The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

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We all knew this day was coming, our final venture into the realm of Middle-Earth has finally come to a close. And the general consensus seems to be a bit…meh.  I mean, sure, we all knew The Hobbit was in no way going to be more epic than The Lord of the Rings, but that was the whole problem with this series from the get-go.  The Hobbit was trying to be the next Lord of the Rings and that diluted the entire experience because it bloated what should have been a leaner adaptation into a frenzied massacre of shoving everything from Tolkien’s world into these final three films (of which there should have only been two).  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the experience but I’ve only wished that they could have toned the entire thing down a little and made it feel more personal to the audience.  But that’s only my worthless opinion.

The Battle of the Five Armies (previously designated as There and Back Again…which was a much better title) only takes up two chapters from the actual Hobbit book.  Yeah…they actually ballooned two measly chapters into a two-hour and ten minute epic.  Basically, if you’ve seen the last two films, the treasure of Lonely Mountain is up for grabs after the slaying of Smaug (the damned dragon dies ten minutes into the film, which kind of makes you ask, “Well, what was the frickin’ point?”) and soon an army of Elves arrive to take their rightful share from the riches.  But, the menfolk of Rivertown also want a piece of the pie to rebuild what the dragon had burned to the ground, and the dwarves soon muster an army to help defend their claim.  And while that’s going on, two fronts of orcs are converging on the mountain to kill the leader of the dwarves: Thorin Oakenshield.  And so the rest of the film is basically preparing for one giant battle and actually carrying it out.  It’s a little more simple if you think about it.

First off, I have to take umbrage against the choice to include Smaug in this film for all of a fraction of the film.  No, that’s not a spoiler, the book’s been out a while so stop your bleating.  I think it would have been a better idea for Smaug to have been killed at the end of the previous film and have this movie start immediately after the slaying of the dragon.  That way it would feel a little more cohesive and less of a waste of Benedict Cumberbatch’s vocal talents.

Another thing, I’m still unconvinced at the level of CGI that this film includes.  Yes, it’s certainly an easier alternative to having to hire hundreds of extras and outfit them in battle regalia but I can still tell when actors are running on a green screen and that many of the fight scenes feel very fake.  It sucks me out of the film and I miss it when they shot everything on location just like for the previous trilogy.  Sometimes, the CGI is so dense and so apparent that I feel like I’m watching a video game at certain times.  On the flip side, when the battles go mano a mano and the camera lets the action only focus on two combatants, then it actually becomes cool as that seems more real than watching hundreds of computer-animated pixels wage their digital war on the other.  The final battle alone is a real nail biter, I’ll give it that.

Fret not, film score fans, for Howard Shore is still on his A-game for the newest iteration.  In fact, I would probably rank this among his strongest works because, for being a normally reserved composer, he pushes all the epic buttons without it ever going into the over-the-top category.  This is how one controls an orchestra in mighty fashion and I only hope that Shore gets to flex more of those muscles in the future for other projects.  And, for a special treat, Billy Boyd (Pippin from The Lord of the Rings) returns to sing the end credits song, which makes everything seem very bittersweet, guiding us out of Middle-Earth one last time.

For being a film series called The Hobbit, it does seem that our main character…er, hobbit, is very inconsequential to the story.  Yes, I realize that’s how the book was written but the focus was always more on Bilbo Baggins in that medium.  Here, it seems to be captivated more on Thorin Oakenshield and his slow descent into madness from gold and riches.  Here, it seems that Bilbo hardly does anything in this film other than run around and maybe stab a couple orcs.  Martin Freeman is quite the perfect Bilbo, yes, but…for some reason I am not really satisfied with his character arc.  He certainly has changed from his adventures but that was more the product of being a witness rather than an actual participant.  The story may have claimed that it was all about Bilbo, but it just looked like he was only along for the ride.

As for his dwarven companions, I still have no idea what any of their names are other than Thorin’s.  The fact that I cannot remember a single one of the dwarves’ names shows that either I have a poor memory or that the film failed to impart anything substantial of their personalities to me.  Thorin, on the other hand, is the most interesting because he is the Aragorn of the Hobbit series, the leader who seeks out his destiny during an epic quest.  The fact that Thorin has more personality faults than Aragorn makes him a much more interesting character and his overall arc is more developed than Bilbo’s and a lot more satisfying.

The rest of the cast ranges all over the place in terms of their serviceability.  Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman is great, for he always gives an earnest performance in all of his roles.  Guardians of the Galaxy fans might recognize Lee Pace as the Elvenking.  Orlando Bloom is stoic-faced as Legolas, and we also see him kick some serious ass with his trusty bow and arrow.  Ian McKellen as Gandalf is just what you’d expect him to be.  And Evangeline Lily as Tauriel has to be the most useless character I’ve ever seen inserted into an adaptation in a long time.  I’m a big fan of Evangeline Lily and I can’t help but feel sorry for her because her character is completely pointless to the overall story.  She’s just there to fall in love with one of the dwarves, which itself telegraphs what is going to happen in the end.  Her development means nothing, her character means nothing, and I have yet to face a justifiable excuse for why the character of Tauriel is even in this film series.

I still stand by my gut feeling that The Hobbit should have been only two movies because there is so much fluff bloating these films that it ultimately detracts from the main experience.  As it is, The Battle of the Five Armies is the leanest and the most coherent of the three, which warrants a watch for any casual fans.  If you’ve already seen the first two, go ahead and see this as there is no reason why you shouldn’t.  Just be prepared for the sadness that hits you in the pit of your stomach afterward when you realize that you might not get to see Middle-Earth for a long, long, time.

Aw, crap.  Now I made myself feel sad.

Final Score: 78/100

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