Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Intense Fantasy Action Violence, and Frightening Images
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo Del Toro
(based on the novel THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee & Ian Holm
The decision to split J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT into a trilogy of films was an object of speculation to say the very least. While some hardcore Middle Earth fans were overjoyed to see Peter Jackson incorporating details from Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION, others were upset about this prequel trilogy clearly being an excuse to bank for three years in a row. In all honesty, THE HOBBIT is not a long book and could easily be squished into two entries or one long film. However, I haven’t actively disliked any of Peter Jackson’s HOBBIT trilogy at all. UNEXPECTED JOURNEY felt stretched and was still enjoyable, but DESOLATION OF SMAUG turned out to be unexpectedly awesome. Though I can see where some folks might not care for BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, I found this final HOBBIT film to be a suitably epic conclusion to a wholly epic fantasy saga.
When we last left Bilbo and his band of dwarves, they had invaded the Lonely Mountain and put up an intense fight against the ferocious Smaug who escaped into the sky. With the fire-breathing dragon being fast defeated at Lake Town by Bard in a stand of courage, the survivors of the now demolished community look to the dwarves for the treasure owed to rebuild their homes. The greed for his long-lost treasure is slowly corrupting dwarf-king Thorin, which ignites tempers on all sides. Bilbo tries to find a way to get the dwarves to make peace with the humans and elves (the latter of which want to recover relics within the mountain). To make matters even more dire, Gandalf has discovered that an orc army is coming to claim the territory and this rising evil puts everyone into an intense battle that will decide the fate of Middle Earth.
We all know that the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy exists, so there’s little question to the day being saved or not. This being said, lives are still lost (including those of crucial characters from the previous two films) and the battle sequences are ragingly intense. Watching Bilbo, the dwarves, Gandalf, and elves return to the screen for one last outing almost feels like rejoining old friends at this point. There’s an epic setting in all of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga that feels sort of easy to take for granted sometimes, but BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is an exciting pay-off to two good-to-great movies of build-up. After an hour into the film, you’re essentially watching one big war rage on-screen and it’s done in a way that doesn’t get repetitive in the slightest.
A good way to describe how the title battle plays out is based in the structure of movies themselves. When you have a hero and a villain, you get everything boiled down to one intense final fight scene that echoes of everything at stake for both characters. BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is loaded with multiple “final fights” between important characters. That’s not a bad thing at all and it makes up a third of the film. There’s Kili and Taurei vs. Bolg (the deformed second-in-command orc), Thorin fighting Azog the Defiler (the main orc leader), and the film even begins with Bard facing off against the enormous Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Besides Smaug still being the coolest dragon that I’ve ever seen put on film, each creature has their own diverse look which helps make things more creative. There are orcs, trolls, and goblins fighting against elves, men, dwarves, and wizards. It helps that they don’t all blend into look-a-likes (which is what happens in the original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy). The battle scenes kept me fully engaged and the suspense building to that breaking point was also very well done.
The only two details that keep BATTLE slightly down from an A+ come in one distracting special effect that sticks out like a sore thumb and an annoying comic relief character. In the first third of the movie, an elf does something that comes off as very over-the-top and the special effect used looked like it might have worked back in THE TWO TOWERS, but doesn’t convince in 2014. Ryan Gage reprises his slimy role as the greasy-haired Alfrid is extremely annoying this time around. He and Stephen Fry provided a couple of good chuckles in DESOLATION OF SMAUG, but he’s just plain awful and tone-deaf in BATTLE. This character wasn’t bad enough to keep me from loving this film, but he was definitely a flaw.
Though some people may rail on the excessive nature of BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES consisting of, well, one big giant battle that lasts for a long time, I thought this was a fitting conclusion to a solid fantasy saga. I can buy this as the last time that we’ll visit Middle Earth on film and am completely content with that. Peter Jackson provides a solid, entertaining, and epic fantasy film for one final time and I loved this movie!