Peter Jackson’s swan song of Middle Earth comes in the form of the glacially paced, convoluted, yet beautifully shot The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. While I never had the chance to formally review them, I’ve always been easier on The Hobbit trilogy than most. They tend to be a little stretched out and it’s obvious the source material is being pushed to its limits, sure, but they’ve been fun for the most part. Similar enough to The Lord of Rings where it feels like you are snuggling under a familiar blanket made from the skin of orcs, but they have had their own tone to them making them just unique enough to not feel stale. Unfortunately with the final film in the trilogy, it felt like Peter Jackson was trying to smother me with my favorite blanket instead of comfort me in my cozy little bed.
FULL MOVIE SPOILERS BELOW
It is not hard to see right from the start of the film that Battle of the Five Armies is going to be a strange ride. For who knows what reasons, Smaug is killed off almost immediately thanks to some over-zealous monologing. As someone who really enjoyed the way he looked, sounded, and generally existed in The Desolation of Smaug, seeing him killed off in such a boring and cliched manner gets the film off on the wrong foot from the first sequence.
No matter how he dies, even if it was satisfying, the idea that he is in this film at all is baffling. Other than some strange budgetary or more cynical reasons of wanting to advertise him in two movies, there is absolutely no point to have him at the start of The Battle of the Five Armies. The film is already the shortest in the Middle Earth Saga, so it may be simply because Peter Jackson wanted to add that little bit of extra time in a film that he otherwise ran out of things to stretch and add to fill up screen time – but that certainly doesn’t make it ok. Smaug’s appearance and quick death, which felt like the end of a story as opposed to the start of one, just set the film up for some really strange pacing throughout.
Shots lingering much longer than they should and mounds of pointless dialogue are to be expected at this point in The Hobbit trilogy, and the final film didn’t change that status quo. It’s odd with just how many conversations are littered in the story that every Dwarf outside of Thorin still remains completely forgettable. Even the one with the completely unnecessary love story with an Elf fades into the background for all of act two until he dies a hollow death with no real emotional impact, or impact on the story at large.
Poor pacing and unfortunate death of Smaug aside, the rest of the characters were fine except for Alfrid. In The Desolation of Smaug, he was annoying and a little dim-witted, but in The Battle of the Five Armies he gets dumbed down to Jar Jar Binks levels. Repeating the same “jokes” of not wanting to help out several times, and stuffing coins in his shirt to make some “hilarious” boobs out of them is really his only contribution to the film, until he mercifully flees when the battle gets underway.
For the most part, from the moment Battle of the Five Armies begins, Bilbo is nothing but a background character. He does end up being the catalyst that sets Thorin Oakenshield off, but other than that he just meanders around the battlefield while the armies are all clashing and occasionally stabs an orc. Part way into the battle-filled second act, he gets knocked unconscious and only awakens when the drawn-out battle is over. As if the film has admitted it has no idea what to do with a hobbit wandering around in the middle of a battle anymore.
The actual battle itself is as large and and as grandiose as you’d expect from Peter Jackson. Some striking visuals and great sense of scale were present of course, but this 45-minute fight in The Battle of the Five Armies lacked the stakes and real feeling of danger of its Lord of the Rings counterparts. Characters would constantly be in the middle of the battle, yet standing around and just talking casually about what do next. There is no real focus on what the consequences would be if the battle was lost, other than the few citizens left over the from the burned Laketown who would die and the Erebore would be lost again. I get that the theme of The Hobbit in general isn’t the same as the larger scale Lord of the Rings so the stakes are never quite as high, and that’s fine, but maybe there is a reason that the battle is so short in the books?
If Legolas running up falling rocks like he’s in The Matrix and watching Thorin Oakenshield almost die seven times appeals to you, The Battle of Five Armies’ 45-minute fight sequence may be a lot of fun. To everyone else, however, it feels extraordinarily stretched. I have been ok all along with Peter Jackson adding additional content to The Hobbit movies, but it becomes clear in this final installment that he just ran out of things to add. He instead resorted to melodramatic, drawn out death sequences and comically long fight scenes. Individual sequences in the battle lack any sense of real randomness or natural progression. Everything feels “random” as though it were generated by a 12-sided die months ago and then put into motion, as opposed to fights unfolding in a realistic manor. There is always a certain level of suspension of disbelief needed in fantasy movies of course, but there were just too many instances of convenient things happening during the battle.
Watching the CGI in an ambitious Peter Jackson project is usually a game of “find where the budget ran out,” and the winner in The Battle of the Five Armies is clearly when Galadriel is fighting with Sauron. Everything about her appearance is low-poly and the visuals from Sauron himself are just flashes of color with no real attempt at something creative. Outside of that though, the film looked great. Even at his worst, Peter Jackson knows how to get some beautiful shots and make you feel like you are in a different world. In this final Hobbit film, the sense of scale is much larger than the previous two and it as all done with gorgeous establishing shots and an obvious appreciate for the fantasy world it is set in.
Overall, The Battle of the Five Armies, was far from a terrible movie but ended up being the epitome of running out of ideas and stretching for time. Strange pacing, a forced Smaug appearance, and bloated battle sequence really drag the film down. Being that it’s Peter Jackson, it is full of engaging cinematography and there is never any confusion as to where you are or what is going on, even in the most hectic parts. I’ve enjoyed all of the The Hobbit trilogy even if I never really “loved” any of them, and The Battle of the Five Armies is no different. They are the definition of being good enough and not much else.