The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review
The final instalment in the Middle Earth based trilogy finds the vast, evil, Orc armies charging into battle with the aligned forces of Dwarves, Elves and Men. All while a hairy footed Hobbit with a magical ring, a long way from home, watches on. Sound familiar?
No it’s not Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I’m clearly talking about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, although I’d forgive you for mixing up the two epic, battle laden finales. Five Armies feels like an obligatory, drawn out warzone that rounds off The Hobbit trilogy and sets up the preceding Lord of the Rings without bringing any sturdy narrative insight or innovation to the series.
Five Armies literally picks up after the end of The Desolation of Smaug with Benedict Cumberbatch’s charming dragon accidently unleashed upon the unsuspecting citizens of Laketown by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and their motley crew of dwarves. The age old problem of directly following on sequels (remember the horrors of Quantum of Solace after Casino Royale?) once again becomes glaringly apparent as you find yourself wondering who’s who and what the hell was going on in the last film.
Just as you’ve snuggled into the groove of your seat and jogged your memory into vaguely remembering how the last film ended, you’re faced with quite a shock before the title credit has even appeared. Smaug is killed off by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) within ten minutes. This would seem like a damaging spoiler, but it all happens so suddenly that it relegates the enigmatic dragon to an underwhelming footnote in the trilogy rather than the centre piece that he was billed as in the last film.
Perhaps the one true defining feature of The Hobbit films, in contrast to Lord of the Rings, was the appearance of Smaug. The fact the dragon was infused with a distinctive persona, via Cumberbatch’s voice over, made him a truly unique and imposing character for the films to be built around. To kill him off instantaneously and so easily sets the precedent for the whole of Five Armies to be like a Return of the King light.
A majority of Five Armies is dedicated to the climactic showdown between Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and Man (I’m not entirely sure who is considered the fifth army) who have convened to battle over who should claim Smaug’s endless golden treasures. This battle rages on in one form or another for well over any hour and is a predictable and familiar sequence. Haven’t we seen this all before in The Two Towers and Return of the King? In both of those the stakes, scale and novelty far exceeded this latest Orc snarling, Dwarf flinging, Elf jumping skirmish. There’s nothing new that stands out beyond generic Middle Earthy conflict, there’s a distinct lack of memorable set pieces amongst the rabble of indistinguishable movement.
It would be fine if this battle was one sequence in an otherwise varied tale, however it fills the whole film without ever staking a claim to deserve to. With this climatic battle at the heart of director Peter Jackson’s thoughts it means that any loose ends or narrative tangents are prematurely tied up. The love story between Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Dwarf Kíli (Aidan Turner) was flimsily and unconvincingly forced in the Desolation of Smog, and here it fares no better. The duo’s doomed interracial love plays a major part in the Five Armies’ narrative, yet it never convinces and plays out as a weak, obligatory aside to try and add some emotional weight to the action centric proceedings.
All the other trilogy tangents are swiftly rounded off in order to give fan appeasing nods towards the Lord of The Rings. Legolas ventures off alone, Bilbo keeps a mysterious ring close to him and big evil eye Sauron has a to-do with Gandalf and Cate Blanchett which doesn’t make masses of sense outside the context of Lord of the Rings. The aforementioned links that lay the groundwork for The Fellowship of the Ring are welcome teasers and add a nice sense of finality to The Hobbit’s story. Sadly the periphery characters and stories without a later significance either fade into ambiguity or are crudely bunked off for simplicity.
The once spectacular landscapes, battles and creatures aren’t as mesmerising as they once were with the nagging fact most of it is CGI lingering larger than ever via the continued use of 48 frames per second (fps).That’s not to say that the ‘real’ characters are much better as character development is ignored throughout. Bilbo Baggins goes AWOL for most of the film as his role as protagonist is chipped away, fortunately that’s not a bad thing as Martin Freeman is a underwhelming lead who can barely carry a magical ring let alone a trilogy. Furthermore the dialogue is exclusively trite speeches revolving round heroism, bravery and friendship.
There’s a really lacklustre, even slapdash, feel to Five Armies, as if Peter Jackson couldn’t really be arsed with a third film at all. There were questions about whether The Hobbit needed to be made into three films seeing as it spanned only one novel. After watching Five Armies it’s apparent it did not. Two films would have easily sufficed, and Five Armies resembles a spill over bucket that sits confused between being a necessary climax to round off the story, yet having only a puddle’s worth of material to use, hence the overdrawn battle sequence.
The rambunctious fun and sense of adventure that shone wonderfully in the first two Hobbit films is lost amongst the rabble of fighting in Five Armies. There’s no side scrolling adventures, tense chases or growing characters this time round, making for a sufficient but forgettable experience. In An Unexpected Journey we had the frantic escape from the Orc filled mines, in The Desolation of Smaug we had the dragon’s emergence, and in The Battle of The Five Armies we have…nothing.
5/10- Sod it Hobbit