Smaug's rage is unleashed and he is about to bring death and destruction to Laketown. That's not enough? How about a big battle of five armies over who will be the true owner of the mountain treasure?
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is taglined as "the defining chapter" in the trilogy. With the devilishly mean cliffhanger of Desolation of Smaug, said cliffhanger made just as many viewers excited for this third chapter as it made them filled with anger for having to wait for over a year to finally see how the trilogy ends.
However, the trailers made Battle of the Five Armies look epic but with the final movie kicking the story off right where Desolation of Smaug left off, has the waiting time of over one year killed off some of the build-up and excitement for this final installment? Or does Peter Jackson nevertheless manage to end his LOTR-prequel-trilogy in suitably great fashion?
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town. Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo's frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf, the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.
Source: 20th Century Fox
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies expectedly picks up its story right where Desolation of Smaug left off and while it certainly feels like the grand finale to the Hobbit trilogy, there is no denying that Peter Jackson's idea of adapting the single Tolkien book "The Hobbit" into three seperate movies for theaters shows its biggest downsides in this final entry. With that said, Battle of the Five Armies delivers in production value but shows that an entire movie consisting out of a big climax without the necessary build-up leads to quite some pacing issues.
The movie starts appropriately enough with Smaug attacking Laketown, which was the cliffhanger of Desolation of Smaug. The destruction of Laketown is devastating and fittingly apocalyptic feeling with Smaug reigning down fire from all sides while simulatenously clawing off one or two buildings with one big swoop. The intro definitely is impressing but sadly way too short in the end. It's most certainly the "destruction" rather than the actual "battle" during this intro that will keep you entertained, since the Smaug attack quite quickly finds an end as soon as the "black arrow" is used against him.
Smaug is definitely still a very intimidating force of nature and Benedict Cumberbatch still knows how to sell his character to us, but one cannot shake off the feel that it's actually a bit disappointing that Smaug, the main villain of the predecessor and antagonist largely featured on the poster, is given so little screentime before getting killed off. Sure, for many people and moviegoers it should be clear right from the get-go that Smaug isn't going to get away alive and that the battle against him isn't the primary focus of the movie's story, yet it's kind of disappointing when the entire second movie of the Hobbit trilogy built up his character so much only to get rid of him in the first 10-15 min of the final movie even before the title screen appears. It only goes to show that this Laketown battle against Smaug would've been way more effective as a conclusion to the Desolation of Smaug last year instead as a rushed starting point for Battle of the Five Armies. But since Hollywood wanted to milk the dragon Smaug as much as possible for the third Hobbit movie as well, it's clear where this ill-advised decision came from.
Therefore, the Battle of the Five Armies starts off with a technically impressive looking but way too short intro "battle" against Smaug.
|The Smaug intro is short but sweet.|
Battle of the Five Armies is just like it's title suggests completely driven by the titular big battle filling out about 50-60% of the movie. This only makes it the more glaring that character development in this third entry of the Hobbit trilogy feels incredibly rushed and unconvincing. Therefore, Thorin's descent into madness, that not only puts him against all of the other factions in war but also against his fellow friends, is very clumsily handeled since we don't really see a gradual descent but a full on thrust of Thorin into said "dragon sickness". The result is largely rushed feeling and unconvincing. The dragon sickness itself is anything but subtle but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Thorin really behaves and looks mad and like he is truely being controlled through the greedy spirit of Smaug (which is unnecessarily made even more clear through Cumberbatch's voice being put over Thorin's). But considering that a slow gradual showcase of the sickness taking over Thorin would've made this central character development much more tragic and impactful, only makes the movie's scattered script shortcomings the more obvious.
Equally as rushed is the way the "dragon sickness" ends. Without giving too much away: any viewer expecting a strong and big dialogue or revelation that truely makes sense on a psychological and intelectual level will be left in the dust. The dragon sickness is eventually only resolved through a King Midas inspired drug-trip-like CGI scene. What a way to end the central character conflict in the movie.
Other story parts of Battle of the Five Armies are mostly filled with...well..filler-material.
Parts like the scenes with the now homeless Laketown citizens talking about their future are often a bit too long and as a consequence tend to go into borderline padding territory. Yet, to be fair it has to be given credit that the movie does a servicable job of showcasing each of the factions situation, perspective and opinion on the main "treasure conflict" in the movie to at least build up to the final battle of the five armies in some way.
What comes off as completely inconsequential though is Gandalf's sidequest to stop the return of "the dark one" (Sauron). Not only is this sidequest of Gandalf not present in the actual Hobbit novel but it leads to pretty much no resolution whatsoever in Battle of the Five Armies except for fan service to connect the Hobbit movies to the actual LOTR trilogy.
Sauron doesn't actually appear or pose a real giant threat in this third movie, making the entire build up of Sauron's return throughout the preceeding Hobbit movies more or less pointless. This is is the pinacle that underlines the most that the "Gandalf sidequest", that also happens to throw in Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett just for the F of it, could've easily been cut out entirely. The entirety of the Sauron mentions and showcases are only their to underline for movie-goers "this is a prequel remember?", even though there is absolutely no need for it since we already established this in the very first Hobbit movie.
|Well, yeah the Gandalf sidequest certainly got us...nowhere.|
As already mentioned, character development is very thin in Battle of the Five Armies. This doesn't necessarily mean that characters aren't likable or interesting (even though some indeed are bland), but rather that we don't learn anything more from any of the characters than what we already knew from the first two movies. Resultingly, with a big battle being at the center of the movie, it shouldn't be too surprising that all of the characters (aside from maybe Thorin) are far more present in the movie through "doing" instead of "talking". Therefore, Bilbo himself actually is far away from being as interesting or as much of a main protagonist kind of character than we are used to. Instead he rather takes on a far more subtle role this time around seeing that he as a Hobbit isn't that well suited for warfare in the first place.
Furthermore, other relationships like most notably the love between dwarf Kili and the elf Tauriel also don't really amount to anything meaningful in the end or truely conclusive. At this point it should be mentioned that Tauriel herself is another one of Peter Jackson's own creations for the Hobbit movies, meaning that the rather disappointing outcome and heavy handed romance in the first place between Kili and Tauriel is completely related to Peter Jackson himself and not Tolkien.
In the sum of it, it's therefore easy to say that Peter Jackson's own added material and story archs to the Hobbit storyline are without any doubt the most expendable and unnecessary parts of the entire trilogy since their payoff in Battle of the Five Armies sadly doesn't lead to anything satisfying or worthy enough for them to have been included and stretched out over the last two movies.
|This is pretty much doomed right from the start.|
But what about the actual battle? Is it any good?
Actually, yes. But even though the "Battle of the Five Armies" overall is quite fun to watch and expectedly features nice effects throughout. It nevertheless never overcomes any of the big battles showcased in the LOTR trilogy. Not only because the stakes are much lower and on a more personal level (seeing that in LOTR it was about darkness taking over Middle-Earth and in The Hobbit it's about a treasure), but also because the entire scale and execution of the battle of the five armies feels more artificial and less grim and authentic.
With that said, CGI effects are clearly on the forefront here whereas in LOTR practical effects were far more present. The Hobbit as a whole relied far more on CGI villains like the CGI-orc leaders, whereas LOTR mostly used actual actors with intimidating make-up. But still, the battle itself which takes up at least half of the entire movie (at least it feels that way) is fun enough to watch and works solidly enough as a climax to the dwarf gang's and Bilbo's journey with quite some comrades and protagonists meeting their end and scores getting settled.
Looking at some smaller nitpicks though: the battle of the five armies could've emphasized differences between each of the five armies a little bit stronger so that it gets a bit clearer that there are actually five different factions fighting instead of a big battle-clusterf**** which the battlefield eventually results in towards the end. But that's only a small gripe on an otherwise enjoyable final battle.
Also, physical combat conveniences take a new highpoint here. Sure, elves and especially Legolas are well known for their atheltic- and ninja like skills with knives and bows, but in Battle of the Five Armies, the "lucky circumstances" Legolas encounters during fights are really pushing the boundaries of belivability. Most notably when you see Legolas walking over small falling rocks in mid-air is when some viewers might draw the line and straight-up call Legolas "invulnerable" or "overpowered".
|Not as good as the LOTR battles but still very fun to watch.|
All in all, Peter Jackson's ill-advised decision of splitting up the Hobbit storyline into three movies shows its largest negatives in Battle of the Five Armies, making it probably the thinnest and easily least fleshed out chapter of the Hobbit movie trilogy. With a disappointingly short showdown with Smaug, unsatisfying and inconsequential ends of some storyarchs (most notably Gandalf's sidequest) and rushed and sadly lackluster character development, the movie's technical spectacle and action through its Smaug intro and actual "Battle of the Five Armies" are what still make it an entertaining enough yet also very lackluster finale.
For people who just want to see how Bilbo's journey concludes and who are only there for the big final battle and general action, Battle of the Five Armies comes with enough bells and whistles to make for an entertaining enough evening at the theater. Though viewers should definitely lower their expectations considerably: Battle of the Five Armies is a prime example for why you cannot just make an entire movie include only the final third act and automatically expect it to work. Resultingly, this is a final chapter that primarily only lives out of its admittedly entertaining action and high production values but without the necessary build-up to make it truely and completely feel like the climax the Hobbit trilogy really deserved.
Final Verdict: 6 out of 10