Mark Reviews Movies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Aidan Turner, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Graham McTavish, Dean O'Gorman, Peter Hambleton, Adam Brown, William Kircher, Jed Brophy, Stephen Hunter, John Bell, Mark Hadlow, John Callen, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images)

Running Time: 2:24

Release Date: 12/17/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 15, 2014

Just before the turning point of the climactic battle in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, our unlikely hero of a hobbit is rendered unconscious. The battle continues unseen, because the hero cannot see it, and the story resumes as he regains his senses.

It's an intentional act of anticlimax on Tolkien's part for at least two obvious reasons. The first, of course, is to solidify the notion that the tale belongs to Bilbo Baggins, despite the diversion to the dragon Smaug's desolation of Lake-town and the beast's subsequent desolation at the hands of another unlikely hero. The second reason is that Tolkien's concerns are less about warfare than they are about folklore and language.

With the two previous entries in this series, screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, and director Peter Jackson either smartly or coincidentally (Let's allow them the benefit of the doubt) framed the isolated stories so that the climax of each film actually felt like Tolkien. In each, the major event was Bilbo's (Martin Freeman) dialogue with a creature (a game of riddles with Gollum in the first and an exchange with Smaug in the second). These were battles, to be sure, but they were battles of wits and words. There is no such creature or scene to serve as the centerpiece of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which relies entirely on characters preparing for and engaging in battle. The movie is an unfortunate culmination, comprising a series of unintentional anticlimaxes.

The story of the third movie picks up immediately where the second film ended, with Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) arriving in Lake-town and setting the island settlement ablaze. The sequence depends on our attachment to the inhabitants of this place. It's non-existent, though, since none of these characters seems to matter in the bigger picture (The denizens of Lake-town do figure into the rest of the movie, but their search for a new home is so inconsequential that they become a horde of MacGuffins during the big battle). The ruin by and of Smaug is a resolution separated from its build-up, and the sequence ends so quickly that we're left confused by its omission from the previous film.

Meanwhile at the derelict fortress of an ancient evil, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is a prisoner. He's saved by a crew of familiar characters, leading to a battle between them and the wraiths of corrupted men and the spirt of Sauron. After devoting so much time in the previous film establishing the inevitable rise to power of that old enemy, the confrontation here comes to nothing of much importance. The fight features the specter that most fearsome of villains being challenged by—no joke—someone yelling at it. That underwhelming act is followed by the hasty foreshadowing of events and a major betrayal that are left dangling.

The third and most important plot thread involves the characters in the immediate vicinity of our protagonist-in-title-only. Without Smaug around, the band of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) and accompanied by their hobbit burglar Bilbo, take control of the Lonely Mountain and the dwarf kingdom at its heart. Thorin, suffering from "dragon sickness," fortifies his reclaimed kingdom, and with armies of elves, dwarves, and orcs approaching the mountain to take the treasure within it, everyone speaks in urgent and hushed tones about imminent war.

Then they talk some more about looming war before further establishing the immediate threat of combat. The dwarves and Bilbo go round and round trying to convince the stubborn Thorin to ally with the elves and the people of Lake-town. After two films of these characters taking a backseat to the details of their journey and the particulars of the plot and various subplots, here, when their motives and experiences are vital to a few key decisions, we feel just how underdeveloped the characters are. The arrival of Thorin's cousin Dain, an energetic and foul-mouthed dwarf who (as played with thunderous enthusiasm by Billy Connolly) provides some much-needed humor to the stuffy, self-serious story.

After the lengthy rising action leading to the battle, it finally arrives and once again displays Jackson's ability to stage over-the-top—in terms of both scale and tone—action sequences. Armies don't simply arrive at the battlefield; they emerge from the hills, out of holes dug by gigantic worms. Battles don't merely unfold; they shift locations from a field to the ruins of a city to a snowy mountaintop. The heroes don't just fight the villains; they do so while standing on a crumbling tower that hangs vertically alongside a mountain or while balancing on the cracking ice above a frozen waterfall.

It's impressive stuff on a technical level, but without any genuine investment in these characters, the extended battle also becomes repetitive. Even for those who may have given Jackson and company some leeway on the previous entries in this series (this critic included), it's now painfully clear that a three-movie adaptation of Tolkien's short book is overkill. The end of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies primarily brings with it a sensation of relief that the muddling and ultimately middling affair is finished.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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