Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sir Ian McKellan, Evangeline Lily, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Ken Stott and Benedict Cumberbatch
Plot: The dwarves take the Lonely Mountain, while Bard (Evans) leads Laketown to Erebor to seek shelter from the dragon. Meanwhile, the elves and Orcs plot their assault on the mountain and a Hobbit is trapped in the middle of it all.
It is tough being the movie event of the year. Of course, Peter Jackson has done this before, with Return of the Kings, tasked with bringing a stunning trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The Hobbit could arguably be the tougher of the two stories to finish adequately. Return of the King’s climax was written sufficiently in the book and the saga of the Ring had a very clear finishing point. The Hobbit wasn’t meant to be three movies, many argue the necessity of its creation and we could even go as far as saying that this needs to be an ending for six movies, not three. Peter Jackson had an epic task laid out in front of him. Another day at the office, then…
The Battle of Five Armies opens with a magnificent reminder that no one does visual spectacles as well as Jackson. Smaug massacres Lake Town, dousing the villages into flame and providing a terrific resolution to that cliff-hanger that almost drove us into Gollum states of madness. As soon as that terrific sequence draws to an end, the opening credits flare up and gift us with a promise. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Jackson follows it up with many more sequences that are just as amazing as his other five movies. Sequences of massive armies marching across beautiful New Zealand landscapes. A gripping sword fight on a crumbling tower between Legolas and one of the only two Orcs in the entire six movies to live up to the foreshadowing of the Orc army. Every character gets their own little ‘punch-the-air’ moment. I was most impressed with Tauriel. Her love story with Kili makes a little more sense now the shock of it has gone and she is allowed to stand back and be a bad-ass female action hero. Her fight scenes are splendid, matching the ferocity and speed of Legolas, who of course is just as consistently great as he always has been. Smaller character are given a lot more to do as well. Lee Pace is a great anti-hero, surprisingly deep and three-dimensional, even if Jackson asks him to play the role with that steely, almost unreadable Elven face. The lesser dwarves benefit from their small group being separated from the other characters, as they are called upon for Thorin to bounce off of. Ah, Thorin. This is definitely his show, as we get his descent into madness, comparisons between him and Smaug popping up. Richard Armitage plays it very Macbeth-esque and it is almost impossible to predict where the character arc will draw to a heart-stopping close.
Sadly, the Battle of Five Armies suffers from being a few great moments tied to one another. The sad truth of the matter is that Peter Jackson finally runs out of book. This entire movie is essentially one big battle. The build-up is over-cooked, racking up the tension and awe too high to actually deliver on. There is a lot of time spent on Thorin’s descent into madness. It was subtle and well-balanced in ‘Desolation’, but here we get whole segments of Richard Armitage lost in his hallucinations. Criminally, Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan are pushed out of their own movie, despite this whole trilogy resting on their shoulders. I realise that at this stage of the book, Bilbo is a narrative device rather than an active character, but there is still a lack of that ordinary Hobbitness that made the previous two films so heart-warming. There are small moments where Freeman does what he does best, but it is cut short to focus on the fighting. So what about the Battle of Five Armies? Jackson talks a good talk, intent on making this his greatest war scene of all six movies, surpassing Gondor, Rohan and Mordor. He doesn’t quite do it, lost at where to focus next. There is only so much running time the audience is happy to sit through of nameless people slashing their swords into faceless orcs. He tries to anchor it with memorable faces, but then we end up with several small fights, muddied by the background noise of constant battle. It looks very pretty and inventive, but fails to engage the audience. Finally, Jackson gives up and takes a small portion of the characters to one side to take on Agog and Bolg. This is more fun, giving us simpler and easy to follow one-on-one sword fights, but it looks messy and out of place, considering there is meant to be a massive war a few feet away. It doesn’t quite make sense. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on you settling into the current moment, rather than looking at the battle as one big fight.
Final Verdict: This is a good movie, but the hype was just too much to meet. Fun, visually astonishing and action-packed – but adrift.