We’ve now gone there and back again, over hill and under hill, down rivers and over lakes, witnessed dragon fire and now (finally) the wonderfully terrible chaos of the meeting of five armies. The Hobbit trilogy is ended and so is all of the content of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth we are likely to see on the big screen. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies works very, very well as not only the third chapter of this trilogy but as the bridge between the two Peter Jackson Tolkien trilogies.
It is worth stating now that this writer has read all the relevant books and is a massive fan of both Jackson and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. That being said, none of the movies get a free pass; they have to earn their place. While Five Armies probably won’t win anyone over who is still complaining about breaking the book in three, it is nonetheless the masterstroke of this trilogy.
As teased at the end of The Desolation of Smaug, this film starts out with Smaug the terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of the third age (Benedict Cumberbatch) wreaking his revenge upon Laketown for their help to Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves as well as hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). The resulting spectacle was well worth the wait, and before the title of the movie hits the screen the audience will know full well that Jackson is holding no visuals back for this outing. During the Monday trilogy premiere there was widespread groaning laughing, cheering, and clapping at Bard (Luke Evans) singlehandedly using absurd and entertaining methods to slay the “furnace with wings”.
While fans of the Jackson franchise are used to spectacle mixed with humour, The Battle of Five Armies takes things to new levels: Legolas (Orlando Bloom) continues to outdo himself, using his environment to slide, fly and run up falling stones with much more grace than my favorite red-pants wearing plumber (at least when my fat fingers control him). It is just too bad Smaug wasn’t behind our favourite elf blowing fireballs.
For those unfamiliar with the written word, this is the third act of the book, so this film doesn’t have as much of a first or second act as a buildup to war. After the beginning of the film our hero’s quest is completed, with Erebor and all of its gold in the hands of Thorin. Their woes threaten to begin all over again, though: they can’t find Thorin’s birthright, the Arkenstone, and the elves of Mirkwood and the men of the lake are looking for what they feel is owed to them from the vast, vast, vast treasure hoard. All of this finds its way onto poor Bilbo’s shoulders, as he must choose between friendship and morality as he watches Thorin fall into madness.
On top of these woes, Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) is still being held prisoner by the Necromancer. The resolution to this cliffhanger from the last film is truly a treat to behold, with guest appearances from Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee that will leave audience members gasping. This portion of the story is an essential tie between the two Jackson trilogies as the enemy (Sauron) and his nine wraiths are revealed to the white council (Elrond, Galadriel, Sauruman and Gandalf). The climactic end to Gandalf’s “side-quest”. Tolkien die-hards may argue about the timing of this adventure makes it out of place for this trilogy, but for the Jackson trilogy it ties things together and gives the begging that extra kick that the beginning of the film needed.
Unlike the previous Jackson trilogy, our “hobbit hero storyline” is not sacrificed in order to give us spectacle. Bilbo not only fulfills his important scenes from the book, but is called on to do even more in this grander retelling. Indeed, because the titular battle was glossed over in the book and only parts of the tale were ever told, Jackson was given an almost blank slate to work with and he uses it in ways only he could pull off.
This battle could be considered small potatoes compared to the battle for Gondor in Return of the King, but that is unavoidable if the goal is to keep the narrative true over six films. A battle of fools squabbling over gold – interrupted by a horde of orcs, goblins and worse – should not be the same scale as the battle for dominion over all. Though the scale may be smaller than Lord of the Rings there is plenty of over-the-top action, mind-bending huge monsters, and personal strife to be had. Freeman nails it once more as Bilbo, as does the rest of the cast (with a special shout-out Billy Connolly as Dain, leader of the dwarves from the Iron Hills, for stealing the screen atop his “battle-boar”).
While only a few characters stand out as likeable for this whole trilogy the book was the same way. It is impossible to care for a bunch of greedy dwarves in the same way as the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, and you are not meant to. While Frodo Baggins was the chief member of the Fellowship, his uncle Bilbo Baggins is treated like a piece of baggage by his smelly, rude and greedy dwarf companions. While only a few dwarves manage to get enough screen time and lines to be relevant, that is still more than the book, which never bothered to give any but two or three of the dwarves any real character traits.
Having seen the film in IMAX 3D and High Fame Rate AVX 3D, the HFR route is definitely the way to go. HFR once again shows unbelievable clarity (after the standard eye adjustment) and hopefully more movies will be presented this way so our eyes can get used to it faster.
While many are already decrying this movie (and trilogy) for ripping off and imitating Lord of the Rings, I can only imagine the reaction of literary critics when Rings was originally released, considering it was basically the same story as The Hobbit, except with higher stakes and more locations. Both are about Hobbits walking to mountains (sometimes over the same paths) and I for one knew what I was getting into when I sat down to watch this trilogy. Chapter one was never going to have the action and stakes of chapter two and chapter three was always going to be a battle movie.
Five Armies works hard to wrap up all of the storylines of the trilogy while setting the stage for Lord of the Rings. It has none of the flaws of the disappointing ending of Return of the King or The Two Towers, and as a third act to a story told over three films Five Armies fulfills its role without fault. Even more than The Desolation of Smaug, this movie proves Jackson chose well when he broke the book into three films and injected them with as many of Tolkien’s themes as he could, turning a simple tale into a bombastic spectacle.
When the extended cut is finally released next year, there is every reason to believe this chapter will have earned its place as a firm second of six films for the ages. Expect more scenes involving rings and tying the Jackson six-pack together as in the extended Desolation of Smaug. Good morning.
All pictures from http://www.thehobbit.com/