So here we are, the end of 2014 and most probably the end of cinema’s romance with the multiple goings on in middle earth. My relationship with Peter Jackson and his thirteen year long imaginings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional creations can very much be split in to a tale of two trilogies. The director’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy utterly thrilled me as it did the rest of the world in my early teens, and the pure cinematic brilliance of the saga perhaps set me up to view the Hobbit trilogy in a rather comparatively disappointing light. Whereas every minute of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy felt imperative to the narrative, both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation Of Smaug felt like extremely bloated experiences. This was always going to be the case in a three film franchise based on a 350 page novel, but being the committed cinephile that I am, I went in to The Battle Of The Five Armies with the hope that, like so many other trilogies, the final instalment would be the best.
And my conclusion is that The Battle Of The Five Armies, rather than being better or worse, continues the trend of the previous instalments by showing promise in places but ultimately suffering from an overindulgent reluctance to refrain from bloating the narrative to within an inch of its life. The film begins exactly where the last finished, as dragon Smaug descends upon Laketown to wreak havoc after being awoken by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of gold hungry dwarves. This marks my first problem. Call me old fashioned, but I would have rather preferred to witness the desolation of Smaug, well, in the film called The Desolation Of Smaug. Peter Jackson’s choice to reserve this twenty minute sequence for this film is rather misjudged and only works to make the opening hour feel somewhat disjointed. Once the aforementioned desolation is complete, the picture finds a more engaging groove in the narrative of Lonely Mountain and the many different clans who descend upon the newly conquered gold mine. With dwarves, elves, orcs, men and eagles joining the action, the film really does turn in to a two and a half hour long battle sequence, which will be thrilling to those who enjoy it and exasperating to those who do not. I found myself falling in the middle of those two extremes, being undeniably impressed and excited by the monumental battle set pieces that were flashing across the screen whilst at the same time longing for longer moments of more personal character interaction and nuance. Much like my complaint about The Desolation Of Smaug, I bemoaned the lack of screen time Martin Freemans’ Bilbo, by far my favourite character of the series, actually gets. Bilbo is rather used as a character who turns up at certain points to touch base with the audience and give the battle scenes a slightly different look and appeal. My interest piqued whenever he was involved but I must admit to finding the continuous set pieces involving orcs smashing heads and elves shooting arrows increasingly tiresome, and for all the gusto that was thrown in to the titular battle, the combat’s climax drew to a rather flat end that did not do justice to the genuinely emotional conclusion to the, admittedly drawn out, story.
In terms of the cast, no actor or actress disappoints. Martin Freeman continues to be the perfect example of a Hobbit in his performance as Bilbo, and Richard Armitage does a commendable job of portraying the changing character of Thorin from a noble and admirable dwarf leader to a man afflicted by greed and paranoia. In a cast so large very few characters are given much time due to the extended nature of the battle, but there are brief enjoyable moments involving Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Aidan Turner and Luke Evans who all bring some dramatic balance to the overwhelmingly action based picture. Of course, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee all provide a touch of the magic that made audiences fall in love with the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and their screen presences help to tie the film in with the memories of the far superior middle earth episodes. After all, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and to a certain degree nostalgia for Peter Jackson’s original trilogy leads to the audience forgiving a multitude of sins that are present in the Hobbit series.
Overall, I would have to say that The Battle Of The Five Armies brings the Hobbit trilogy to a rather plodding end, which in turn pretty much sums up my feelings on the entire series. Hardcore fans of Peter Jackson and of Tolkien may hold a more positive opinion of the film, but as a relatively neutral viewer it very much comes across as a picture that sacrifices dramatic nuance and character engagement for the blockbuster impact of battle after battle after battle. Perhaps I am sounding too harsh, as The Battle Of The Five Armies is by no means a black mark in comparison to the rest of the series, it is more a case of a rather underwhelming film bringing a rather underwhelming end to a rather underwhelming trilogy.