Starring: Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Ian McKellen (X-Men), Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger), Evangeline Lilly (Lost), Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy), Luke Evans (Dracula Untold), Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Director: Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings)
Writers: Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens (The Lord of the Rings) & Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim)
Runtime: 2 hours 24 minutes
Release Date: 12 December (UK), 17 December (US)
Well, the circle is now complete. Peter Jackson’s days telling the tales of Middle Earth are over, and will never see the likes of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and the rest ever again. It truly is a closing of the book on many levels, and to think it took thirteen years to bring these six films to the screen makes me feel really old. But in the midst of all of these milestones, I still don’t quite feel the impact, and I think that’s mainly because The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, for all of its scale and impact, is the least of the entire series.
The final chapter in The Hobbit saga picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off and, as entertaining as it is, it resolves itself rather quickly and really does feel like it’s something that should have happened in the last film. The story begins proper about ten minutes later as the build-up to the titular battle begins, and it’s here where once again the series’ severe pacing problems kick in. I get that tension needs to build, but it takes an hour to finally get to the action and all of that build-up is essentially characters repeatedly stating their goals and motivations. It feels dragged out and could have been summarised a little quicker. But then the battle finally begins and, for a good chunk of it, it feels great. The tension pays off, the pacing picks up considerably, and the action on display comes ever so close to Helm’s Deep levels of awesome. But then the battles just keep going and going and going and going and it just becomes exhausting. A good 60% of the film is essentially one giant battle sequence that rarely ever lets up, jumping from one set piece to another at rapid pace, but after so long even that level of ferocity becomes monotonous. Once the battle is finally over (with once again the assistance of the series’ favourite bunch of living deus ex machinas), the film proceeds to wrap itself up quickly and nicely leads into The Fellowship of the Ring, but the ending made me think something I thought I’d never say about a Hobbit film: I think it needed more. Partly because certain plot elements are swiftly wrapped up or forgotten about (what exactly did happen to the Arkenstone?), but mainly because it lacks a sense of closure. After so much time spent with these characters, especially considering this is the last film (even if it isn’t chronologically), I felt the ending really needed a bigger punch. I don’t know if it exactly needed the same extensive epilogue The Return of the King had, but a bigger emotional kick beyond being nostalgic would have helped to make this final adventure feel like a closing of the book.
As much as the films often forget about him, these movies really do belong to Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo Baggins. As always, he manages to capture the naivety, honesty and bravery of the character to a T but without losing that complexity brought on by his growing fixation on a certain magic ring. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf never ceases to provide joy, even if his subplot from the last film is quickly resolved and his importance to the plot here is relatively minor; it wouldn’t be a Middle Earth movie without him. I’ve never been too keen on Richard Armitage’s Thorin, mainly because he just seems like an amalgamation of Frodo and Aragorn to me, and I found his corruption shtick here to be a bit tired for the most part. But whenever he and Freeman get a moment together, it really pays off and gives Thorin that sense of humanity (or would that be dwarfity?) he often lacks. Evangeline Lilly puts her all into Tauriel, but her subplot with Kili (Aiden Turner) feels just as tacked-on as it did in the last film and her resolution feels a bit lacking; similar sentiments can be made to Orlando Bloom’s return as Legolas. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll speed through the rest: Lee Pace as Thranduil is cool but his motivations are weak and unresolved, the importance Lee Evans’ Bard dissipates as the film goes on, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug gets very limited screen time, characters like Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) are mere cameos, Ryan Gage’s Alfrid is now the film’s major source of comic relief and is otherwise completely disposable, and like always the other 11 dwarves are just kind of there (seriously, most of them don’t even do anything in this one).
Even if I found the action sequences to be overlong, they are still impressive on many levels. The scope of the choreography never ceases to amaze and every blow feels satisfying, amplified by plenty of those OTT feats of action that just make you want to cheer; there’s nothing quite like single-handedly taking out an oliphant, but it’s still pretty cool. I didn’t bother to see the film in 48 frames this time around, but I still found the digital cinematography to be a bit distracting, as it lacks the grit and age of celluloid that a film like this needs. Regardless, the camera work is still fantastic and the production design and costumes look as good as ever. Once again, I’m disappointed by the overreliance on CGI considering how well Lord of the Rings balanced between practical and digital effects, but the quality of it is still up there with some of the best.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies gets by mainly thanks to its impressive action sequences, good performances and strong technical feats, but the same pacing issues that dogged the first two instalments are still here. Now that I’ve seen the entire trilogy, I can safely say that stretching out the book to three movies was an unnecessary move that has only harmed the story; I think the originally-planned two film spread would have worked far better and I’d like to see if fans could find a way to edit them into something that more closely resembles that vision. It’s the easily the weakest of the Hobbit films and the entire franchise, but it’s certainly still worth a watch. Topping the original trilogy was something that was never going to happen, and whilst I certainly think these prequels could have been handled better in several aspects, I do think they manage to hold up on their own fairly well. Unless they get a hold of the rights to make The Silmarillion or some idiot decides to reboot the series down the line, this is the last we are ever going to see of Middle Earth. Much like Frodo sailing off into the Grey Havens, it is a sad but necessary end to one of the most notable sagas in film history.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10