The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (MOVIE REVIEW)


Peter Jackson’s third film in the Hobbit trilogy and sixth and final film within his take on the Middle Earth epic is, at its core, a really enjoyable film. I’ve gone on record more than once declaiming my fondness for the Hobbit films. An Unexpected Journey was unexpectedly tedious and the Desolation of Smaug was an utter desolation of my time. And that’s a shame. The Lord of the Rings trilogy are not only my favorite trilogy, but my favorite films of all time, period. And neither Hobbit film delivered the brilliant pacing, cinematography, character depth, or epic quality that The Lord of the Rings showcased. That changes with the Battle of the Five Armies. The narrative is much tighter wound, and it rarely digresses from the movies main feature: an epic battle of Lord of the Rings proportions that incorporates five armies; but it doesn’t get much deeper than that. Surprising myself, I found that I really enjoyed the film. Spoilers do follow.

One of my major complaints with the Hobbit trilogy was the grandiose scale of the liberties it took with the book and Tolkien’s other works. To take a quote from Tolkien, it “felt thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” This film is not exempt from that complaint, but I didn’t mind said liberties taken for the most part. They felt far more natural, the character interactions and POV’s you wouldn’t normally see in the book get their screentime in reasonable proportion. In fact, the best scene in the film for me occurs entirely outside of what’s written in the novel, and is pure Jackson’s Tolkien fan service. This scene sees Gandalf helpless and about to be struck dead, when Galadriel comes in saving the day, followed soon thereafter by Elrond and Saruman, and the three of them fight a brilliant dance of swords and magic against the nine newly revived kings of men (Nazgûl/Ringwraiths). Then Galadriel has a psychedelic witch queen moment where she induces Sauron into a seizure along with the rest of the audience. It was epic, appropriately beautiful, and also not very good for epileptics.

Not all of these additions to the plot are welcome however. A truly horrible addition is the character Alfrid Lickspittle, who first showed up in The Desolation of Smaug. He’s not even a named character in the book, so for them to focus so much of the plight of the humans on his perspective was sheer stupidity. I’d argue he got as much screentime as Bard the Bowman did. Throughout it all he’s a whiny jerk, snaking and skulking about the entirety of it all, pretending to be a cowardly woman and stealing gold when he gets the chance to. And he gets away with it.

The film didn’t need to include Legolas, but as he’s the son of Thranduil, and elves never age, this was convenient. But they really should’ve had Orlando Bloom lose a few pounds. The amount of digital softening done to his face was alarming. The film also didn’t need to bring in Tauriel, a new elf played by Evangeline Lily, but where else would they take the series if there wasn’t some sort of love triangle involved? The deaths of Fíli and Kíli were quite expertly reimagined to fit the shape and scope of the movie. I quite loved the tragic love Tauriel felt for Kíli as he died in front of her, and her avenging him shortly after. Even Thranduil, a fairly heartless elf, realized the depth of her love in the end.

One of the film’s major themes was ‘dragon’s sickness’, and this played out on multiple levels, with multiple individuals, and is what ultimately set up the battle of the five armies. Dragon’s sickness refers to the deep greed a dragon nurtures over its hoard of treasures. Upon the start of the film, where Smaug is attacking Lake-Town, the Master takes all the gold and wealth and runs off with it instead of helping others. I mentioned Alfrid Lickspittle above. Thranduil is ready to kill Thorin’s party over some gemstones he claims are in Erebor. But most notably, the visible warped persona of Thorin after Smaug had left Erebor – it almost seemed as if he fell under the spell of the gold. He would not part with any of the gold of Erebor to help the survivors of Lake-Town as he had promised them he would, or even to halt a war with the elves. It was frankly scary how that love of material possessions blinded him so incredibly. It can even be said that Bilbo suffered from dragon’s sickness with his ‘precious’ treasure by the end of the film.

It was an odd choice to begin the movie with what really should have been the ending to the last movie. Smaug is still tearing stuff up 15 minutes into this film, after the massive (and pointless) cliffhanger of the Desolation of Smaug. I almost can’t even fault this film for it though. It’s really more an issue of the last film that this one had to fix. No it fixed it quite nicely. It was perhaps the most glorious dragon death ever. I loved it. And then, after he’s dead, the titles “The Battle of the Five Armies” pops up, funny enough.

The majority of the film is one large battle. And that’s one of the primary reasons it had that Lord of the Rings feel to it. Peter Jackson is excellent at making big battle sequences compelling and easy to follow. Nothing will ever beat Gandalf riding at the first light from the East with the Rohirrim into an orc army during The Two Towers, but Azog’s face when he sees the Eagles show up is priceless. The fact that 90% of the film takes place at the scene of the battle is just fantastic. You feel as though you’re there, in the midst of so many war fronts.

The film tries to intertwine itself neatly with the Lord of the Rings on a few occasions. Some worked really well and some didn’t. Here’s an example of both. After Galadriel has her trippy power struggle with Sauron and he leaves, Saruman mentions he will pay him a visit to assumedly stop him from rekindling corporeal form and/or regaining his original strength. This is awesome because we know from the Lord of the Rings that Saruman eventually sides with Sauron, so now we have some idea as to how/when that happened (although it’s not shown onscreen). At the end of the movie Legolas tells his father he won’t be returning home, and Thranduil tells him he should seek out Aragorn… Why?! What interest does Thranduil have with anyone except his own? It was just a really unnecessary plugin. This happened in one of the previous films where they too plugged a younger Gimli into the mix.

I do hope this is Peter Jackson’s last foray in Middle Earth, because any more and he’ll start doing Lord of the Rings sequels which would just be the worst. That said, the film does have a sense of finality to it. No, it doesn’t have any real tearjerker moments. It doesn’t have an unrelenting number of endings, each one more heart-wrenching than the last. Instead, the ending of this trilogy takes us conveniently right back to the very beginning. The very beginning of the Lord of the Rings I mean, as Gandalf taps on Bilbo’s door before his 111th birthday party. It was cyclical and quite a touching conclusion. I’d say this is my favorite of the Hobbit films, but it doesn’t even come anywhere near to my appreciation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy – and that’s okay. I went into the theater knowing it wasn’t going to become my new favorite. I just sat down to enjoy it, one last time. And I had a great final romp through Jackson’s Middle Earth. Stay for the credits song, sung by Billy Boyd. It’s quite beautiful.

25 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (MOVIE REVIEW)

  1. Your review pretty much sums up my thoughts almost to a T. Too much Alfred, far too much Legolas and his deus ex machina abilities but much better than the last effort. Considering the film is basically a big battle and the build up to it, I didn’t think it had that much padding apart from the aforementioned Alfred character. My personal favourite bit, the nutjob troll hurling himself headfirst into the town walls with that mad battering ram helmet on his bonce and knocking himself out for his efforts.

    I’d like to see someone do parts of the Silmarillion in the future, maybe as a multi-part mini series for tv a la game of thrones. Still too much good Tolkein stuff needs to be imagined for the screen. Maybe PJ could be an executive producer handing over to a younger chap and just giving it a watching brief. I suspect the New Zealand tourist board will tempt Jackson in the future though and make him an offer he cant refuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s interesting how the reactions differ again…
    The people I was in the cinema with liked it, because of the battle, others who watched it later yawned at the end because it was too much battling…
    I personally think it was an okay movie, but I enjoyed the first one the most.
    For me that one captured the atmosphere of the book the best, especially with all the songs (I do believe I could listen to Misty Mountains over and over again).

    In turn I didn’t like the additional storyline with Sauron.
    Instead of that they could have added more to so many other scenes, they barely scratched (Beorn, the Eagles, the elven fires, the trial of the elves, the Lake Town, the stay on top of the mountain, etc.). They pretty much took out entire weeks/months of what happened in the book and pressed it into a few days, with everything happening at once.
    Tauriel and Legolas weren’t that bad though, they were nicely incorporated into the story and it didn’t feel as off as the other story.
    It also felt as if the character development wasn’t as good as it was in the book, simply due to the little screen time they got (I still don’t know which dwarf is which, except Thorin, Kili, Fili, Bombur, Bofur, Gloin and Balin). The one with the most attention was Thorin and he was a jerk, but not as much a jerk as in the book…
    Still, I consider his and especially his nephews demises quite sad…not necessarily a tear-jerker, but still tear-worthy.

    In short: I’s a visually stunning finale of the movies, but with the memory of the book still being recent it felt kind of strange.

    Liked by 1 person

      • For me it’s all quite recent and maybe that’s why I couldn’t let go like that…
        (I read the book only a couple of months ago and watched the first movie for the first time on the Sunday and the second one the Monday before we went to the Midnight premier of the third one – if that explanation makes any sense – last Tuesday…)

        I enjoyed the movie, but in regards to the book it was disappointing…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Agreedm with everythung, especially the ‘psychedelic witch queen’ scene. Galadriel and her backup team of bros are epic. I appreciated that the ending ended where it did, we were really ‘there and back again.’ Great film, good end to all the walking.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a hard/social/absurdist sci-fi guy and have never “gotten” fantasy. I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me know what you like about the Tolkien books in particular and fantasy in general. What am I missing? Please don’t ridicule me for asking. This is an honest question. What am I missing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fantasy isn’t that much different from Sci-Fi (hence both of them usually being named in the same sentences or departments of a book store). Both explore new world or variations of ours and do so with a variety of different races (aliens elves/dwarves/etc.).
      I’m not sure of this, but I do believe the Quest-setting (a group of people striving to solve one problem – throwing the ring into the volcano/reclaiming the dwarves mountain) is more common in Fantasy than it is in Sci-Fi.

      What is special about Fantasy is that you don’t need scientific(-related) explanations for what is happening, you can just blame it on magic or other earthly/dark/light/etc. forces.
      In that way Fantasy is less restricted and has more freedom to explore a certain setting/story.

      In regards to Tolkien’s work you have all that above and the fact that it’s well written by a professor of the English language (that also created other languages like Elvish).

      I hope this helped a little.
      If not, just try it. I’m not particularly a fan of Sci-Fi and I still read a couple of books and watched a couple of movies/series in that genre.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Geekritique

      Science fiction is the longing expectation of an imaginative future that can happen but probably won’t. Fantasy is the yearning remembrance of a time long past that’s fantastical and adventurous that could never have happened.

      That’s the definition I like to give myself. And to me they are two sides to the same coin. I love both genres. For me however fantasies have always resonated truer than scifis when it comes down to literature. Put a top new release from the fantasy genre and the scifi back to back, I’ll gravitate towards the fantasy 60-70% of the time. However, fantasy in film and tv is different. Scifi has a much better hostoric representation on recorded video than fantasy does. Thats because scifi is generally much faster paced. Fantasy is full of worldbuilding and world mechanics that the author or creator squeeze in to make their story vibrant in a new, dangerous and/or exciting world, along with a slew of POV characters to give the world depth. That’s why the Tolkien films are so long. They need to be. That’s why Martin’s Game of Thrones was adapted to tv instead of film. It benefits from a long-form narrative.

      I don’t know what you’re missing, I am sorry. Perhaps it’s the level of realism that hard scifi tries to attain to. Perhaps the magic systems on said worlds don’t make much sense, or you haven’t found they’re thought out well enough. On average I’d say most epic fantasy of modern times is two to three times longer than a hard scifi book so you may be put off by the length. Or perhaps you just haven’t read enough good modern examples of the genre to really whet your appetite for it.

      Your question is actually quite a good one. And I’d like to delve into it further. Would you mind if I use your comment with a link to your blog in a future post?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Science fiction historically has relied on the conceit that it is something that could happen, fantasy relies on the conceit that it is impossible in our world- so fantasy applies its own internal logic to a story that is based on one or more impossibilities – what Tolkien calls a Secondary World. Science fiction until the hackery epidemic of the late 1980s kept a sort of faith with its readership that it was based on science (as understood at the time) or at least on scientific extrapolation.

      A giant eagle in a science fiction story is a teratorn survival, a cyborg, a genetic mutation or something based on a scientific principle. A giant eagle in a fantasy story is one miracle amongst many usually.

      To me, science fiction relies on suspension of implausibility, but keeps faith with the reader that, like a murder mystery, there is a logical explanation, however tortured. Fantasy splits into three competing types- the utterly absurd and badly thought out, the imitation of historical setting / real-life culture / myth and the genuinely original impossible premise – an air-flooded asteroid belt sustained by wizards, dragons, or something even more impossible.

      Star Wars therefore is an example of fantasy- very little of its technology is functional even using extrapolated physics- although one could rely on the Arthur C. Clarke copout that it’s so advanced it just looks like magic- in which case- Doctor Who is hard science fiction.

      On the other hand, Tolkien is very close to being science fiction- all of its magic, despite its trappings, is very much like psionics, and quite weak in most cases- with heavy doses of presumed hallcuinations. Other than the fire breathing dinosaur dragon the rest of its creatures are some form of prehistoric creature – orcs included.

      Fantastic question!

      Liked by 1 person

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