Having done reviews of the first two installments of Peter Jackson’s jumbo sized reimagining of the classic Tolkien novella, we may as well finish up the trifecta. But let’s begin once again with the mandatory disclaimer. This is a review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. There will be spoilers. If you do not wish to know about this film before you watch it, hit the Back key now or forever hold your gold pieces.
For those who have been keeping up with this trilogy – and my reviews of it – as it rolled out, not a tremendous amount has changed. The overall filmmaking quality delivered by Jackson is at the same standard – if not better – than we saw in the first two chapters and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That is to say… spectacular. The CGI is good enough to leave you gasping in your chair at times while still appearing natural and effortless on the screen. The soundtrack by Howard Shore (available separately on Amazon, by the way) is stirring, brilliantly recorded and sets the mood for each scene of the film wonderfully. The actors once again turn in familiar and skillful performances… at least the ones who get any significant amount of meaningful screen time, anyway.
The story plays out the final few scenes from The Hobbit over a span of 144 minutes, and it flew by pretty fast from my perspective. The tale unfolds largely as fans of the book might expect, at least from the 10,000 foot level. Or perhaps the geosynchronous satellite level. Remaining faithful to the original tale, the dragon Smaug comes out of his layer and attacks the town. He is later killed. The dwarves take control of the ancient citadel of their forebears packed with a mountain of gold and jewels. Evil creatures arrive and a massive battle ensues. Beyond that.. things get a bit iffy, but I think I enjoyed this episode quite a bit more than the last two because I knew what I was getting into and my expectations of any adherence to the original story were significantly lower.
The battle scenes – of which there are many – are once again epic and will remind fans of the armies taking the field in The Two Towers. As a technical marvel, they are simply spectacular. Unfortuantely, much of the individual combat suffers from the same issues which plagued the first two outings. The over the top, bad Kung Fu movie action is back, surpassing even the goblin tunnel fights in Unexpected Journey. In one scene, as the town of Dale is crumbling beneath the combatants, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is seen dancing like a ballerina while simultaneously wielding multiple weapons across various pieces of shattering masonry as they fall away beneath his feet into a chasm of sure death. In another scene, Jackson makes it clear that he knows just how far over the top he is intentionally going in a humorous way when four dwarves are informed that there are roughly 100 goblins about to come over the wall. As the enemy approaches, Thorin (Richard Armitage) dismisses two of his kin on a separate errand, informing them not to worry because he and his partner will take care of them.
We could go on for page after page covering the places where the plot veers wildly away from the book. The over the top conversations between Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) completely alter the circumstances of the Dragon’s death. (As does the curious expansion of Bard’s entire involvement in subsequent events.) Evangeline Lilly is back as Tauriel, having multiple opportunities to stand and look wistful over the complexities of inter-species dating while perfectly executing a role which Tolkien never even imagined for his story. Many more new scenes which I won’t spoil for you are stitched into the tale as Jackson seeks to make this trilogy into the perfect set-up for the subsequent LoTR story he directed. (This comes to its awkward fruition in the final scene where New Bilbo morphs into Old Bilbo sitting in his hobbit hole, staring at his Ring of Power when Gandalph knocks on the door in the opening of Fellowship of the Ring.)
And yes… the Bunny Sled of Doom is back. Don’t even get me started on the Bunny Sled of Doom.
Yet for all of this, as I said above, I managed to enjoy it. As I mentioned in my previous reviews, if you liked the other two you will probably love this one. If you never read the books or aren’t particularly interested in whether or not the film follows the original script, you will probably find this to be an enjoyable holiday season outing. If so, I’ll once again give The Battle of the Five Armies five stars on the Ed Morrissey scale if you see it in the theater. (And you really should, just for the special effects.) If you are a hard core Tolkien originalist, take some sort of sedative before you go.