I loved the book, enjoyed the first movie, and grit my teeth through the second installment. It’s time to finish off the 3-part film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with The Battle of the Five Armies.
Judging by the title, this is exactly what you get. A giant portion of the film is devoted to the battles at the slopes of Erebor between the men of Lake-Town, the elves of Mirkwood, the dwarves of Erebor and the Iron Hills, and the Orcs of Moria. We see the downfall of Smaug, the struggles of Thorin Oakenshield as he attempts to reclaim his father’s throne as King under the Mountain, and Bilbo’s haggard attempts to survive the calamity and make it home in one piece.
So what did the third film of the Hobbit trilogy bring to the silver screen?
- Brilliant acting. I didn’t have the best expectations for this film going in, save only for the epic battles at Erebor and Dol Guldur, as well as the performance of Martin Freeman as Bilbo. And just as expected, this is a great story for Bilbo. He’s the brave but out-of-place hobbit that this epic tale needs, just as The Return of the King needed Merry, Pippin, and Sam. I also have to give Richard Armitage credit for his performance as Thorin, showing the full range of emotions and trauma that the dwarf king has to endure before the film’s end. And I’d be doing the film a disservice if I didn’t mention the brilliance of Billy Connolly as the dwarf Dain Ironfoot.
- Massive, extended battles. In the book, the epically-named Battle of the Five Armies is entirely offscreen. Bilbo gets knocked out once the eagles show up, and we get very little detail about the Orcs being routed from Erebor. Here, we get well over an hour or so of constant back-and-forth battles between Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs, using everything from acrobatic swordfights to charging war pigs to a very short cameo of Beorn the skin-changer. Of course big battles are what New Line Cinema do very well in these Tolkien adaptations, but I felt like these battles went on just half an hour too long to keep me engaged.
- Continuing the love triangle. One of the subplots that stretches out so much of the film is the whole romance between Kili, Tauriel, and Legolas. I’m sure it’s a good way to demonstrate the tensions between Dwarves and Elves, but I never once felt that invested in seeing Kili and Tauriel become an item. Which is too bad because Tauriel could have been a great elf character if not for only existing as a love interest.
- A lot of Laketown. Callous as it might seem, I really kept rolling my eyes at every cutaway to Bard and the people of Laketown. Like in the book, they play an important role, but I felt like they only existed here to build up pathos in an already amped-up war tale. Not to mention that the character of Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the Master’s cowardly deputy, is an utter waste of space who only served to get shat upon every time he appeared. Some might call him comic relief; I call him pointless.
- Ending fatigue and mood whiplash. Like I said before, the Battle of Five Armies feels a lot longer despite being shorter than the usual 3-hour length of these movies. Especially near the end, there were so many “twists” and surprise maneuvers that I was conscious of myself sitting in the theater, glancing around, and going “Get on with it already” for every prolonged duel with Azog or Bolg.
- A touch of hobbit ways through and through. One of the few redeeming graces of the film was every mention of hobbit culture and the Shire, which meant just about every time Bilbo was onscreen. I savored the quiet moment he had with Thorin where he discussed planting an acorn in his garden back home and I was happy to see Bilbo’s return to the Shire as an unreconizable hero played true to the spirit of the book.
In the end, I’m glad I saw this film so that I could see this adaptation of The Hobbit played out in full, but if given the choice, I’d rather go with the book for another reread. I also have to give the movie experience some credit for showing me the trailer for another film that I need to go see—Kingsman: The Secret Service, which looks hilarious and a hundred times better.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is available through Warner Bros. and playing in theaters now.
Bibliography: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Directed by Peter Jackson. Produced by Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, and Peter Jackson. Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro. Based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Perf. Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, and Orlando Bloom. New Line Cinema; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; WingNut Films. Warner Bros. Pictures. US release date: December 17, 2014.