It’s been fourteen years since Peter Jackson first released his film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved story The Fellowship of the Ring, and in the years since that day, Jackson has not only won numerous awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he has also started, and now ended, a second trilogy of films based upon the equally sacred The Hobbit.
While The Hobbit films have had their ups and downs, as many fans have claimed how they lack much of the magic and excitement of The Lord of the Rings, the incredibly enjoyable The Desolation of Smaug put a lot of fans’ fears to rest, mine included, and showed that Jackson could still make a great fantasy film.
And now, here we are, just a single week after the release of Jackson’s final film in not only The Hobbit trilogy, but also what is likely to be his last film in Middle-Earth as a whole. And while The Battle of the Five Armies is an undoubtedly flawed film, it is an enjoyable and mostly satisfying finale nonetheless.
When we last saw our heroes, the loyal hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his dwarven comrades, they had just released the vicious dragon Smaug from his home within The Lonely Mountain, and could only watch from a distance as the fiery creature laid waste to the innocent people from the nearby village of Laketown.
This is exactly where The Battle of the Five Armies kicks off, as the very first scene we see is Smaug’s flames enveloping the homes and people of Laketown while survivors flee in terror. Without a doubt, this opening setpiece is the film’s most impressive, and seeing it in the theater was a fantastic and deafening experience that ranks up there as one of the best action pieces of the year in my mind.
However, there’s no denying that this introduction was a bit jarring, and in many ways, felt more like the ending to the previous film than the start of this one. This becomes especially evident in the moments immediately after Smaug’s attack, as the plot slows down dramatically, and focuses instead on setting up the coming war between elf, orc, and man.
While the film does drag on a little bit at this point, and gives far too much screen time to the horrendously annoying character Alfred, who acts as the film’s obligatory comic relief, the slower pace actually allowed for some compelling character growth, specifically from Bard the Bowman, played by Luke Evans, and Thorin Oakenshield, played by the always impressive Richard Armitage.
As was the case in the previous two films, Thorin is just as much a main character here as Bilbo is, and for the better first half of The Battle of the Five Armies, that remains true. Thorin starts the film off as very different from when we last saw him, as he has become corrupted by mountainous riches left behind from Smaug, and has all but turned his back on those around him in order to keep his mountain safe.
Armitage has a powerful presence on screen, and his performance as Thorin just further proves that. He captures the inner conflict of the character extraordinarily well, giving what would have been an otherwise unlikable character a sense of realism that ensures we continue to root for his redemption even as he spirals further into insanity.
His scenes with fellow star, Martin Freeman, are especially great, as the two fantastic actors play off of each other beautifully and share some of the film’s most emotionally gratifying and powerful moments together. The unlikely friendship between Bilbo and Thorin has been building up throughout the three films, and finally getting to see the extent of their brotherhood play out was a real treat.
While I would have liked to have seen Bilbo given more of a spotlight in the first half of the film, when he is finally given the attention he deserves, he does not disappoint. Martin Freeman’s understated yet brilliant performance has been the heart of the entire trilogy, and even though he may not always be the star of the film, he is the easily one of the most relatable characters of the entire Middle-Earth saga.
However, the same can’t be said for Gandalf, who seemed almost out of place here, as the ‘side-quest’ that he embarked on in The Desolation of Smaug felt just as unnecessary in this movie as it did in the previous one. Ian McKellan nails every line he’s given, but when his primary purpose here seems to be to needlessly tease the events of the future, it’s hard to really reconnect with him as a character.
This was also a problem in regards to the ending, which spent a bit too much time setting up for the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and didn’t quite know when to end. There was also a strange tonal shift in the final moments that felt out of place after all the intensity that had come before, and I feel like the movie would have been better off if it had ended just a couple minutes earlier.
With that said, for a movie titled The Battle of the Five Armies, the film is definitely not lacking in action or intensity. After Smaug’s relentless attack on Laketown, there’s only forty-five minutes or so of low-key plot progression before the action picks up again, and when it does, it literally doesn’t let up until minutes before the credits start rolling.
The battle sequences are, simply put, extravagant and ambitious. Peter Jackson has practically made a name for himself through his action scenes in The Lord of the Rings, and that holds true for The Battle of the Five Armies as well. Jackson directs his audience through the chaos smoothly and with a keen eye for the dramatic, as he’s able to deliver both breathtaking shots of clashing armies and more personal, character driven duels.
A lot has been said about the excessive nature of the film’s climax, and I won’t try and refute any of it. By the time the film nears its conclusion, battle fatigue has definitely set in, and since a large majority of the climax consists almost exclusively of CGI, there are moments when the action on-screen starts to look less like a movie and more like a video-game.
However, what I really appreciated was how the actual climax of the film wasn’t a grandiose battle between armies, but rather, a gripping, slow-burn duel between Thorin and Azog, the orc leader who is the closest thing the movie has to a true antagonist. Their confrontation is a brutal and nail-biting scene that was set up and executed so well that it left me literally hanging off the edge of my seat.
However, the film has already proven to be divisive amongst fans, but that’s okay. The movie is far from perfect, and the critiques I’ve heard directed at the movie are entirely warranted. But for someone who went in just hoping for a good time, I was not disappointed in the slightest. I’ve already seen the movie twice, and even with its flaws and missteps, I greatly enjoyed it both times.
It’s an exciting piece of fantasy action and adventure, and while it falls victim to its own ambitions at times, the great acting and compelling character moments kept me thoroughly entertained almost the whole way through.
Is The Battle of the Five Armies truly the defining chapter of Peter Jackson’s six-film saga? Perhaps not. But if you can temper your expectations, and let the characters we’ve spent so much time with provide you with one final adventure, then there’s a lot to love about the movie, and I look forward to adding it to my collection in the near future.