Polarising legions of Tolkien fanatics and Middle-Earth lovers since the franchise began way back in the winter of 2012, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy finally reaches its long awaited climax with The Battle of the Five Armies, the installment that the filmmakers promised would justify the decision to turn the 300 page novel into a nine hour trilogy. With this in mind, and with the trilogy now complete, were they justified in doing so?
For the most part, the answer is yes. Watching The Battle of the Five Armies, it’s difficult to imagine how such a huge, epic battle could have been included in a single 3 hour film alongside scenes of trolls, barrel-riding and giant loot-hoarding dragons. The last hour or so of the film is completely dedicated to the titular brawl, allowing for more action, character moments and a sense of drama and scale that you simply couldn’t have if the aforementioned scrap was merely the climax of a single 3 hour movie.
The sheer enormity of proceedings is astounding, and makes for a very entertaining movie, as mass armies of Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, Men and Eagles duke it out. The battle is peppered with satisfying beats, individual moments that allow all of the central characters a moment in the limelight, and best of all, a final showdown that is edge-of-your-seat engrossing, no matter how familiar you are with the source material. Jackson conjures a cinematic fight to rival all those he’s previously helmed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Characters like Thorin, Tauriel, Legolas, Bard and Kili get the brunt of the screen-time scrappage, but every character features heavily at one point or another. Its a barnstorming piece of epic cinema, easily placing itself above other recent films in the fantasy genre.
Unfortunately, despite the battle, the film is far from perfect. Despite a rip-roaring opening featuring Smaug, the film does take its time to get the ball rolling. Characters like Gandalf and Bilbo don’t get the screen-time or the presence they really need or deserve, whilst other less interesting characters seem to get too much – Ryan Gage’s slimy Alfrid in particular feels like a cut-price Grima Wormtongue, and annoyingly gets far more screen-time then we’d actually prefer. For a film series entitled The Hobbit, the titular hero does seem to get sidelined an awful lot, especially here. Elsewhere a number of character arcs are left unresolved, which is disappointing to say the least, whilst the ending, despite seamlessly tying things up nicely with The Fellowship of the Ring, doesn’t quite have the emotional punch that the ending of The Return of the King had.
Jackson’s over-reliance on CGI is also a persistent problem throughout. Unlike the Rings films, which seamlessly blended models, practical effects, prosthetics, simple camera trickery and computer effects together, The Hobbit movies have almost completely relied on CGI to bring the fantastical characters and events from the book to life, and Five Armies isn’t one to buck the trend. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was all indistinguishable from reality, but sadly for a lot of the film’s running time, it does look a bit too much like a cartoon (albeit a very polished, well shot cartoon). Major moments come and go in a blaze of pixels, to the point that we found ourselves wishing for a model shot or an extra in Orc make-up to add a bit of variety. The nadir of this overuse comes when an entirely CGI Billy Connolly shows up, riding a CGI pig! The pig we understand, the pixel-formed Scotsman we don’t!
Of course, these problems are merely nitpicks. For whilst these films have nowhere near matched up in quality to their Middle-Earthen predecessors, there’s no denying that all three have been consistently entertaining, fun, awe inspiring and rewarding. The Battle of the Five Armies certainly lives up to expectations despite its flaws – the cast are all excellent, the mass battle scenes and the one-on-one fights are as tense as they are enjoyable, whilst the smaller, more quieter moments are expertly and beautifully performed and directed. Howard Shore’s score is as epic and stirring as all his previous work, tracing the emotion and heightening it in all the right places with all the right themes and bravado one would expect of a Rings/Hobbit movie. Plus, the movie has the unique and very awesome sight of a man free-falling whilst turning into a giant bear! We think that more then justifies this film’s existence, don’t you?!
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