The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 144 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield, and his fellow Dwarves are still inside the Lonely Mountain as the dragon Smaug flies out to destroy Lake Town. Still locked up by the Master of Lake Town, Bard manages to escape and kills Smaug while the Master is trying to escape while carrying all the gold he took from the town’s coffers. As Bard tells his people that they will take residence in Dale, and Kili confides his love for Tauriel, the four Dwarves at Lake Town set off for the Lonely Mountain and find that Thorin has lost his mind while scouring the gold for the Arkenstone, which is actually on Bilbo’s person. Meanwhile Gandalf is a prisoner at Dol Guldur….
Not that long ago, I would never have believed that I would walk into a Peter Jackson Middle Earth film with distinct trepidation and concern, but that’s what this critic did as he slowly entered the cinema at the earliest showing possible [which was even in the rip-off and con also known as 3D] so he could get the darn thing out of the way and enjoy the rest of his day even though he had set himself the task of reviewing it sometime later on that same day. I’ve been a fan of PJ ever since his micro budget alien invasion Bad Taste both grossed us out and made us laugh way back in 1987, and even sometimes find myself sticking up for not-much-liked Jackson flicks such as The Frighteners and The Lovely Bones, while I think anyone can see that Braindead, Heavenly Creatures and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy [the latter a hugely ambitious undertaking and something that could so easily have been botched], very different films but still obviously coming from the same person, sprung from a filmmaker with a great grasp of film craft and vivid imagination. However, something has gone seriously wrong with his Hobbit trilogy, be it as a three-film [to make more money] adaptation of a single book that throws in tons of non-Tolkien material and stretches out other stuff while rushing through or omitting other bits that you would think would be important, or just as a large scale fantasy adventure suffering from awkward pacing, overuse of sometimes poor CGI and lack of a consistent tone.
An Unexpected Journey was a disappointment, The Desolation Of Smaug an even bigger disappointment and at times really quite poor. This third chapter doesn’t quite continue the downhill slope I expected it to do, but it’s just as messy as the second movie. It’s still hugely flawed, whether you’ve read The Hobbit or not, coming across as being overly stretched out, crammed full of inconsistent CGI and full of stupid moments and sloppiness. A sense that Jackson is tired of these films comes through this one especially, and one can understand why, but then he shouldn’t have embarked on this fatally flawed project from the beginning. This film has its strong aspects, such as the acting which is consistently strong, and there is certainly some fun to be had, as long as you leave your brain at home, and boy do you have to leave your brain at home. It doesn’t come anywhere near his previous Tolkien trilogy through, something that Jackson and his co-writers unintentionally keep on reminding us of by setting things up for events in those films, bringing in characters from those films even though they weren’t actually in The Hobbit, and even paralleling certain events in the earlier threesome, from the madness and redemption of one character to the pain of love between a mortal and an immortal.
Continuing from right where we left off, The Battle Of The Five Armies throws us into a vivid action sequence with Smaug the dragon attacking Lake Town. The creature is convincingly fierce, there are exhilarating shots of the camera following the monster as he lays waste to buildings with his fiery breath – in fact the whole scene is excellently shot and edited for maximum impact – and the scene even makes Bard the Bowman using his son as bow a reasonable and believable thing to do [how else was he going to fire that huge thing?]. Sadly there was no way that the film could continue being as good as this and it then seems to mark time for what almost seems like forever. It’s basically a big build-up to a battle, and there are even two occasions where armies almost come to blows, but it mostly consists of elves, dwarves, humans and one hobbit squabbling over stuff, with little build up of tension. Perhaps the draggiest part of any Middle-Earth film, they could really have cut all this down and seriously improved matters. What makes it worst is that an important part of the story is absurdly rushed. Jackson and co. throughout this trilogy have seen fit to include material that happened ‘off the page’, so we get to see Gandalf discovering that someone called ‘the Necromancer’ is the dark lord Sauron, but it’s a wonder why they bothered considering that this sub-plot is given really short shrift, only appearing in a few short scenes. Here, we get to see Gandalf and a few other choice characters face off against Sauron and his assistants, which sounds exciting, and it does have a few interesting visuals which seem deliberately reminiscent of the unfairly maligned animated The Lord Of The Rings from 1978, but it’s annoyingly brief, and it seems like Jackson can’t wait to get it out of the way so he can focus on his battle.
So most of the second half is just one big battle, and despite it being almost a skirmish compared to the stuff in The Return Of The King, Jackson seems to be trying to top his previous efforts. The clashing of armies eventually becomes a series of smaller scale duels, and much of this is exciting, but suffers in comparison to the battles in the second two The Lord Of The Rings films because they were able to cut away to non-battle stuff other characters were involved with to stop things becoming monotonous. Now I love my action, and love lots of it, but even I was coming close to getting tiring of the endless fighting, which threatens to become just a series of fun but dumb WTF moments. Now I like WTF moments too, like Legolas jumping on and climbing all over that elephant killing people in The Return Of The King, but The Battle Of The Five Armies has far too much of them, from one character jumping from falling stone to stone [I’m sure you can guess which one] to another felling orcs by throwing pebbles at them. Stupidity and sloppiness really take over at times. Goats magically appear when the dwarves need them, somebody floats in full body armour and then jumps out of water through solid ice, and [my favourite] some giant worms burst out of the ground at the start of the battle, making you think they’re going to wreck some havoc, but in the next shot, despite you being able to see the huge holes caused by the worms, the worms are gone and never heard or seen again. Sometimes it feels like you’re watching a parody of Jackson’s trilogy of The Lord Of The Rings, or a film made by a not-very-talented Peter Jackson imitater.
Even more than before, the excess of CGI makes Middle-Earth look and feel artificial [something enhanced by the 3D, which may deliver depth of field but often makes things even more fake looking], while some shots involving armies either don’t look like they’ve been finished or just done on the cheap. For goodness sake why are the trolls in this film less detailed and less convincing than the ones we’ve seen in the previous trilogy? Legolas, his face digitally altered to make him look younger, looks like he belongs in Madame Tassauds, while A CGI Billy Connelly just looks weird. What happened was that Connelly fell ill so they made him a CGI character with Connelly’s voice an voice, but why the hell did they hire a 70 year-old, to play a virile, ‘badass’ Dwarf in the first place? Meanwhile the script, which entirely lacks memorable lines of the kind heard in The Lord Of The Rings, refuses to offer closure to many characters and situations, signs that this film was heavily cut down, but it still feels the need to waste time with, for example, a comic Wormtongue-type character called Alfrid, even though it jars with the overall serious tone of this episode [not much like the original material, of course]. What is done well is the part of the story involving the dwarf Thorin’s descent into madness. Richard Armitage plays it with great conviction and there’s one great, if CGI-dominated, scene where he imagines himself sinking into liquid gold. Things nicely wind down at the end, and every now and again a great moment occurs that harks back to past glories, but I feel truly sorry for Martin Freeman, who gives his all as Bilbo but has his character sidelined again, while once again Howard Shore’s almost constant but largely uninspired score is at its best when it quotes music from the earlier trilogy.
The weird thing about this film, though it’s something it shares with its two immediate predecessors, is that it’s fairly enjoyable for much of the time while you watch it, but as you write about it its poor aspects become more and more apparent. The price you pay for being a reviewer I suppose. I feel that, out of all the Hobbit films, The Battle Of The Five Armies will benefit most from its Extended Edition – at least it will flow better as a single film – but at the moment it’s a messy, annoying if admittedly fitfully entertaining movie [hence the star rating] which does provide a reasonable climax to the trilogy but only because said trilogy as a whole isn’t very good. This trilogy, while it certainly has its high points and could possibly make a half-decent four hour single film, remains a largely misconceived exercise. It’s like the filmmakers have used this trilogy only to tease the much better The Lord Of The Rings trilogy instead of focusing on telling a great story about a hobbit going on an adventure. If you take away The Lord Of The Rings then you’ll see just how little it actually affects this movie. Ignoring Tolkien, these are still hugely disappointing movies that for much of the time aren’t really any more intelligent than the Transformer movies [and at least they’re honest about being dumb] except for the obvious central message about the corruptive power of greed. I don’t feel great about saying this but Peter, you pretty much blew it. Please stay away from The Silmarillion.