It’s fair to say that The Hobbit story should have never been stretched so thin across three long films. While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a slightly better than an average movie and a welcome return of some great characters from The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Desolation of Smaug was a long, babbling mess and a slow build up to absolutely no conclusion whatsoever. The final installment, The Battle of the Five Armies, ended the franchise on an acceptable note, although I think the trilogy as a whole hardly shines in comparison to The Lord of the Rings. Instead, it suffers from the same mediocre prequel syndrome so many other franchises have endured before it.
The beginning of The Battle of the Five Armies seems very misplaced. It starts out jumping right into the action at Laketown with Smaug flying overhead, people are panicking and scattering to save themselves before their homes are burned to the ground. Bard (Luke Evans) eventually kills him with the black arrow, but not before the whole town is destroyed. The thing that bothers me the most about this beginning is that this event was built up to over a period of 161 minutes in The Desolation of Smaug, and yet it never happened. Not only was it a rather long journey for Bilbo and company to actually get to the Lonely Mountain, but when they do get there, it takes even longer to get inside, and when they get inside, we finally see the titular dragon. Then what happens when we see him? NOTHING. He talks a lot. He talks, and talks, and talks some more. Not that I don’t enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch’s sinister dragon voice, but after waiting so long for some kind of pay off, he just flies off into the distance and the movie ends. The entire first 20 or so minutes of The Battle of the Five Armies should have been the end 20 minutes of The Desolation of Smaug. What could’ve been an epic death of the dragon, who was much more important in the last film, was forsaken by putting it in the beginning of this movie, making it nothing more than a prologue sequence where it was quickly forgotten. Whoever made that executive decision is an idiot, but what can you do?
Now that I’ve gotten that ranting out of my system, I’ll move on to what worked here. This movie offers exactly what it seems to offer in its very fitting title–a battle. A very long battle that lasted the entire third act of the film, which was possibly a little more than an hour. While some people might not like this, I thought it made for an exciting ending to what should’ve been an epic series. The action is genuinely entertaining and is the plot device that moves the story along in the last act.
There are periods where the characters are allowed to take a breather and come to realizations of who they’ve become throughout this long journey, and it’s these moments that allow for their characters to fully develop before the story ends. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is such a character that forgoes a drastic change throughout the film. As he and the dwarves search for the Arkenstone while being surrounded by an endless sea of treasure, he becomes overtaken by greed and blinded by paranoia. He goes back on his word to Bard by not giving him the gold to rebuild his burning city, and he admits to Bilbo (Martin Freeman) that he believes one of his fellow dwarves is keeping the stone from him. He also refuses to return some long lost gems to Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the elves, and instead, chooses to go to war with them. When the orcs reach the Lonely Mountain, he has to try to hold on to a shred of who he was before in order to stand up and fight amongst the rest of his people.
Bilbo changes a lot during the duration of the trilogy too. In the first film, he is somewhat selfish and cowardly, but by the third he is a genuine friend to the dwarves, he looks out for Thorin despite his “dragon sickness,” and he no longer shies away from dangerous situations. Unfortunately, Bilbo is not really a prominent character in this movie, and aside from trying to help save Thorin from himself, he doesn’t have a huge purpose. It’s a shame, because he is a really likable character, much more so than Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. I can’t even begin to explain how much I hate Frodo, and I would take Bilbo over him any day. A better main character is perhaps the one thing this trilogy has over the previous one, I must say.
Aside from Bilbo and the dwarves, there are some characters we’ve come to know well over the past decade that show up in the trilogy and are present in this film. Obviously, Gandalf (Ian McKellan) is one of the most beloved characters from both franchises and he’s no less awesome here than he is in any of the other movies. It was also cool to see Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) fighting off the Ringwraiths, and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) turning into that weird, scary image of herself while being tempted by Sauron. Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who was somewhat annoying and unnecessary in the second film redeems himself here by being less annoying and a lot more useful to the other characters, despite still standing in the way of Tauriel’s (Evangeline Lilly) weird love affair with Kili the dwarf (Aidan Turner). He’s also so agile he can jump rocks while they’re falling in mid air. Who knew?
As I said before, the battle takes up the majority of the time this film, but there’s still plenty of time for emotional sentiment. The characters have time to say their good-byes to each other, and when certain deaths happen, there’s enough reaction to it, for me anyway. Too much sentimentality is not my thing. I’m glad when Bilbo quickly goes on his way in the end. It might seem rushed in comparison to the long battle, but when you really think about it, who needs more Peter Jackson fluff? We’ve already got over 17 hours in Middle-earth (and that’s not counting the extended editions), that’s more than enough for me.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies mostly met my expectations, even though I don’t quite agree with where they decided to split the second and third films. But this has a lot of great CGI and exciting scenes involving the clashing of orcs, elves, dwarves and humans, which I am all for. Even though the battle is long, I didn’t find it boring. Bilbo and Thorin have become my two new favorite characters, and I enjoyed the return of those from The Lord of the Rings, as they helped in bridging the gap between the two trilogies. Even though I don’t think The Hobbit franchise was terrible, it’s pretty clear now that Jackson has stretched Tolkien’s stories far enough. The ending of our time in Middle-earth is bittersweet, but it’s definitely for the best.