The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies *** 1/2
Dir: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lily, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Aidan Turner
I still hold to the opinion that there was absolutely no need to turn The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book in his Middle-Earth saga, into three separate movies. If the three books in Tolkien’s epic tale The Lord Of The Rings could be covered in a single cinematic trilogy then The Hobbit could have been filmed as just one movie – but the almost guaranteed box-office returns for each instalment overrode any artistic compulsions. That being said, the final entry in The Hobbit series turns out to be surprisingly fast-paced, adrenaline inducing fun. That it is also the shortest of the three hobbit movies also ensures that it does not overstay its welcome.
Wasting no time, The Battle Of The Five Armies begins almost exactly where The Desolation Of Smaug left off, with the enraged dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) intent on laying waste to Laketown and its residents. However, Smaug is swiftly dealt with by the heroic bowman Bard (Luke Evans) and on we move to set the stage for the titular battle in which dwarves, humans, orcs, elves and a surprising fifth contingent engage in bloody warfare with quickly shifting alliances. The same battle Tolkien described thusly: “So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible.” But Peter Jackson devotes almost the entire final hour of the two and a half hour movie to the battle, filling in Tolkien’s blank canvas with the minutest details and goriest encounters. The action is choreographed expertly (though where the elven army disappears to halfway during the battle before reappearing just near the end remains a question) and the individual encounters such as the one between Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Orc general are fairly exciting (even if sometimes outrageous). It is adrenaline inducing stuff even if it never is able to go beyond the boundaries of the action movie genre. If he was inclined to, Jackson could have used the same material to provide a commentary on the present state of the world but he chooses not to do so. It is an opportunity missed.
The movie does not carry enough emotional heft either with some of the supposedly weightier scenes bordering on parody and overblown melodrama. The interspecies romance between the elven warrior woman Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and the roguish, good-looking dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) – which does not exist in the source material, by the way, and Tauriel actually only exists in the movies – is also never really convincing. However, Armitage neatly balances the demands of his character as Thorin, the dwarf king, struggles to overcome the madness brought on by his lust for gold. Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins brings a centred sweetness to his role and he and Ian McKellan (the wizard Gandalf, the Grey) play well off each other. It is also amazing to see the energy that Christopher Lee (Saruman, the White) still has at the age of 92. Orlando Bloom is convincing in his action hero avatar of Legolas (who, incidentally, does not appear in The Hobbit but only in The Lord Of The Rings books) and Lee Pace is rather good as Legolas’ father Thranduil, the cold, detached elven king.
Ultimately, Jackson’s final instalment in the series salvages the trilogy somewhat after its slightly bloated and sometimes lumbering two predecessors. However, fans of the original book and The Lord Of The Rings movies would have been better served with ideally just one film or at most two.
Cut to chase: Exciting stuff which salvages the trilogy.