“Hobbit” Finale Ends a Long, Long Journey
Way back in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf tells Bilbo Baggins “all good tales deserve embellishment.” Six hours and two films down, director Peter Jackson may have taken that a tad too literally.
As the final installment, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies finds itself in a delicate position to define Jackson’s latest trilogy. The first two films combated countless complaints of being a bloated adaptation. So in response, Five Armies races to the finish line, burning through the final 60 pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel in a franchise-low 144 minutes.
With a standard prologue axed, Five Armies jumps back into the Middle-earth mayhem with Smaug’s infernal attack on Laketown. The abrupt cliffhanger that left audiences moaning and groaning at the end of Desolation of Smaug is paid in full with quite the blaze of glory.
But that’s just an appetizer of what’s to come. This is the Battle of the Five Armies after all. Like the battlefield spectacles in The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Jackson is the go-to cinematic showman. He’s well-aware exactly how to stage and hype his climactic set-pieces.
The dragon’s gone, but he dwarves find themselves at odds with their leader, Thorin Oakenshield. Since the last film, he’s grown obsessed with his mountain hoard. Richard Armitage is solid at swiftly transforming his character to levels of paranoia. There’ve been hints since the first film, but here the beast is awakened with the sight of gold. Even Martin Freeman’s faithful Bilbo can’t even reason with him to share the wealth with the other folk of Middle-earth.
The resulting battle with men, elves, beasts and orcs locks up a giant chunk of the film. Lightning-fast, there’s hardly a moment to breathe. There’s plenty of clanging and banging, leaving any character development outside of Bilbo and Thorin as secondary.
As grand as the Battle of the Five Armies is, the action doesn’t imitate the heart that made previous Middle-earth battles both visually and emotionally enthralling. Bottom line is there is an excess of unnecessary CGI in Jackson’s artificial sandbox. Both Gollum in the first film and Smaug in the last two are testaments of taking visual effects to a greater level. Perhaps a few touchups are in order for next year’s Extended Edition. But that’s not all the Extended Edition must improve.
Out of the three films, Five Armies works more of a climax of a second film than its own. It follows many of the same beats as Return of the King, yet is short of being a stellar finale.
Following Journey and Smaug, Five Armies does have its fair share of intimate moments mixed in with some real head-scratchers. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) gets a few signature shots at defying gravity. Though, it’s a plus to see his endless supply of arrows on empty for once. The love story between Evangeline Lilly and her dwarf crush lingers on from the last film with a halfway decent resolution.
Franchise veterans, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee are given one last hurrah. After rescuing McKellen’s bruised and battered Gandalf early on, the Middle-earth quartet drive forces out the enemy fortress from the previous film. Together with the Laketown attack, the first 30 minutes is a high point for the trilogy.
As the final piece of the puzzle, The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t stand alone without the help of the previous two films. That doesn’t stop it from being a satisfying sendoff to Jackson’s experimental Hobbit trilogy.