Movie Review: “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” (2014)

I was kinda dreading writing this review because I was tired of talking about The Hobbit, a trilogy of movies I didn’t think should even exist, at least not as they do. Despite worshipping the original trirlogy, I didn’t really enjoy the first two parts of this one, and was only planning to review this so I wouldn’t leave another series of reviews unfinished.

So all things considered it just feels crazy to think that it won’t be so bad after all, because I totally enjoyed Battle of the Five Armies. This poorly titled closer (which of course should’ve been called There and Back Again, but I guess that didn’t sound explosive enough for dumb audiences) is the first time the trilogy comes close to being what it’s actually trying to be: the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I should add that the last part was the reason why I didn’t like the book, The Hobbit. I hated that it was about one thing first, and then they dispatch of that conflict out of nowhere, only to initiate something completely different a few pages away from the end. I loved the imagination and sense of wonder, but what the fuck was that. Suddenly all the padding in the second movie with Laketown and Bard (what a weak fucking character) made a lot of sense, because otherwise the “twist” with which this movie begins would’ve pissed many others off. Now, of course the movie suffers from the same thing, as it’s still the same story, but at least it feels much better streamlined thanks to Desolation, and in Battle it’s given the weight the book totally forgot to give it.

This one hits the ground running big time. One of my favorite things about it is that, removing a scene that felt like contractual obligation with Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee, Battle doesn’t waste anyone’s time. This was surprising because one of my least favorite things about the other two were how poorly paced they were. The only reason why I groaned when I heard it was going to be a trilogy was that I feared that was exactly what would happen, so seeing it happen way worse than I expected just killed all my hopes and dreams.

No, this one is much shorter—maybe as short as two hours—and most of that runtime involves fighting. Once the battle actually starts, with the exception of one weird acid trip scene with Thorin, which to be fair was necessary, it doesn’t stop. And even the epilogue was mercifully short. Had they kept this pacing from the start, removing all the ridiculous set pieces (like the climax of Desolation), these would’ve been two great movies. Too bad they chose to ruin that. I can’t wait for the reasonable fan edit.

Now, I did really enjoy it, but I need to mention that many of the problems that irritated me from the others are still present. Still everything feels incredibly artificial. Needless CGI still abounds, and there is still some Jackson-brand horrible green screen (wait for the scene involving four of the main dwarfs riding to confront Azog; holy shit). Still, the movie moves fast enough, and the multiple fight scenes are so well constructed, it doesn’t become such a problem.

When we play LOTR, dibs on Azog.
The fights themselves were varied and tense, and didn’t only stick to lots of swords clashing in the battlefield. My favorite was between Thorin and Azog, duking it over a frozen lake, but mainly because holy shit I love Azog. He has to be my favorite villain in the entire series, not only this trilogy.  The design is great, the fighting style is great, the voice is great. I only wish they had done something like Lurtz instead of more needless CGI. Props to some of the imaginative set pieces that made me go “Cooooool”. At some point someone got Legloas’d, and I squealed. This is unreal; I don’t like Legolas! There was one bit involving a big cart that was ridiculous but it was over very quickly.

Oh and I can’t continue without mentioning what a bad fucking idea it was to spend so much time on Alfrid, who was annoying in Desolation, and in here basically turns into Jar Jar Binks. You know for someone who started doing comedy/horror, Peter Jackson is remarkably bad at comic relief.

What’s funny is that none of the things I liked in the first two movies (the beautiful sceneries and the childish fun) are present here. This movie is set almost entirely in gray, frozen or decaying locales. You don’t see any green until the end. But that was okay because it fits really well with the doom-and-gloom atmosphere of gravity the whole thing is shooting for. I’d much rather have a tight conclusion like this than more needless wandering just to shoot for more SFX nominations.

I was shocked to see that there was drama—like, actual drama. No one unexpected if you read the book, but when characters begin dropping dead, it’s amazing that it actually hits home because just one movie ago I didn’t give half a shit about pretty much anyone. Sure, Bard is still the most one-dimensional hero of all time (and they try so hard to endear him by pairing him a lot with Jar Jar’s antics), and Tauriel is just a bland version of Arwen, but the characters seem slightly better represented.

Thorin and Bilbo in particular were wonderful, and the conflict/s between the two were the dramatic heart of the story. Finally it seems like the characters have gone through some kind of growth and progression—something they lacked big time in the first two (understandably, but that goes back to the business decision which shall not be spoken of anymore). Martin Freeman’s performance remains as charming as ever, but now he finally has a character to play, so he shines more. Likewise, Richard Armitage is great and plays the real protagonist with gusto. I hope he gets a role, any role, in Game of Thrones. Hopefully a Greyjoy.

Gandalf is Gandalf. He knows how to do his thing.

Something I noticed, or rather, didn’t notice, was the music. What happened to the epic tunes the series is known for? Other than the standard “epic fantasy female vocals” (you know the ones I’m talking about), the score of this movie didn’t register at all. That’s a real shame, but then again maybe I was just having so much fun with the fight scenes to notice.

The battle ends a bit suddenly and arbitrarily, though, through a device I'm just completely done making fun of so I won't go farther.

Though the ending ties in beautifully with the original trilogy, I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any more connections or surprises. Gimli’s “cameo” in Desolation was adorable, and other than one totally random name drop near the end, this one had none of that. Considering it’s the end of the series (until the inevitable Silmarillion, which I hope is helmed by Del Toro or someone other than Jackson), I thought there’d be more fan service.

In the end, the reason why Battle of the Five Armies marked the first time this trilogy worked for me is that it’s here that the story has the conflict and heart and power and stakes and gravitas it needs to be a big fantasy epic like the original trilogy. I never understood why the other two movies tried so hard to get there without it, because watching them fail was almost sad. It gave me the impression of being the slow, scrawny kid that only got to the big leagues because his Big Brother had four SuperBowl rings. If that’s the case, Battle is the one touchdown it managed to score.

Yeah, that’s the analogy I’m going for.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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