Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson makes his return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic realm of Middle-Earth to finish what he started some sixteen years ago with his Lord of the Rings Saga, with the third, and final chapter of LOTR prequel: The Hobbit, which follows the epic journey of the original Hobbit: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
— WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS & IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR ANYONE WHO HAS YET TO SEE THE FILM. —
Picking up precisely where The Desolation of Smaug left off, the film opens immediately after Bilbo and the Dwarves re-claimed their gold from the mighty dragon, Smaug, but in failing to truly defeat the beast, unintentionally sent it into a frenzy, wreaking havoc upon the nearby villagers of Lake Town.
The Battle of the Five Armies, therefore, kicks off with a truly spectacular set-piece, the beautifully-rendered creature swooping over and around the island raining flames on all below. The Master of Lake Town (played by Stephen Fry) flees in fear, while Bard the Bowman (played by Luke Evans) steps into the fray, climbing a watchtower and firing his every arrow at the fearsome Smaug in a desperate attempt to save his people. It’s an absolutely stunning pre-credit sequence, yet it does feel more like the end of the last movie, or rather, how it should have ended, than the beginning of this one, lending the film a very strange kind of imbalance from the very start.
After the first battle things calm down a bit, as we observe the romance between Dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) develop, and witness Bard become more King-like as he takes charge of what’s left of Lake Town. We then tie up the loose ends of Gandalf, the powerful wizard who was imprisoned by Sauron at the fortress of Dol Guldur, which ultimately gives us a glimpse the terrifying extent of Galadriel’s power, as the White Council springs into action and the Lady of Lothlorien kicks all kinds of ass, alongside Elrond and Sauruman.
Perhaps surprisingly, Bilbo Baggins, the brave and kind-hearted Hobbit at the heart of this epic, actually plays a much smaller (albeit still important) role in this third and final chapter. Instead, The Battle of the Five Armies is very much Thorin Oakenshield’s story, as the newly crowned Dwaven King Under The Mountain has drastically changed at the start of this instalment. The reclamation of his ancestors’ stronghold – and more importantly, all of the vast amount of gold contained within – has stirred ‘Dragon Sickness’ in him, corrupting the dwarf king’s mind and spirit, causing him to lose sight of his own honor and goodness. Thorin becomes obsessed with finding the Dwarven artifact, the ‘Arkenstone’, which he believes to be somewhere in The Lonely Mountain. And so the Company of Dwarves barricade themselves within as they search for the mythic gem, infuriating both the Elven army, and the survivors of Lake-Town, both of whom believe they are owed a share of the treasure.
The scene is then set for the three parties to wage war with each other over the treasures within the mountain, but just as the Dwarven reinforcements arrive, so does the mighty Orc armies, and thus the real battle begins, where the feuding armies of Dwarves, Elves, and Men must unite against the seemingly insurmountable forces of the Orc hordes, and all of their giant beasts of war, including giant orcs, giant bats, giant worms, and other giants, and more giants, and even more giants. You get the idea.
It is exactly the type of over-the-top epic battle moviegoers have come to expect from Jackson, full of all types of rapid-fire cuts, physics-defying feats of fighting, awe-inspiring visuals, the whole nine yards. The battle, while very CGI-heavy, and requires a little more than a little bit of suspension of disbelief, could have been done a bit better (particularly with the huge budget this film undoubtedly had) and perhaps could have been cut down just a bit to save a little time, but what the hell, right? In that exact spirit of saying “what the hell?” Jackson makes sure that there are tons of small, personal altercations scattered throughout the overarching, over-the-top battle so that each character gets their own little individual moment to shine, but again, the fighting is just relentless and lasts for what feels like (and may have indeed been, I admittedly wasn’t keeping track) hours, with some severe battle fatigue eventually setting in just as much for the audience as it does for the warriors.
Overall, while I’ll admit that The Battle of the Five Armies was a very fun film as the end-piece of a trilogy, it really just doesn’t quite cut it as a standalone feature (for whatever that may or may not be worth). It has its fair share of shortcomings, most notably the fact that the film’s most impressive sequence is that opening scene with Smaug who casts a dragon-sized shadow over the rest of proceedings, but also the fact that it has just a little too much filler that really feels like it was designed to “pad things out,” so to speak. So much so that it often-times feels like characters are just being reintroduced simply so they can then be bid farewell. Those few gripes aside, this was still a very fun, very enjoyable film to watch, and absolutely perfect for your run-of-the-mill movie theatre outing, especially for LOTR fans out there. I’d also highly recommend seeing it in 3D, as this is exactly the type of film that can get the most out of it.
The Bottom Line
Not perfect by any stretch, but very good, and (most-importantly) enjoyable for what it was. Also, FAR better than that ‘other’ famous saga’s prequel trilogy — 7.0/10
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