It’s something of a marvel that, with the luxury of three films to cover just one novel, Peter Jackson can still make his final Hobbit film feel like a rushed, frantic experience. Even more so when one considers that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies focuses on just that: one battle.
Sure, there’s the dramatic, blazing inferno as Smaug the dragon turns Laketown to cinders, and the joyous excitement of the dwarves as they finally return to Erebor, but the main focus of the final installment is the build-up to battle and the chaos that ensues once it begins. Jackson frantically chops and changes between the multiple threads of narrative, seemingly unsure of where his focus should be. We’ll get snippets of Gandalf, trapped at Dol Guldur or riding towards Dale, or brief moments with Legolas and Tauriel. He’ll snap between the Dwarves, the humans, the elves, the amassing dwarven armies. To call this third film a bit of a mess is an understatement. Had Jackson restricted himself to two films, or possibly even one, we may have seen a tighter edit than the lengthy, twitchy direction he displays here.
One thing that cannot be questioned is his command of action. As he displayed in the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson uses his cast and copious amounts of green screen to fabulous effect. The battle scenes, which span a decent chunk of the film’s total running time, are a masterwork in choreography, CGI and dramatic tension. Interspersed are the series’ trademark moments of slightly offbeat humor, but they don’t undermine the incredible ferocity with which the film depicts its warring armies. Indeed, when the battle eventually draws to a close, you feel as drained and exhausted as the characters themselves, so tense, exciting and longevous the battle is.
It’s all helped immensely by The Hobbit’s stellar cast. Richard Armitage is incredible as Thorin, who slowly succumbs to dragon sickness as he takes his place on the throne of Erebor. Ian McKellen’s thunderous Gandalf continues to steal every scene. Lee Pace’s icy Thranduil, the Elvenking, is the perfect counterpart to Luke Evans’ emotive Bard, leader of the survivors of the Laketown attack. You’ll even have reason to shed more than a few tears in some of the film’s later scenes — in particular over the love between Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and Kili the dwarf (a dashing Aidan Turner).
Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins, however, continues to rise above the rest of his fellow castmates. Never before has the little hobbit from the Shire looked so out of place than when surrounded by war, but Freeman keeps hold of his character throughout the film’s runtime. From serious to humorous to the raw emotions evident at the film’s close, Freeman’s depiction of Bilbo has a depth that many other actors would have foregone, making him a much more likeable protagonist than Elijah Wood’s wispy Frodo from the original trilogy.
Above all else, though, The Battle of the Five Armies succeeds in concluding this trilogy. In stretching the book out over three films, Jackson and co.
have extracted as much money as possible from audiences given the text a more in-depth treatment than it likely deserved, and yet still his film feels as if it needed more time — or at least more editing.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies () is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 144 minutes. Area theaters.
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