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If I was tasked with reviewing merely the first 20 minutes of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (on a side note, what an awful title) I’d have nothing but good things to say about Peter Jackson’s “final” venture into Middle-Earth. Unfortunately I have to take into account the full 144 minutes and once the captivating opening is over the whole film crumbles under its own gluttonous weight.
The third film picks up right where its predecessor left off with the dragon Smaug on the loose. The central plotline of The Hobbit, “the quest to reclaim a homeland and slay a dragon” as Thranduil puts it, is resolved within half an hour. Sure there’s still a few loose ends to tie up but the overall quest has been completed. I found myself wondering why The Desolation of Smaug wasn’t just extended thirty minutes instead of having a rather needless third film.
Of course a new plot thread is hastily scrapped together but it lacks any real stakes because the outcome is so obvious. Most of the film is centred on a large scale battle between multiple different factions. The problem is that of the five armies only one really has a legitimate reason for going to war, and the whole battle feels trivial because of this.
The Battle of the Five Armies is certainly actioned packed but it’s so crammed full of GCI battle sequences that they start to lose all impact. After well over an hour of watching massive mountain trolls destroy everything in sight these scenes started to feel dull rather than grand in scale. Peter Jackson displays a shocking lack of restraint, it’s as if he was desperate to use every last drop of the films budget regardless of its effect on the film’s narrative.
Performance wise The Hobbit films haven’t exactly been setting new industry standards, and that trend continues here. Martin Freeman is criminally underused with Bilbo being a spare part through the film, whilst Luke Evans is massively overused, because who really wanted more Bard after the last film? Richard Armitage’s Thorin is given a predictable character arc with a resolution that comes out of nowhere. Gandalf continues to prove that he’s the lamest wizard around – this is all the more evident when Christopher Lee shows up as the far more interesting Saruman.
The romance between elf Tauriel and dwarf Kili is expanded upon but neither of these secondary characters have been developed past their first names, so their supposedly forbidden love lacks weight. It doesn’t help that they share about two scenes together before we’re meant to just accept that they are devoted to each other. It’s just another indulgent moment in a series that is full of them.
The unfortunate truth is that The Battle of the Five Armies is simply a massive step down from the excellent Desolation of Smaug. There’s nothing in this final chapter that comes close to the wonderful tension of Bilbo’s encounter with the legendary dragon or the thrills of the water rapids sequence.
There’s fan service a plenty but at a certain point it stops feeling like a Hobbit movie and rather becomes Lord of the Rings: The Prequel, failing to craft its own identity and separate itself from Jackson’s acclaimed trilogy. There is however some decent pay off, and fans of the franchise will certainly be content with the films limited but satisfying closure. However those that have never seen the appeal of the series won’t have their minds changed.
Ultimately, the real battle isn’t between the five armies it’s between Peter Jackson and the original novel. Jackson has attempted to turn a short children’s book into a nearly eight hour dark(ish) trilogy and it simply hasn’t worked; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is final proof of that.