Friday, January 2, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was excellent and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left us dangling with an exciting cliffhanger. We had to wait until The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) to see how this all ended and hopefully see how it tied in with The Lord of the Rings. Overall, The Five Armies was good, and gave us a satisfying end to the trilogy.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the rest of the dwarf company watch helplessly from the Lonely Mountain as the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) destroys Laketown in revenge for helping the dwarves. In Laketown, Bard (Luke Evans) manages to exploit Smaug's only tiny weakness and brings the dragon down. The dwarves tell Bilbo that Thorin has fallen into madness due to Smaug's "Dragon Sickness" as Thorin seaches for the Arkenstone, the symbol of Thorin's authority to rule the dwarves. Meanwhile, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee), and Radagast (The Doctor Sylvester McCoy) rescue Gandalf (Ian McKellen) from the Necromancer's fortress. Gandalf learned of an Orc army from the east approaching the Lonely Mountain and hurries to warn the Dwarves. Elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) discover a goblin army making their way toward the Lonely Mountain, seeking the now unguarded gold. The Laketown survivors implore of Thorin only enough of the dragon's gold to rebuild their decimated lives. They are aided by the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his soldiers who himself seeks elven crown jewels from the dragon's keep. With these five armies closing in on the Lonely Mountain and Thorin struggling with madness and paranoia, an all out war will inevitably breakout. But Bilbo still has a few tricks up his sleeve and may turn the tides of war.
It did take me a while to figure out who the five armies were; I'd only counted four. The goblin and orc armies look very similar, after all. So, we've got men, dwarves, elves, the orcs and goblins who have been chasing our heroes throughout the trilogy, and an "orc army from the east." There are untold masses of riches and treasure in the Lonely Mountain, but not all the armies are after that. Some are after it for its strategic location to bolster their strength in upcoming war campaigns, others are after specific tokens that found their way into the hoard, and others naturally want more money than they can possibly know what to do with. Everyone has a stake in this battle.
The Desolation of Smaug had some pacing issues in the interest of telling a story, The Five Armies almost had the opposite problem. There is a whole lot of action in this installment to the point that we don't get much story development. To be fair, though, you should have seen all of these many characters developed and have understood enough of the set up in the previous two movies to not need much of that here. There is tons of action and fight scenes and the epic, big scale battles that Peter Jackson did so beautifully in The Lord of the Rings. The only fight I was disappointed in was battling Smaug; he's depicted as immensely powerful and an unstoppable force of destruction yet defeating him seemed a bit too easy and anticlimactic. That fight could have been lengthened or made more significant, but everything else was amazing. You will absolutely not leave this movie wishing there had been more action. In fact, I dare say it was on the brink of being too much action and not enough of anything else.
At the end of the movie we see a couple of characters going off in their own direction which we are sure will lead them to their respective roles in The Lord of the Rings. That was expected, but the one scene which really bridges this trilogy together with The Lord of the Rings is when Gandalf was rescued. Here we see some of the bearers of rings of power and some wizards duke it out with the Necromancer and the nine souls of men who succumbed to Sauron's power and attained near-immortality as wraiths. You watch this and understand how events in The Hobbit significantly affected things in The Lord of the Rings. While we do get a satisfying conclusion, by the end of The Five Armies you'll be ready to catch the next installment which is, of course, the first Lord of the Rings movie.
As a trilogy, The Hobbit has pacing issues and included a lot of extra stuff that wasn't in the book. I reiterate that these movies were based on the book by the same title, the appendices to The Return of the King, and Tolkin's personal notes. There is extra stuff that was not in the book, but is still technically cannon. Peter Jackson did add a few things here and there such as Tauriel's character and her rather annoying love interest with Kíli. The Lord of the Rings was a trilogy of books so it made sense to make them a trilogy of movies. The Hobbit was one book originally intended for kids. Now that I've seen the entirety of the trilogy, I think that about half of the extra material included in the movies could have been left out. It did feel like it was random filler to extend the length of the story and justify three movies instead of two, as was originally planned. I still think Jackson could have done The Hobbit an exceptional service transitioning it from book to movie if it had been left at two movies instead of a whole trilogy with extra padding to lengthen the story. This is not at all to say that I don't like The Hobbit; I do! I simply think a more concise pair of movies would have made them stronger. The Lord of the Rings is much better, but that is a very high standard to hold any movie up to.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was a lot of fun. It championed the beautiful visuals and special effects we have come to love from Middle-Earth movies, we saw our heroes in action one last time and saw their particular strengths shine in the hands of some great actors, we saw how the events in The Hobbit significantly affected events in The Lord of the Rings, and we saw a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. If you remember that satisfied yet sad feeling you got as the end credits rolled at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 when you realize that that is it and there will be no more Harry Potter movies, you'll likely feel that at the end of The Five Armies as you realize that there will be no more Middle-Earth movies. I recommend catching this in theaters, it's likely the last chance you'll get to see the beautiful fantasy world of Middle-Earth on the big screen. Though you should wait for the extended edition of the movie to hit blu-ray before buying a copy for your home collection.

What were your thoughts on the additional content put into The Hobbit trilogy. Comment below and tell me about it, but please avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen everything yet.

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