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THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES (2014) review

December 20, 2014

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written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro
produced by: Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
directed by: Peter Jackson
rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images)
runtime: 144 min.
U.S. release date: December 17, 2014

 

It saddens me to admit that I hope this will be my final trip to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It’s supposed to be, but you never know with director co-writer/co-producer/director, Peter Jackson, my long-winded and enthusiastic tour guide. Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed his three “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but now, having seen “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies”, the end of an overlong and bloated trilogy, I’m just tired and wondering how it is I increasingly lost interest with each cinematic chapter of this epic adaptation. I have some ideas though.

There’s the lack of emotional heft, something the previous trilogy had in spades and these movies have only shown in short bursts, maybe glimpses of with all these “Hobbit” characters. The absence of a true protagonist is certainly a problem in this trilogy as well. Nevermind the title of these movies, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) winds up coming off as Jackson’s avatar, introducing us to other protagonists, specifically the dwarf-who-would-be-king, Thoren Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and his diminutive kin.

 

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As Baggins recounts his “There and Back Again” tale with a continuous degree of ADD, his story goes from his own obvious reflections to a convoluted sidebar involving an Illuminati consisting of: Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), a powered-up Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) and Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) and his sweet rabbit sleigh. Then there’s the dizzying action that has become more and more like video game sequences with each movie. I have more thoughts on why I found myself checking out during “Five Armies”, but I need to get up and walk first, maybe do some stretches.

Now, if you’ve become exhausted by all the walking around in these films, then this conclusion might be for you. After dispensing with the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) – which is a bummer since he’s my favorite character – amid the Lake-town he destroyed, the story primarily takes place around Erebor, or the Lonely Mountain. It’s here that Thorin and his dwarf brethren settle in and stay throughout the movie as they reclaim their kingdom, which would presumably be a good thing. One would think.

But, like Smaug before him, Thorin quickly becomes corrupted by greed for the mounds of gold piled high inside Erebor – “dragon sickness” is what Gandalf calls it. It’s not like he has huge plans for his fortune, all that matters is that it stays his. It would help though if he could find that blasted Arkenstone (that glowing orb from “The Desolation of Smaug”).

 

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What we see Thorin go through here is not all that different from the madness John Noble’s Denethor II succumbed to in “The Return of the King”. Here we spend the majority of the movie watching the dwarves (once again, Gavin McTavish and James Nesbitt are the only ones with more than two lines) and Bilbo stand around a rambling and borderline tyrannical Thorin as he sinks further into paranoia.

Word spreads all across the land that Thorin and his pals have reclaimed their home, riches and all. In fact, everyone hones in on the Lonely Mountain. Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), the chief Orc who, along with Bolg (John Tui), have hunted the dwarves, is marching an army toward the mountain. Their endgame: kill and conquer. It helps that they have giant bats. Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) makes his way to the nearby Dale with his army, atop a moose with a sweet rack. He meets up with Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans, who, as one of the more interesting characters, isn’t given enough screen time), who is leading the refugees from Lake-town, among them the sniveling materialistic weasel Alrid (Ryan Gage), the one-time right hand to the now deceased Mayor (Stephen Fry). We learn that both of them want something from Erebor as well. There’s a fancy necklace belonging to the Elves that Thranduil wants, while Bard seeks provisions and sanctuary for those who’ve lost their home after Smaug’s attack – which was after all Thorin’s fault, right? So what we have is essentially what you’d imagine a lottery winner would find outside his front door.

 

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None of them get what they want though, which brings a looming sense of war closer and closer. Sure, the mountain is technically the Dwarves, but was the goal to be selfish and horde their property and possessions? Would it be so hard to make allies with their neighbors, by giving them want they want/need and thus earning support to face those nasty Orcs? You can point to Thorin’s madness as the reason Thranduil and Bard are refused, but the dwarves around him do very little to snap Thorin out of his consuming “sickness”. Only Bilbo has the scruples to come up with a contingency plan to counter Thorin’s selfishness.

The characterization of Thorin in “Five Armies” made me mad. I saw him as a sympathetic and intriguing character in the last movie, but here, well he’s a one-note jerk. When he finally does come to, the enormous battle is already in full swing outside his door. There’s a quick “sorry guys” moment followed by “can you now just follow me into battle?” dialogue and then we’re thrown into the thick of it. There’s very little time for believable repentance and redemption for Thorin, which made really not care for him.

In fact, I really didn’t care for anyone fighting in this massive battle. It’s hard to honestly, when the motive for battle isn’t all that compelling and the staggering amount of people, creatures and animals produces a serious case of detachment. Dwarves are led by an awkward CGI Billy Connolly, Elves, Orcs, Humans and….eagles? Sorry, I can’t even list all of the titular armies. It made me wish the movie would’ve stuck with its original “There and Back Again” title. It least that would have a double-meaning to it, seeing as how it feels like Jackson is just repeating himself here over and over again.

 

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There’s barely any time for real drama in “Five Armies”. Instead, we’re given the melodrama of Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), her infatuated dwarf friend Kili (Aidan Turner) and Legolas (a stiff Orlando Bloom), the returning Elf. There’s not as much of an emphasis on a love triangle between these three as there was in the last movie, but again, there’s hardly time for any of that. That’s a shame, since Jackson excelled at given viewers time to spend with the characters in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

There was a bit more of that in the two previous “Hobbit” films, but any real character development falls to the wayside in “Five Armies”. Jackson hopes we can get worked up one last time, but what he offers is empty, excessive and exhaustive, as well as a film that really pushes it’s PG-13 rating with its graphic violence. I’m sure the justification is that most of the amputations, beheadings and eviscerations are Orcs. Well, it’s still jarring, cold and quite repetitive.

My favorite moment of “Five Armies” does not involve any battling or sulking in the Lonely Mountain. It’s a moment of pause and reflection between Bilbo and Gandalf, near the mostly disappointing movie’s end. Both of them are sitting down and all that happens is Gandalf repeatedly trying to light his pipe. Bilbo glances at the corner of his eye out of curiosity, to see what kind of problem Gandalf is having and both of them begin to grin. I wanted more of that in the movie, but alas, CGI and spectacle win out. While this is the last movie in Jackson’s adaptation of “The Hobbit”, I’m sure he’ll return to Middle Earth again. If he does, I hope he gives us memorable character moments instead of point A to point B action.

 

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RATING: **

 

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