We have come at last to the end of Peter Jackson‘s epic adaptation of the tales of Middle-earth. Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that the films have left their mark on cinema and their effects will continue to be felt for years to come. Personally, I’ve been a huge fan since The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Peter Jackson is not a perfect filmmaker, but the love he has for the source material is plain. Anyway, I’m not going to go into a discussion about the films in general. I started this with one purpose in mind: to review the last Middle-earth movie (for quite some time anyway). Let’s talk about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Warning: I’m going to keep film-specific plot spoilers out of the review, but the book is older than my parents so there will be some spoilers for that. Sorry.
Right out of the gate, this film is all about action. It picks up where the last one left off with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) descending upon poor Laketown with fire and death. From that sequence onward, it’s a roller coaster of action sprinkled with some quieter beats. When not drunk on CGI and some of the crazier stuff he tries to pull off, Jackson knows how to do a great action sequence. Like many audience members, I was frustrated that Smaug’s attack was put off until this film. I consoled myself with the fact that Jackson intended to do something grand to bring down the great wyrm. While the final confrontation with Smaug was breath-taking, it actually felt kind of rushed. It was almost like the filmmakers were saying, “Okay, we’ve got to kill the dragon in order to get to the big battle sequence. Let’s just get this over with.” I’m still weighing the benefits of that sacrifice.
In any event, after Bard (Luke Evans) rolls a critical success and manages to skewer the dragon with the last Black Arrow, things just keep on rolling. The dwarves are faced with the reality of what they’ve accomplished and what that accomplishment means for Thorin (Richard Armitage). The new King Under the Mountain is not quite himself, as hinted at in the many movie trailers, and BIlbo (Martin Freeman) is at a loss with how to help his friend. With Smaug out of the picture, the men and elves approach Erebor to see that Thorin is true to his word. Things go poorly. Thus, multiple armies end up engaging in battle.
That’s, more or less, the main plot for the rest of the film: battle. I’m pretty okay with that.
The sub-plots feature an uncomfortable romance and foreshadowing for things yet to come. I’ll address the former first. Look, I get it. They want to make the film accessible to more audiences. There was a forbidden romance in The Lord of the Rings that people enjoyed. I mean, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Arwen (Liv Tyler)? That’s some classic stuff. I’ll also concede that The Hobbit really needed more of a female presence because it would have been a total sausage fest otherwise and, believe it or not, audiences are getting pretty tired of that.
Having said all of that, the romantic plot between Kili (Adrian Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) was just awkward. It felt ham-handed and totally unbelievable. This is a movie that features giant flying eagles and dwarves riding into battle on huge farm animals, not to mention the guy that can turn himself into a bear. When I can believe all of that more than I can believe the sudden inexplicable love between the apparent romantic leads, you’ve obviously made a misstep. You know who had more of a connection that was electric to watch? Bilbo and Thorin. That’s a fact and not just coming from someone with a secure pair of slash goggles.
Now, I’ll talk about the foreshadowing. I like how the films address Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) frequent disappearances. I like how that ended up tying neatly into the narrative of The Lord of the Rings. It just felt a little jarring to go from one plot to the next. It was just balanced a little poorly and felt like they were trying too hard. What’s going on there is a huge deal and we get it. You don’t have to cover it in the narrative form of neon lights to get us to pay attention.
Overall, I had a blast watching the movie. I got misty-eyed at the appropriate moments and managed to keep it together during “The Last Goodbye” by Billy Boyd over the end credits. Billy Connolly as Dain of the Iron Hills stole every scene he was in. This came as no surprise whatsoever. I also continued to love Lee Pace as Thranduil. What he did with that part was superb and it was just magical to watch him on screen. The film felt a little tighter and slightly less rambling than its predecessors, but I feel that the spectacle occasionally overshadowed some of the more personal moments. In the end, though, it was a fitting conclusion to that particular Middle-earth journey.
There will be film-specific spoilers ahead. Stop reading now and come back when you’ve seen the movie. I mean it.
I’ve already discussed my feelings about the romance plot. As I understand it, Evangeline Lilly lobbied hard to keep her character out of a romance and was ultimately overruled. I think it’s a shame that the only motivation that the creative team could apparently come up with as to why Tauriel would get involved was if she felt some sort of romantic connection. It does a disservice to her character and shows a worrying lack of imagination.
Speaking of disservices to female characters, I just want to grumble about the slight damseling of the ladies in this film. Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) strides barefoot into Dol Guldur intent on rescuing the captured Gandalf. She succeeds in her task only to be weakened by shadows. Yes, malevolent shadows seek to eclipse the Lady of Light. Ooh. Symbolism. The whispers taunt her about arriving alone and she responds with, “I brought back-up.” Okay, that’s not exactly how it goes, but she’s just laying there over Gandalf while Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Sarumon (Christopher Lee) swoop in to take care of business. Sure, she ultimately rallies and has a badass Dark Queen moment, but I wanted to see her laying some more smack down. I wanted to see how she could be both feared and loved. No, making creepy faces with that scary voice doesn’t count. I don’t know what I wanted, but I just wanted more.
Then, there’s Tauriel. She kicks all kinds of ass and then ends up having issues when confronted with the metal-infused orc. Her cries of pain during the fight draw the attention of her dwarf love, Kili. She’s tossed aside to be a damsel for a bit while Kili attempts to come to her rescue. Well. You can guess how that ends because we need the angst and Kili was slated to die anyway (he dies in the book, people). Then, she tries to take the orc out again with no luck. Ultimately, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) does the deed while Tauriel is out cold. Argh. She couldn’t even have her vengeance. Would it have been so bad to let her have that kill? Come on, people. If you’re going to make her have this sudden deep connection with some guy and not allow her to kill his murderer. . .that’s just mean.
I wanted to be more sad when Fili (Dean O’Gorman) died and sadder still when Kili was killed. I wanted to care just a little more for their characters aside from them just being members of Team Sexy Dwarf. In Peter Jackson’s journey to expand the story, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of things got overshadowed. It would have been nice to spend some more time with Bilbo and the dwarves. I’d have loved to have seen some more of their interactions. It would have been nice to have gotten to know those characters just a bit better. Heck, I’d have been happy if they’d have at least given Bombur (Stephen Hunter) one line of dialogue.
There’s a time and a place for spectacle and there’s a time and a place to rein that spectacle in to give the characters some time to shine. That’s a hard to reach balance. I would hope that future fantasy filmmakers can learn from some of the occasional missteps in this franchise in order to make something even more amazing.