The Highs and Lows of 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies'
The final Middle Earth film (for now) is the best of the 'Hobbit' movies, but is that good enough?
Back to Middle Earth we go, where director Peter Jackson continues to churn out dazzling-looking depictions of The Hobbit, author J.R.R. Tolkien's equally dazzling novel. And even though the problems that haunted Jackson's first two Hobbit films (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug) persist, The Battle of the Five Armies stands as the best of the franchise. Jackson and his Weta Workshop (not to mention second unit director Andy Serkis) prove yet again they are the kings of the epic battle sequence, even if the film doesn't give you that good old Lord of the Rings feeling.
The Battle of the Five Armies is, as the title promises, a fight movie. It jumps from spectacular setting to spectacular setting while multitudes of men, dwarves, elves, orcs, and other beasts converge on one another. To adhere us to the action, Jackson paces the film with ageless Tolkien themes like the corrosive effect of money and the lure of home. At its best, Five Armies will make you tear up at the sight of Legolas deftly pwning every orc in site like he did in Lord of the Rings.
Picking up where The Desolation of Smaug left off, Five Armies opens in Lake-town where the arrogant dragon is raining hellfire. Everyone scrambles and Jackson follows the action like a master, his camera swoops to follow Smaug and stops to focus on everyone's only hope, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), as he attempts to save his family and shoot down the monster.
The opening sequence is a reminder how great these films can be with a true hero. The biggest difference between Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and these Hobbit films is the absence of a true, charismatic leader. Viggo Mortensen was that and more as Aragorn, but The Hobbit doesn't have him. Instead, we have Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), a surprisingly humorless hobbit and a tragic dwarf. Neither of these characters captures our hearts the way Aragorn did.
What Five Armies does well is conjure breathtaking moments, even if they are fleeting. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) finally shows up for real, and the appearance of Beorn in the midst of battle is the film's high point as the raging bear tears through the orc horde. But just as quickly as he appears, he's gone. Too much time is spent on Thorin's annoying descent into madness, brought on by the dwarves reclaiming The Lonely Mountain and the immense wealth within. But these sequences feel rushed and he snaps out of it just as quickly. The prologue in An Unexpected Journey foreshadows Thorin's greed and madness. It happened to his father, but not in the span of days or weeks. Thorin's daddy slowly descended into crazy as the dwarves compiled a treasure trove to shame Fort Knox, but his son seems instantly bitten.
With Smaug gone, Erebor is up for grabs and the dwarves claim it as their birthright. But Lake-town needs shelter and Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his army of disciplined elves want its riches. "Do you want peace or do you want war?" the Elf king asks Thorin. "I WANT WAR!" So at least we get a reason why his madness is so rushed. Someone has to get this battle going. Dwarves fight elves and men and more dwarves arrive (led by the great Billy Connolly), but in the distance, the drum beat of the orcs echo as the brutal Azog bears down. The film slips into non-stop action and Jackson does his best to find his main characters and drive the narrative. He's somewhat successful, but the film will leave you with a thoroughly empty feeling. Save for Legolas kicking ass and a few other sequences, the battles are redundant, if not beautifully-staged.