I really wanted to see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies within its first week in theaters. I had to wait a bit, but patience is a virtue, as they say, and I was absolutely eager when I got to see it the other day. So what else could I possibly review today, eh?
I heard both good and bad things about this movie before going in, so I was excited both for the movie itself, and for my chance to review it. I can see where both sides get what they talk about, as there are certainly a number of flaws, but there are also many good things, too, side by side.
To come straight to the point, first, about how enjoyable it is, I will say this: it works best when you’ve seen the previous two movies, or at least Desolation of Smaug, right before Battle of Five Armies. The complete trilogy should prove entertaining when viewed with the same group of friends over the course of three nights, or for a single marathon running all day long. This one alone, though, is somewhat lacking, which Return of the King managed a bit better.
At the beginning, we are dropped right into the middle of a crisis. Not even one of those classic prologues, which all five of Peter Jackson’s other Middle-Earth films have. When you have five precedents and so much “extra” material added into the previous two movies, the prologue feels like it should be a given. Such a prologue would have been pretty useful for, say, introducing us to Dain before he shows up at the head of a dwarven army. Instead, we begin exactly where we ended in the previous film, with Smaug descending upon Lake Town, burning it.
Bilbo and the dwarves can only watch, helpless, as their best plan for killing Smaug only annoyed him a little (how did that breach in his armor not get flooded and clogged with all that molten gold, anyway?). Fortunately, Bard and his son come through, the defiant humans practically spitting on the angry titan of the sky, until the arrogant wyrm comes near enough, gloating and malicious, to meet his demise. And, serendipitously, falling on top of the master of the city and his boatload of treasure, taking it all to the bottom.
I forget the name of that master’s number two, but he is a hilariously hopeless example of humanity’s flaws. Exactly how he thinks he has any dignity left by the end of the movie, when he’s been an inept, sniveling, sycophantic coward throughout the whole movie, topped off with that scene where he looks ridiculous in a dress, with accidental, false breasts, as he lectures Bard (in the middle of a battle), is simply beyond me. He is an outstanding contrast to the human virtues found all around him.
That seems to be a theme of this movie, how no one is perfect, but every race has their good and bad points. Dwarves are greedy and rude, elves are arrogant and stiff, and humans can be weak and cowardly, yet all of them have the virtues of love and loyalty. Or, at least, that’s the idea, contrasting with the overwhelming, blinding hatred found within the bloodlust of orcs and goblins.
The elf-king, Thranduil (I think), came to represent the flaws of the elves, but it would have been so much better if he could have turned away from them, as Thorin turns away from his madness and Bard refuses the glory of kingship. True, seeing the elves fight alongside men and dwarves was thrilling. But then, when all hope seems lost, Thorin rallies to dwarves to renewed strength and vigor, while Bard leads his men (followed soon by the women) to “give all they left,” and yet the elves do not rally in a similar way. They pull back, all but leaving the fight, even while Tauriel and Legolas (their prince) go back into the fray, into the heart of the conflict between Thorin and Azog. The elves fall short, and it’s a bit disappointing.
Speaking of which, the “love story” of Tauriel and Kili was, frankly, ham-fisted. Last movie, they developed a little rapport, culminating in Tauriel saving his life. But to form such a strong connection in so short a time with barely any interaction, such that Tauriel is nothing short of devastated by Kili’s death, as he saves her life, seems more than a little “just because” to me. Granted, love is often like that, but they didn’t really do justice to the idea of a cross-racial romance, in my opinion, even if it was ill-fated. And why did it even have to be limited to romance? Couldn’t it just be a friendship between two individuals of high ideals and compassion? There could be nods towards the possibility, of course, but why did have to be, specifically, romance, and nothing else?
As one final note of what is lacking (again, with all the “extra” material, one feels what is not there a little more keenly than one might expect), I was rather disappointed with Saruman. I had hoped to see him try and take on Sauron, and lose, thus driving him towards his betrayal of his fellows. Instead, we saw him fighting valiantly alongside Elrond, Galadriel, and Radagast (who I feared would die and bequeath his staff to Gandalf, but that proved unfounded) against the Nine and their master, to save Gandalf’s life. Though it was not easy, Galadriel’s side apparently won the day, and Saruman didn’t even try to strike Sauron. (sigh) Small disappointment.
Though that was a really good fight! 🙂 And Elrond’s line to the wraiths, “You should have stayed dead,” was just perfect!
On a separate note, Thorin’s struggle with his madness seemed a bit prolonged in the middle of the great battle. Falling to the “dragon sickness” so rapidly was also a bit ham-fisted, but it was great when he came back to himself, and charged straight into battle! Gone was King Thorin, and returned was Thorin Oakenshield!
Richard Armitage was excellent as both the noble warrior and the mad monarch, and everything in between! Being one or the other is one thing, but to be both, and to look like a man possessed by Smaug’s evil spirit at all, is quite impressive, in my view. Topped off with the scene where we see his choice, to die, to allow Azog to kill him, that he might return the favor, and permanently kill the murderer of his kin and kind, to “cut the snake’s head off.” That act probably won the battle, in the end, removing the commander so the orcs would not rally.
Also true, some things felt a little drawn out, but it was in such a way that they were clearly trying to do justice to the story. They showed us the destruction of Lake Town, the reduction of humans to refugees, the standoff between dwarves and other races, the tenuous alliance between the races, the scale and severity of the battle, the desperate struggle, etc. All of these things, we are told in the book. The movie showed them to us.
We saw the battle between the most powerful figures of good and evil in Middle-Earth. We saw the dragon die. We saw humanity amidst madness and destruction. Not a bad thing to see.
I suppose the biggest point that makes people complain against the movie is how it all felt like an ending. Two and half hours of “ending” can feel really drawn out. And, really, it only covers a few chapters in the book, so, yes, it is all “ending” material. But for all its flaws, I really enjoyed it.
I will enjoy it more when I see it back-to-back with the other movies, but it’s not a bad movie at all. Not for everyone, mind you, but I like it. Not really love it, but I like it quite a lot.
I give it 4 stars out of five, a B-grade.