Jar Binks.
When The Battle of the Five Armies concluded, my reaction was mainly that of indifference. There wasn’t much of an emotional payoff, and I felt no sadness that there wouldn’t be another. I had originally thought that the third Hobbit film might consist mainly of material taking place between the book’s ending and Lord of the Rings’ beginning, but I’ve been proved wrong there (there is a neat little tie-up bow in the final scene). Ultimately this final film, despite being the shortest of the whole saga, seems to be the one most representative of the whole venture. It’s the same world, but the story’s a much lesser one, stretched out and padded to unnecessary proportions, even if flashes of brilliance remain. Perhaps for everyone involved, now is the time to move on.