It is widely accepted that Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy is inferior in quality to his award-winning ‘The Lord of the Rings’ epics. Whether you doubt the necessity to split one book into three films or not, it remains a fact that there exists a vastly different tone and style change between the two trilogies. With that said, the first two installments of ‘The Hobbit’ have been decent to good, with ‘Desolation of Smaug’ being almost a return to form for Jackson. Unfortunately, it all goes awry with the third film, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’.
All of the criticisms aimed at the first two parts are even more pronounced while the positives are rare. Hence, to begin with the redeeming qualities, the film manages to tie off the trilogy nicely. It is faithful to the book in almost every aspect, adding more mostly from additional Tolkien source material. Thorin, Bilbo, Gandalf and the rest all enjoy a satisfying conclusion to their arcs and their performances are of equal capability to their predecessors in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Martin Freeman especially excels, as he has done since scene one as Bilbo but it is Richard Armitage that surprises most and it is he who gets most of the screen time as Thorin Oakenshield. ‘The Hobbit’ film trilogy has been about Oakenshield all along and it is even plainer to see that now, however many qualms might exist about Bilbo not featuring enough.
The climax in particular is an intense, satisfying moment that is shot and portrayed very well and the highlight of the film as a whole. The opening scene with Smaug the Dragon descending over Laketown is a real visual set piece also, even if it should have been part of the previous film (which it should have). There are many great action scenes in ‘Five Armies’ but many of them are let down by the film’s flaws.
The biggest one: overuse of CGI. So many of the titular Battle looks like an animated film; even Billy Connolly’s Dain Ironfoot couldn’t be bothered to show up in the flesh, so they animated him in the actor’s likeness instead. It’s painfully obvious as well, as are the over-the-top scenes of orcs pouring from mountains dug by massive earthworms.
There are some nice references for die hard fans to source material minutia but all in all it is overwhelmed by the never-ending footnote of the battle itself which just goes on forever without much actually happening. Gandalf and the White Council have a cool scene in Dol Guldur early on in the film but it, of all things, is cut short in favour of the monotonous standoff afore the Lonely Mountain. Never mind there being a little deus ex machina to resolve the film quickly.
Ultimately, ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ feels fake and unnecessary. Everything it needed to do could have been done in the second film with perhaps twenty minutes more running time. Characters are underdeveloped and tacked on, their dialogue unprofound and, above all, the sets and CG creations look distractingly manufactured.
All of this is such a disappointment in what could have been a decent trilogy to sit below ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
I’ll have to stick with the original 1937 children’s novel for now.