By: Anthony Zangrillo
One Last Time! Peter Jackson and the Warner Bros. marketing team have used this slogan to create the tension and immediacy of a final trip to Middle Earth that audiences can’t afford to miss. While Jackson masterfully choreographs a war of epic proportions, most fans will find that the lack of a substantial stake makes the battle pale in comparison to the substantial skirmishes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. An exacerbated argument over claims to a mountain filled with gold doesn’t come close to the impending doom in the war over “the one ring to rule them all.” Unfortunately, this Hobbit trilogy suffers from the weakness of all movie franchise prequels. The more meaningful story has already been told, and therefore, this film does not feel like the proper end to Jackson’s directorial journey through Middle Earth.
Still, Battle of the Five Armies is undoubtedly the strongest, and most action-filled of all these Hobbit films. A streamlined and condensed story will make some fans resent this film for lacking the complex and mysterious backgrounds that embodied later conflicts in Middle-Earth. However, Jackson proves that he has not lost his specific flair to orchestrating these legendary wars. Audiences will be in awe as the film expertly balances the inclusion of multiple armies on different fronts. In order to connect with audiences, Jackson creates intimate scenes of conflict that contrast the unrelenting skirmish, which encompasses most of the battlefield. The out-of-place, subsidiary conflicts of the previous films finally reach a satisfying resolution, which keeps the combat fresh and invigorating.
In Unexpected Journey, Thorin and Azog’s conflict felt forced and unnatural, yet their final duel in this film is exciting and meaningful. In fact, Thorin (Richard Armitage) is a particularly interesting character due to his greedy infliction of dragon’s curse. Thorin transforms into a pompous and egotistical king, who wishes to fortify himself in the mountain filled with gold. Callously, Thorin refuses to honor his prior agreement with the people of Laketown. The foolish dwarf even shows signs of paranoia, becoming hostile towards his own company. Armitage finally explores the complex layers of this exiled king. I was intrigued by Thorin’s descent into greedy madness, yet the resolution to his affliction is rather disappointing and seems to only service the plot.
Surprisingly, some will argue that the film’s opening sequence provides some of the most exciting scenes of this Hobbit series. In what should’ve been the ending to Desolation, Smaug the dragon burns down Laketown as punishment for the dwarves’ attack on his precious vaults of gold. The fiery destruction is disastrously beautiful, making viewers suffer the dark, brimstone fate of this tiny village. Bard the bowman has a tense and exciting standoff with Smaug, as Jackson provides an ingenious interpretation of this classic conflict. Unfortunately, Smaug’s screen-time is cut very short, and audiences will likely feel that the opening sequence undermines the impending war. I feel that Smaug should have been delegated to one movie, yet it is obviously clear that there would not be enough content for this film, as the Battle of the Five Armies barely limps past the two hour mark.
In fact, I thought this film has a perfect running time. The movie does not meander into multiple, unnecessary endings like its progenitor Return of the King. Instead, a few comical scenes are intermixed with warnings of the impending doom that awaits Middle-Earth. At no time did I feel this movie was stretching the material, nor did the film lose my interest. The same thought could not be said for some of the former Hobbit installments. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) shines in some brief moments as the cunning hobbit burglar, yet most of his truly heroic moments took place in the previous installment. This time, Bilbo’s merely along for the ride, and I am glad that Jackson pays homage to certain events that happened to Bilbo in the original source material (no spoilers).
Lee Pace returns as Thranduil, maintaining an intriguing, yet distant relationship with the audience. The elven-king revels in the beautiful artwork of his race’s fighting style. Still, his character’s stubbornness is mind-numbingly frustrating, which ultimately causes viewers to seriously question his motivations. The sappy romance between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner) has a decent resolution, although it feels a little too over-dramatic. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) provides enough memorable action scenes to earn more praise as Middle-Earth’s favorite archer. In particular, one fantastic jumping sequence will have most audiences cheering on Legolas, as the elf battle with Bolg, the orc army’s second-in-command (a re-match from the Desolation of Smaug).
In essence, the movie actually breaks down to two exciting, yet focused boss battles. Thorin fights his arch nemesis, while Legolas looks to avenge a fallen comrade. These fights are wonderful and tense, yet I feel that they do not properly balance the immense scope of the underlying conflict. Snapshots of the various armies waging war, conflict with these narrow skirmishes, overlooking the crazed array. At the same time, Jackson insists on continuing the story of Bard the bowman, who becomes increasingly less interesting as he tries to embody the common man persona of the leader of Laketown. There are many unnecessary scenes between Bard and the treacherous king’s servant, which undermine the gravitas of the current war.
The Dol Guldur setting also receives a properly epic sendoff; however, most casual viewers will be utterly lost in this extra content from the appendix of Return of the King. In the last movie, Necromancer, embodying the spirit of Sauron, captures Gandalf and Radagast. As Sauron’s army of orcs march on the Lonely Mountain, the evil spirits plan to kill the sly wizards. However, Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Sauroman (Christopher Lee) arrive to save the wizards from a perilous. As Galadriel attends to Gandalf’s wounds, Elrond and Sauroman showcase their immense power in a surprising and memorable scene. Then, in a stunning showcase of power, Galadriel forcefully banishes the eye of Sauron to the nether-realms of Mordor. Unfortunately, audiences may be confused as to the relevance of this scene in terms of plot development. While I don’t think many fans were clamoring for this material to be in the Hobbit series, it does provide a few, nice connections to the original trilogy.
Ultimately, Motion Picture Club @ NYU suggests Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. Enjoy this last journey in Middle-Earth!