Verdict: 3 / 5
I think it only fair to mention that I am a huge fan of fantasy, Tolkien and Peter Jackson, so it’s inevitable that my review comes with a relatively large dose of bias. Yet despite this partiality I found it easy to view the final instalment of The Hobbit, subtitled, The Battle of the Five Armies, objectively.
Virtually the entire film is a ceaseless, relentless and taxing battle. It is splendid to watch, there is no denying that, and I enjoyed the battle formations and military precision of the orcs, dwarves and elves; but it amounts to nothing more than visual splendour – a bold move by a visionary director. However, as such, it not only has nothing to add to the overarching story of the trilogies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it impedes it.
The Battle of the Five Armies, despite being ambitiously and gloriously rendered on screen, is wholly unnecessary. The Hobbit was meant to be a two-parter and should have stayed that way. The fact that there is more than enough content to make it a three-parter is unquestionable, but the way the entwined tales of The Hobbit and The Return of the King’s various appendices were racked for content and combined into one story makes it feel like Bilbo’s “butter scraped over too much bread.” The third instalment should either have been dropped, adding the relevant bits to the other two films; or it should have been fleshed out properly.
One of my biggest beefs is with the character of Tauriel. She is an elven warrior created by Peter Jackson, and not Tolkien, which is not a problem per se; but it becomes one when she falls for the dwarf Kili – an awkward attempt to reignite the quiet passion and forbidden love of Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. In Jackson’s former trilogy the enmity between dwarves and elves is strongly established. The silly romance between Tauriel and Kili in The Hobbit dispels the antagonism, aggravated by Leogolas’ tolerance of dwarves, rendering his own enmity towards Gimli in The Lord of the Rings’ films moot.
That being said I love immersing myself in the world of Middle Earth. I’ll probably watch the last Hobbit instalment on the big screen again; and although Jackson has stated that he is finished with Tolkien, I’d be first in line if this were to change. For all the film’s flaws, Jackson pursues the vision of Middle Earth with unrelenting passion in order to take a grand final bow. And so, having dispensed with the negative, I move forward in order to end on a positive note.
When there is mention of The Hobbit, there must be mention of dragons and the mighty terror of Smaug in the last two films is magnificent. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug makes the Game of Thrones’ dragons seem like mere lizards. Cumberbatch also voices the Necromancer, his appearance in this film one of terrifying awe, which superbly lays the foundation for Sauron’s reign of terror. A personal favourite was watching Christopher Lee reappear as the wizard Saruman, still kicking ass in Hollywood’s biggest movies at the age of 92.
The appearance of characters such as Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond are a bit sentimental, but they do serve to tie it to the former trilogy, helped along by Howard Shore’s haunting score. Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in The Lord of the Rings) does not appear in the film, but contributed by writing and performing the haunting end-credits’ track The Last Goodbye.
As far as the cast is concerned, the standouts are Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage as Bilbo Baggins and Thorin. Both are tempted by corruptive forces (Thorin by the power of the mountainous treasure trove and Bilbo by the ring). The effects of these dark forces, coupled with difficult decisions, are powerfully brought across – Thorin with thundering intimidation, Bilbo with more subtlety and a dash of endearing humour. Their complex relationship, with Bilbo forced to betray Thorin in order to save him, is played to perfection by the two actors and is the true heart of the film.
At no time is such a movie more pertinent, released in the centennial year of the outbreak of World War One and amidst the turmoil of the ISIS Crisis. Many have viewed Tolkien’s work as an allegory of the World Wars and the film should, at the least, serve as a stern warning against the futility of war. In this light, perhaps the film is not wholly unnecessary, as it reminds us that in the end the things that carry us through adversity are hope and friendship.