It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that is more appropriately named than The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. The third installment of The Hobbit film franchise certainly beats out its most recent predecessor and is at least equal to the first film in many respects. While still suffering from some of the flaws that hurt The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of Five Armies manages to bring about a satisfactory ending to the trilogy.
The Battle of Five Armies picks up almost immediately where Desolation of Smaug leaves off. I was fairly relieved that we didn’t have to bother sitting through a history lesson at the beginning of the movie and instead jumped right into the action. I do not have an issue with the historical stuff that has been added to the movie, but it would have otherwise made the beginning rather slow. Instead the movie was off to a running start before jumping into the added material.
In general I have to say the death of Smaug was well done. As with the rest of the movie, certain creative liberties were taken, especially when it comes to dialogue, but I can live with that. The exchange between Smaug and Bard just before Bard kills Smaug is fairly standard villain monologue-ing and, while not particularly interesting, it didn’t detract from the movie. I would like to ask why the windlass wasn’t used. We saw one in Desolation of Smaug, but what the hell happened to it? If they didn’t intend to use it later in the movie, why did they show it in the first place?
One of the things that most helped The Battle of Five Armies is the fact that in many places J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is rather light on details. Most of the battle itself takes place while Bilbo is knocked unconscious. This allows for the movie to show all kinds of things happening in the battle without running the risk of not following canon, which is what tends to anger fans most. With this kind of freedom, I have to admit, it was one impressive battle. In fact, I would have to estimate that the battle took up an hour of the movie, at least. Pretty much everything I had wanted and expected was present. There were armies of men, dwarves, elves and orcs all slugging it out on the open plains in front of the mountain and on the streets of Dale. Each of the armies seemed to take turns holding the upper hand and on more than one occasion I found myself wondering how the heroes would wind up turning the tide. Of course, since I’ve read the book, the end result was never in doubt for me, which is slightly disappointing, though I have always been one who is more interested in how a story gets where it is going than where it is going in the first place.
For the most part, the acting was on par with the previous movies. Martin Freeman does a great job as Bilbo Baggins. Freeman gives the audience some really great moments from the heart, and his Bilbo is always trying to do the right thing, even when it is extremely difficult. It is nearly impossible to find fault with Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Gandalf; the man was simply born to play that role. He is thoroughly capable of being both serious and humorous and of moving between the two rapidly as the situation requires. My favorite new addition was that of Billy Connolly as Dain, Thorin’s cousin and leader of the dwarf army. He was both tough and sassy, especially when speaking to the elven king. I had very high hopes for the dwarf army and Connolly basically filled them all. As for the rest of the cast, many of the other actors gave solid performances, though none were particularly stand out.
As far as complaints go, I really only had a couple. The first of those is the carryover from Desolation of Smaug. All of the extra crap that was added to the second movie to make it its own film had to be resolved at the end of Battle of Five Armies. Once again it felt forced and didn’t really fit with the rest of the story. Thankfully, it was done pretty quickly, so the audience didn’t have to suffer through more than twenty minutes of it. These scenes also gave rise to what was probably the worst performance in the film: that of Lee Pace as Thranduil, the elven king. Pace’s character was consistently wooden and detached and brought down the quality of any scene he was in. There was also a vacant look in his eyes that was more than a little unsettling. My final complaint was the completely abandonment of the laws of physics during one particular portion of the battle. While I am more than willing to set aside some things for the sake of a good story, this got to the point of being completely unbelievable. At one point Legolas was running up stones, like they were stairs, as they were falling down the face of a frozen waterfall. Elf or not, this just simply doesn’t work.
Overall, The Battle of Five Armies was pretty much what I expected it to be. While an improvement over the previous film, it still failed to live up to the standards set by Lord of the Rings. While maybe not to the point of waiting for Netflix or Redbox, nobody should feel the urge to drop what they’re doing and immediately go see this movie. 3.5/5 Death Stars