The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Review by Daniel Rester
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies concludes Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth film saga inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien – unless Jackson decides to take on something like The Silmarillion, that is (which is unlikely). Though Jackson and company twisted and gutted some of the material, The Lord of the Rings trilogy came out as a masterclass in filmmaking. The Hobbit films have been of a slightly lesser quality, a mark that continues into the latest installment. That’s not to say the films are terrible, though some stand by that. I will say that if you’ve liked The Hobbit films so far then you will likely enjoy Armies, and vice versa.
Armies picks up right where last year’s The Desolation of Smaug left off. Bard (Luke Evans), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Kili (Aidan Turner), and the others left behind in Lake-town must now face the oncoming dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile Thorin (Richard Armitage) begins to act strangely as he searches for the Arkenstone – an item Bilbo (Martin Freeman) hid from him in the last film. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) also make some impactful discoveries that lead to an eventual battle at the footsteps of Erebor.
Jackson’s film opens with a scene that is amongst the best out of all of his Middle-earth films. It’s intense and emotional and focuses on heroics and a certain father-son relationship. Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t live up to that quality. Even so, Armies is an exciting action-adventure-fantasy film that ends the trilogy on a fairly high note – though not as high of a note as some have hoped for.
The majority of the film’s content is filled with action, while the form involves cutting back and forth between different groups of characters involved with various parts of the battle. Thranduil (Lee Pace) shows up with his elves and Azog (Manu Bennett) with his orcs. And we also get a dwarf (a nice surprise cameo by a certain actor) and his army along with many other creatures – including these giant worm-like things that show up for no reason. It feels like a constant Middle-earth brawl on display, much of it too excessive with CGI and grand speechifying.
Despite Armies being bloated with action and visuals, it is the shortest of all of the Middle-earth films in terms of runtime. In that, it has a surprisingly brisk pace. Plus Jackson still knows how to keep us involved with the characters during their fights, mostly focusing on the main individuals rather than just huge shots of armies fighting – though we obviously get those too. A couple of the set pieces – one involving Thorin, another Legolas – will be crowd-pleasing for sure.
The cinematography, visual effects, music, and other technical aspects are first-rate, as to be expected from Jackson. But it’s the acting and especially Tolkien’s characters that keep the film strong. Many agree that Jackson’s Hobbit films stretched the novel too thin and lost some of its heart in the process. I agree, but we did get to spend more time with the characters in the end.
Some of the dwarves are still aggravatingly interchangeable, but characters like Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, Bard, Legolas (not in the book), Kili, and Tauriel (also not in the book) are able to shine here. There are even some pleasing connections to characters from the Rings trilogy. Freeman and McKellen still lead the way with their fine acting skills, but it’s actually Evans who pops the most in this outing. Only Ryan Gage as Alfrid sticks out sorely — as the supporting character annoys and gets way too much screen time.
The 3D isn’t on the level of Avatar (2009), Life of Pi (2012), or Gravity (2013), but it does aid the aesthetics in a few spots. I’m not sure it is fully necessary though. However, I do recommend seeing Armies on the biggest screen possible if you do decide to view it.
Armies comes on a big canvas full of fantasy wonders and filmmaking magic, showing that a dreamlike children’s tale with dragons, wizards, and warriors can really come to life. And that’s what Jackson has done best with all of his Middle-earth films. Yes, this prequel trilogy had its disappointments and may not have done full justice to Tolkien. But it also provided audiences with epic escapism that had locations, characters, and story elements we came to care about. That’s worth something in my eyes, even if it’s not quite on a Rings-like level.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images).
Runtime: 2 hours and 24 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: December 17th, 2014.