Jan 14, 2015

Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

When I was younger my mother used to read to my two sisters and I before we'd be sent to bed. That might sound boring but one of the books she read to us was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. She then moved onto The Lord of the Rings, but was only able to get through the first book before I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in theatres in 2001. I was eleven years old and completely blown away. That night, I began reading The Two Towers on my own.

I've been a fan of all things Middle-Earth since then, even trying to get through The Silmarillion without too much success though I might add. Hearing that The Hobbit was going to be adapted was huge news to me and I was beyond excited. Although these past two Hobbit movies haven't been the best I've seen from Peter Jackson, I could still see the good in them which still goes for this latest movie. There are some things however that can't be forgiven this time and I'll get into that.


Genre: adventure, fantasy
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Produced by: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, etc.
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, etc.
Music by: Howard Shore
Running time: 144 minutes
Production company: New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, etc.
Distributed by: Warner Bros., SF Film Finland, Village, etc.
Country: New Zealand, United States
Language: English
Budget: $250,000,000
Box office: $955,119,788 (Worldwide) (as of April 13)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, John Tui, Billy Connolly, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Ian Holm 



The dragon Smaug (voice: Benedict Cumberbatch) flies to Laketown and easily destroys it while Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and their company watch on from The Lonely Mountain. Underestimating talented bowman Bard (Luke Evans), Smaug is miraculously shot down. Now King under the mountain, Thorin desperately begins his search for the Arkenstone, his birthright among the other riches. It doesn't take long however for the men of Laketown as well as the elves of Mirkwood to come seeking a share of Erebor's wealth.


From the beginning, The Hobbit series has benefited from some wonderful casting decisions. Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo and I don't think anyone could've done the role as well as he did. Richard Armitage is another great choice as the leader of a company of dwarves and I could definitely outline some standouts among the other dwarves as well. A lot of them do seem to be underutilized, but that's not really surprising when there's thirteen of them. You can't give screen time to all of them really.

Who I'd like to mention in particular in TBotFA is Lee Pace as Thranduil. He's kind of hypnotizing to watch really and how can you not love his elk mount? The returning Lord of the Rings alumni are of course great and that's no surprise. I'd follow Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee to the ends of the earth no problem.

The big story here of course is this "Battle of the Five Armies." All of these armies meet in this final installment of The Hobbit in what is one of the most grand and fantastical battles I've ever seen. It's unendingly long as well. Does it succeed? Not 100%, no. That doesn't mean it's not entertaining though because it certainly is.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't help but see a large part of this battle as nothing more than cakewalks where main characters slice and dice through orcs without too much difficulty. They're not invincible though and that's clearly shown in other scenes. Ultimately, what TBotFA ends up reminding me of is a video game. This is especially true when Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) come rescue Gandalf (Ian McKellen) from Dol Guldur. As these characters battle the Nazgul, it reaches ridiculous levels of computer-generated imagery and video game-esque action sequences.

That doesn't stop TBotFA from having some pretty spectacular action sequences though. (Spoilers) I'm a big fan especially of the Thorin and Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) fight on ice which finishes quite spectacularly. A shame that Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner) vs. Bolg (John Tui) couldn't have been as consistent. (End Spoilers) There's lots of CGI being used of course, but this is all the same some of the best in the business.

Despite being the shortest film in all of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth films (theatrically that is), The Battle of the Five Armies can't escape the feeling of bloat at certain times. Take Thorin's very extended hallucinations scene. That could've been cut in half pretty much. What I would mercilessly cut out is the love triangle subplot between Tauriel, Kili and Legolas which reaches absolutely unbearable levels of forcefulness in this last entry. I understand the desire to include Tauriel in The Hobbit who is nothing more than an invented female character to help balance the scales a bit in what is a male-dominated story, but there never needed to be a love story at all. In fact, Tauriel probably would've been a stronger character without the love story.

There are some other minor issues I have with TBotFA such as random conveniences like magical goat mounts appearing for Thorin, Dwalin, Fíli, and Kíli as they go to confront Azog, certain instances of blatant fan service as well as some misplaced moments of comedy, but where I will definitely heap on the praise is in the final moments of the film. Peter Jackson and his crew wrap up things satisfyingly well and make me want to dive into The Lord of the Rings all over again.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies feels like a video game at times. Saying that there's a lot of fighting is an understatement. However, a lot of that fighting feels detached because of how much of it is computer generated and because of how easy it all seems for the main characters. At the same time, it's quite the visual spectacle with some genuine "wow" moments of action and adventure. Howard Shore saves his best for last when it comes to the score and Peter Jackson ends it all on a high note.



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