Some of you may already know this, but I’m not a die-hard fan of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. I’ve seen the extended editions of LotR and love them all, and I’ve only seen the theatrical releases of the first two Hobbit movies. I feel the same way about the Hobbit trilogy as I do about the Star Wars prequels. They both focus more on spectacle and they’re both inferior to their original trilogies. I tell you this so that you can know my biases, and also to give context to this review.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (and really the whole Hobbit trilogy) is like an outlet. It’s this big powerhouse of potential energy with huge significance. But by itself, it’s just an odd-looking thing with holes. It only serves its purpose when something else is plugged in: something way more interesting and effective.
All that to say this: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t try to fix or address the mistakes of its previous installments. Instead, it commits to the tone set by Desolation of Smaug (warts and all), making for an acceptable yet underwhelming finale.
What I liked
Martin Freeman still kills it as Bilbo Baggins. One could argue that he plays the same awkward, out-of-his-element role in each movie, but it wouldn’t matter because he plays it so dang well. His transformation from slothful hobbit to confident burglar is the most convincing of the many story arcs offered in this series. Whenever I hear mention of Bilbo Baggins, Martin Freeman will be the actor I think of. He IS Bilbo Baggins to me.
The full host of characters from the LotR trilogy also stands out here. We get to see some really cool moments from Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and even Saruman. While my only complaint is that we didn’t see enough of them, I understand that the proper time had to be given to the Hobbit’s primary characters.
I know it’s not technically new to the Hobbit trilogy, but I did get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing the movie in 48 frames per second. It was the first thing I noticed once the title credits started rolling, and in my opinion, it looks much smoother and a lot better than the traditional 24 frames per second. This won’t be something that everyone likes, but it gave everything in the movie a cleaner spin. The visuals looked even more beautiful, the 3D was actually convincing, and it gave me a new appreciation for action sequences.
The fight scenes are also strong points in The Battle of the Five Armies. The LotR trilogy excelled at grand battles of mass proportion, and it was nice to see this movie return to that sort of formula. We got to see every strategic move. We got to see every swing of a sword and every strike of a hammer. And it. Was. Epic.
The Battle of the Five Armies also ended on a note that felt much like the Middle-earth we know and love. The ending of the movie was tied up in a beautiful, LotR-shaded bow, and I finally felt the connection between the trilogies. It’s a shame that it took so long to get to that point, but something is way better than nothing!
What I didn’t like
Right off the bat, this movie is called The Battle of the Five Armies for the reason that one might think. The majority of the movie is one uber-long battle. While it was a cool battle, it made the whole the film feel like the climax of a story as opposed to a standalone movie.
I would have felt better about this setup if the motivations behind each faction joining the battle were a little more believable. When I was watching the setup for the battle, my thought process went something like this: “They’re fighting them?! Why wouldn’t they have just done this thing and gotten what they wanted? Now these guys are here too? I thought they just needed to survive?? They don’t have the resources for this. Why are people even…? You know what, never mind. Just go nuts.”
Also, remember the massive cliffhangers that Desolation of Smaug left us with? SPOILER – Remember how Gandalf was trapped in Dol Guldur, Kili was dying, and Smaug was seconds away from chargrilling Lake-town? – END SPOILER. Yeah, well so did Peter Jackson, but it looks like he just wanted to clear that crap out of the way so people could start fighting again. Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies were originally going to be one movie, but Peter Jackson decided to cut it in two. The scar this cut left is plainly visible, and I can’t help but think this could’ve been a better movie if the cut had been made just a little bit further into the story.
A lot of the other conclusions in this story are pretty underwhelming, too, especially when it comes to the subplots. Maybe some of them weren’t written that well to begin with, but for me, this problem stems mostly from weak characters. With the exception of Bilbo, I was never given a reason to invest anything in the Hobbit trilogy’s new characters. To me, they’re all either archetypes, uninteresting, or irrelevant. I’m looking at you, interchangeable dwarves.
I have quite a few other minor gripes about the movie. The first one that comes to mind is the 48 fps. I know I just said this was a big plus for the movie, so let me clarify. If a movie runs at 48 fps: great. More power to it. But understand that the whole movie should run at 48 fps. There were a few short scenes in the film that, for whatever reason, ran at 24 fps. That’s not okay. If you can’t get the whole movie to run at 48 fps, then don’t run any of it in 48 fps.
Subtlety was also thrown out the window like piece of chewed gum. This is a very subjective complaint, but I feel like there were a lot of scenes where there could have been great emotional moments. Instead, these scenes used over-the-top special effects to convey their message. We, the audience, would get the purpose of these scenes without the special effects. Remember how powerful it was to see Pippin singing while a battle raged on outside Gondor in Return of the King? His song was even used in the first trailer for The Battle of the Five Armies. I’m sorry to say that particular trailer was a piece of false advertising.
And on a very minor note, the movie tried to connect itself to the original trilogy by dropping a few verbal easter eggs into some scenes, and they just felt useless. These moments were about as subtle and helpful as Gimli crying out a kill count in battle. Alfred, the guy from Lake-town with the unibrow, is back. He’s more annoying in this movie than he was in Desolation of Smaug because now he’s supposed to be the comic relief. Not very funny. Finally, THAT plot hole is back. The winged representations of “deus ex machina” make one final appearance, once again showing that they could have been very helpful at some point.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is best experienced in a one 9-hour sitting with the rest of the Hobbit movies. It’s nothing more than an entertaining time-killer for casual fans, but I’m sure die-hard fans will love this conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy. I can almost guarantee we haven’t seen the last of Middle-earth, but for now, The Battle of the Five Armies serves as a decent send-off for the franchise.
What did you think of the last Hobbit movie?