The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a fantastic way to turn $250 million into a well-produced piece of mediocrity. For all its improvements over its predecessors in Peter Jackson’s second trilogy of Middle Earth, this third and concluding film is still problematic, sometimes for the same and sometimes for very different reasons. Whether it’s an issue with turning the source material into a cinematic product or it’s with the directorial vision, The Battle of the Five Armies is just an acceptable yet somewhat disappointing ending to The Hobbit.
This picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off—right down to the second—so going into this film cold is ill-advised. We’re left with Smaug about to bring ruin to the nearby village of Laketown while the company of dwarves (and one hobbit) sits up in the Lonely Mountain on a pile of riches. Thorin Oakenshield, however, is losing his mind with the greed of maintaining his recently reclaimed ancestral wealth.
And then Bard, the bowman with a disappointing familial association with Smaug, kills the dragon. Within the first 15 minutes, we have resolution from the cliffhanger of the previous film. This is representative of the biggest problem with the film, let alone the trilogy as a whole. The book was more or less structured as a traditional three-act story, but Jackson, in stretching the one book into three films, had to inject his own scaffolding.
This means that right off the bat, there has to be concluding action to the previous film simply because we have even more resolution to reach before the end of both the source and the movie. So something that otherwise was another step in the introduction and building of Bard as a character was built into a necessary cinematic climax that ultimately got squashed and swept in the opening scenes.
The title is also indicative of the film’s follies. We do indeed eventually arrive at a battle involving five armies, but everything preceding that clashing quintet is just more fighting. It eventually becomes quite tiring. Numbing, even, like a haunted house where nothing but people with chainsaws come jumping out at you around every corner.
Jackson, to his credit, attempts to throttle the nonstop action with some semblance of pacing in a few stealthy bits and the building of armies, but after having so many unbroken sequences of clattering and yelling, it becomes confusing more than anything. Instead of having a few highlight reel moments sprinkled as memorable treats throughout the movie, there is one every ten or so minutes. Do you like that cherry on top of your sundae? Good, because here’s a whole jar of ’em.
For the most part, though, the action is massively improved over The Desolation of Smaug where everything felt exceptionally inconsequential. This is a suitably dark film with dread and weariness slathered all over it with evocative fighting to match. Things feel like they have heft and weight, as if everyone is truly struggling to make it, even at the hands of the most skilled fighters like Legolas and Thorin.
The one exception, once again, is the dwarves. More accurately, one specific dwarf who seemed more or less invincible in the middle of a bloody and body ridden battlefield. It definitely imbued right back into this grim entry a sense of cartoonish safety, albeit only briefly. Still, it’s a reminder of what the film is trying so hard not to be.
Action, however, is most certainly a strong suit for Jackson now. He was always adept at large-scale, sweeping frames of combat, but he now also has a more deft hand at specificity as well. If you recall the wizard “battle” between Gandalf and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you can remember how he made something so cool almost laughable. Now, Jackson capably turns personal physical conflicts immediately and intuitively compelling.
He also carries and throws around a great sense of inevitability. That was the most impressive part of The Two Towers, where it felt like we were all arriving at a conclusion that we both wanted to see and hated seeing. It was so exciting while still we knew terrible things were going to happen. That feeling is capitalized a few too many times, though.
That sentiment also goes for concluding scenes. There are several bits and bobs established throughout the trilogy that get capped here in this last movie (along with major problems and events), and they all happen inevitable regularity. Tauriel and Kíli; Legolas and Thranduil; and Bard and Smaug coinciding with the dwarves and the Arkenstone; Gandalf and Sauron; and Thorin and Azog the Defiler. At some point, it feels like a checklist of loose ends being tied up and just as abrupt.
While this is a brief movie relative to the others at a sprinting, sword-smashing 144 minutes, it still has a tendency to feel as if it drags on. It is an artifact of Jackson’s inability to succinctly shoot large scale battles, but also some surfacing bits of inexplicable drama and romances that happens seemingly for little to no reason. It renders a viewer’s focus across several narrative planes that just shouldn’t be there.
There are a lot of discrete problems with the movie, but make no mistake as the foundation of this and every other film of Jackson’s has a rock solid foundation. The acting, the music, the sound design, the production design, and the cinematography all come up to be top of the line, or at least close enough for such grand scale epics. But you can’t act away or build up enough orcs or conduct enough orchestras to overcome structural narrative shortcomings.
For all the basics that the movie nails (which anyone can tell you, it’s often the fundamentals that are the hardest to perfect), it is still a flawed film in its outset intent and the open ends left in its hands from An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a fine film (and the best of the trilogy to be sure), but it’s still not a great one.
+ Great sense of circumstantial inevitably
+ Jackson learned how to shoot small scale battles
+ Improved feeling of consequential action
– Abrupt and tiring resolutions over and over again
– Inexplicable romances and drama surfacing all over the place
– Numbing exposure to nonstop combat
Final Score: 7 out of 10