MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies’ Is All Filler And No Killer

Film: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Peter Jackson

The big finale to Peter Jackson’s second Middle Earth trilogy is finally here, for better or worse. Jackson took a 300-page children’s book and the appendices left by the Tolkien estate to cultivate a new adventure, and for the most part, two-thirds of the trilogy made for some enjoyable celluloid. Alas though, sequences that induce giddy joy like the barrel riding scene in Desolation of Smaug are all but gone in what is the worst film of the two trilogies. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies thinks that subjecting its viewer to a two-hour battle sequence is what they wanted. Well, Pete, you’re wrong. People just wanted you to let go of CGI, dedicate yourself to humane moments in this inhumane universe, and wrap it all up in a nice orc head laden bow.

After Smaug the Terrible (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) escaped with his life from almost being smelted with gold in Desolation of Smaug, he set his sights on the floating city of Laketown to take his anger out. What Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bard (Luke Evans), and his other dwarf compadres must do is stop him. Here’s the catch though: Thorin is getting ‘Dragon Sickness’ from being surrounded by so much gold, igniting a battle of five armies. Swaths upon swaths of Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and giant creatures that swing large hammers all descend upon the kingdom of Erebor in the most high-stakes battle Middle Earth has seen.

To judge The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies as a cohesive whole would be wrong as it’s truly a sum of separate vignettes varying from interesting to downright turgid that all come crashing together with the large battle. Gandalf is hunting down the Necromancer (an ethereal version of Sauron, if you hadn’t figured that out already.) He gets joined by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) who fend off Sauron’s latest attack to be saved for another different and better franchise. Bard is tasked with killing Smaug with an iron arrow, following in his father’s footsteps and achieving his destiny. This opening battle sequence with Smaug may be the most enthralling thing in the film, providing spectacle hand in hand with a situation that leaves the viewer emotionally invested. Unfortunately, all feeling of joy gets removed once the film haphazardly flops between Thorin’s increasing sickness, Bilbo’s reluctance to help the dwarves fend off the Elves, and Kili’s (Aidan Turner) trilogy-arching affection for Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

CGI has always been a crux for Peter Jackson to rely on with what is a visually complicated universe to recreate. With his Lord of the Rings trilogy, he used it in situations where it was completely impossible to use practical effects. With the Hobbit trilogy, he uses it so much to the point where it looks completely hokey and fake. Realism was such a great facet in the first trilogy, from the real environments in New Zealand to the meticulously crafted orcs done by WETA Animation. With this though, it seems as if Jackson doesn’t care enough to insert that same sense of realism into these otherworldly characters. Thorin’s dwarf cousin Dain (voiced by Billy Connolly) who shows up to fight alongside him is completely CGI when the actor who plays him is more than able to carry out a physical role that this would consist of.

Investment in the characters has been a worry of mine since the first Hobbit film. As a viewer who has grown up on the original Lord of the Rings films, I grew attached to the warriors and warrior-esses that fought against all odds in Middle Earth during a trying time. With Battle of the Five Armies, Jackson makes the presumption that we have watched these players go through enough hell to be fully behind their journey. What Jackson forgot is to fully flesh out these characters and this world to the point where we can see ourselves living and breathing in it. Sure, the Hobbit films are escapist and at times fun. They aren’t immersive experiences like the original trilogy and Battle of the Five Armies does nothing to prove otherwise. Its 3D sequences are eye-popping and headache inducing, its wide shots of battle carnage are steeped in glossy CGI goop, and the story cannot tear itself away from the prior films. This is a sequel, not a film that can stand alone on its own two large, hairy, and Hobbit-y feet.

This isn’t the first third sequel to suffer from franchise and material fatigue. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 suffered from the same narrative-stretching illness that Battle of the Five Armies does. There’s just simply not enough source material to fill a running time that calls for a long and sustained epic. The other similarity that they both share is the ramping up of melodrama. The dramatic notes in both films are cheap, usually brought on by loss or shock. Resonation only exists in both of the films if you are truly invested in the characters and story being told.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies may be thrill-a-minute and the escapist finale that people have been scratching at the bit to see. It’s not a blockbuster that cares about anything else than spectacle though, even when it tries to convince you otherwise.


Review written by Sam Cohen (follow him on Twitter)

Sam Cohen
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