In total: 3 movie tickets. 474 minutes. And all I can say is finally, I finally have an ending.
Granted, this ending is in the form of a three-hour action sequence, and you certainly have to want the ending to power through to the end.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings an end to the rare one book/three part movie series, J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. But to first understand the plot, perhaps some context is in order: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit from the Shire, leaves his home to join a group of dwarves on their noble journey. The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and aided by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), seeks to reclaim the dwarves’ lost homeland of Erebor in the Lonely Mountain, which is currently inhabited by a dangerous dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Five Armies picks up where Desolation of Smaug leaves off: the Company (Bilbo and Dwarves) reclaims Erebor, waking up Smaug in the process. While Smaug sets out to destroy the nearby human settlement, Laketown, a number of rival factions across Middle Earth, ranging from elves to orcs, descend upon the Lonely Mountain for a variety of reasons; their competing interests threaten war between four races (dwarf, elf, human, and orc).
As the final installment of the series, Five Armies serves as the payoff movie, dishing out everything its two predecessors had promised (including a dragon, treasure, war, and an end to a journey), while serving as the lead-in to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a momentous task to accomplish and this film certainly does its best to reach such lofty expectations.
In fact, Five Armies attempts to seek audience entertainment and resolution to absurd extremes: as an arc, it seems like the strangest sequences of video game action scenes ever assembled, played by people wearing Medieval garb and speaking in Shakespearean English. I vividly remember Legolas, an elf, frantically jumps up falling stones, a la Sonic the Hedgehog; while Bard, a human, slaughters an Orc while riding a sliding cart, a la Grand Theft Auto. There is certainly no lack of sentimental moments (Cue the star crossed lover pair of dwarf and elf, gazing into each other’s eyes) and dramatic movie one-liners (including, “These bats were bred for one thing: war”). The result is an almost soap opera-like performance, realized with heavy uses of CGI and prosthetics.
Yet, in the midst of such pixelated fantasy/action/drama sequences, certain performances are allowed to shine. Ryan Gage’s comedic moments as lazy servant Alfrid are significantly more appreciable, especially when dressed in full lady’s corset with gold coins as cleavage. Martin Freeman’s ability to convey monologues in a single facial expression brings nuance and subtly to a film that wouldn’t have any otherwise.
Yet, die-hard Tolkien fans will certainly grumble at what the film includes, namely, things that are certainly are not in the book, including a strange love story, Gandalf’s journey to Dol Guldur, and Legolas’ presence. But step back and realize what The Hobbit film series actually is: a children’s book stretched thin into three separate movies and framed by so much history and background than its pages could possibly contain. In such a light, the changes are considerably more understandable: there has to be more plot lines than what the last third of a book can present; there must be more tie-in’s to the Lord of the Rings trilogy that comes after; and, to be honest, who wouldn’t want Orlando Bloom to come back?
The result is a movie that tries to accomplish everything, based off a plot of essentially nothing. As a film, The Battle of the Five Armies does not stand on its own because that is not its purpose. As a final installment of a three-part series and the prequel to a legendary fantasy trilogy, it is certainly an adequate addition.
P.S. Peter Jackson, if you are going to adapt Silmarillion* into a film series, I expect no less than six films.
*Simarillion is the 400 page back story to the entire Lord of the Rings world. Consider it the prequel to the Hobbit, which is the prequel to Lord of the Rings.
If you’re anxious to know the ending, watch it; if you can wait, binge-watch it on your next transcontinental 8-hour flight.