Friday, 26 December 2014

Film Review: The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies

"Will you follow me, one last time?"

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lily, Christopher Lee
Runtime: 144 minutes

All good things must come to an end. After six films, over 1200 minutes of runtime and countless dead orcs, Peter Jackson's Middle Earth saga concludes in this final chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Through tying together the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel, The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies is a satisfying, if uneven and disjointed, sendoff for the iconic cinematic saga.

Saddle your warpig, and let the final battle commence...

Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom)
discuss tactics
The Battle of the Five Armies
picks up straight after the conclusion of the previous film, The Desolation of Smaug. Thorin's company have successfully liberated the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, but the dragon has instead set a course for Lake-Town, which he intends to burn to a cinder.

In his absence, a political power vacuum emerges with numerous factions all vying for the beasts treasure trove - there's Thorin himself, driven to madness in pursuit of the throne of Erebor and the Arkenstone; there's Thranduil, seeking to reclaim Elven jewels, Bard who seeks shelter and supplies for his band of Men and Azog (and his captain Bolg), a grotesque orc with a vendetta against Thorin. The armies all converge upon the mountain for one almighty throwdown, but it soon emerges that one plucky halfling, Bilbo Baggins, holds the key to settling the brewing conflict.

I'll start off by saying that I did enjoy The Battle of the Five Armies, I really did. There is a lot to like about Peter Jackson's concluding chapter in the Middle-Earth saga. But, and this is a rather big but, it's a very flawed, and at times messy, film.

Let's go through some of the positives first - the most obvious being Martin Freeman as Bilbo. I've said it time and time again, but I'll go there once more - Freeman is just perfectly cast as Bilbo Baggins. Every time he is on screen, Freeman's feisty, fussy and courageous hobbit is a joy to watch. He delivers every line with pinpoint timing and nuanced emotion.

He even gets a little more to do this time around - something which was a criticism of the first two films was that Bilbo was underwritten. That being said, the film does spend an awful lot of time with its 'other' protagonist, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Thorin's descent into madness is well-written in this film, and actually colours him as the primary villain for the first half (after Azog, Bolg and the forces of darkness of course). Whilst I liked this arc, it's resolution did feel a little contrived and I would've liked to have seen more of Thorin's internal struggle.

Fili and Kili
Kili (Aidan Turner), Fili (Dean O'Gorman) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish) have expanded roles in this entry and each get their moment in the sun. Evangeline Lilly is amazing as elf-maiden Tauriel, and alongside Legolas (Orlando Bloom) the two form a swashbuckling duo.

Tauriel, an original character not drawn from the source text, actually adds to the story, showing that Jackson does have the potential to work outside the book and forge his own path. Lilly's performance is emotional and I found her to be a relatable, likeable character in the same mould as Bilbo. The love triangle between her, Legolas and Kili does feel a little sappy, but it didn't bother me too much - the story needs a female anchor somewhere, and Tauriel is a welcome addition in my mind.

Other characters are either gratingly overacted (Billy Connolly as Dain) or annoying sidelined with little mention later on (Cate Blanchett as Galadriel). Much of this is because the story is building towards The Lord of the Rings, but also means the film doesn't feel complete in its own right.

I think this is the films greatest flaw. Something that I really didn't like was the structure. The first ten minutes (where Smaug lays waste to Lake-Town) would've worked much better as the crescendo to, y'know, the movie titled after said dragon. Smaug, wonderfully voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is swept aside before the title card in this entry, making his demise less impactful that it could've (and should've) been.

From this point on the film concerns itself with establishing each of the factions and their intentions with Smaug's vacated stronghold. I quite liked the portion of the film, and the escalating stakes allowed for some interesting character moments - Bilbo questioning Thorin about the Arkenstone, or Tauriel choosing to leave with Legolas over Kili for example. I expected the film to rush straight into the battle, but the deep breath in was a welcome surprise.

The second half of the film gets down to business and sees the titular five armies go toe-to-toe on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain. I thought the battle itself was a mixed bag. I liked the distinct visual flavour Jackson attributed to each faction, and the sight of elves, dwarves, orcs and men all crossing swords was new to the series. That being said, some of the CGI was very questionable and really drew me out of the film.

It was especially noticeable when Dain (Billy Connolly) arrived on his warpig or when Thorin rode up the mountain on his battle billy goat - you could almost see the join. It's also pretty jarring with the orcs, especially Azog (Manu Bennett). I know that this has been case across the whole series, but I just think the prosthetic orcs (like Lurtz from Fellowship) look so much better.

Another instance where the VFX were pretty poor was when Legolas battled Bolg near the end of the film - I know that he's pretty good at gymnastics, but I didn't know Legolas could defy gravity with all those ridiculous flips and tricks. It gets pretty silly at one point, and I physically laughed - and not in a good way.

In addition to this, the battle isn't plotted out in a way that is easy to follow. You'd expect the story to branch and follow multiple characters as they split up and go their separate way, kind of like Return of the Jedi where the action cuts from Endor to the Death Star and the Millennium Falcon. In The Battle of the Five Armies, the action often cuts away from established narratives like Bard or the Company to focus solely on Thorin and Bilbo for long stretches at a time, making the audience feel a little lost when they crop up again.

The same can be said for characters like Radagast or Beorn who barely grace the screen for more than 8-10 frames each. They just kinda pop up and we're expected to remember (or care) who they are and why they're here. Uhh...why even bother including them? Make them a thing or cut them entirely.

When all is said and done, Battle of the Five Armies is an entertaining and swashbuckling send-off for the series, even when you consider some of the flaws. One thing I will say - I liked the ending. I liked the way Jackson bade farewell to the series without getting too bogged down in minute details or drawing it out. If nothing else, The Battle of the Five Armies is a suitably brisk and action-packed final chapter for fans to munch on.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

For all its flaws, The Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting send-off for fantasy cinema's tentpole franchise. Freeman leaves his mark in the role that will define his career, whilst the thin script and questionable VFX raise eyebrows. I'm sad its over, but also glad Jackson and co. found their way 'back again'.


  1. Nice review, Rhys. I thought this one was quite a bit more of a mess than you did, but I am glad that this worked for you nonetheless. I personally would've preferred something a little MORE satisfying, you know? ;)

    1. Thanks Chris :) Yeah, I can see what you're saying - whilst I liked it, some of the action did feel a bit superfluous or just added in to build towards Lord of the Rings :)



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