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.