The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Billy Connolly, Ian Holm, Aidan Turner, James Nesbitt, Ryan Gage and Stephen Fry
In UK Cinemas December 12th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

Let’s not beat around the bush – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the weakest of all of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films… and I loved every minute of it.  Essentially a two hour battle scene, this film while thin on plot, is a fitting finale to The Hobbit trilogy and acts as a handover from this trilogy to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It’s no happy accident that Billy Boyd (Pippin from LOTR) is singing the song The Last Goodbye over the closing credits.  It’s no ham-fisted money-making gimmick that characters such as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) were inserted into The Hobbit films when only featured in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. “There was some vague design behind it all,” says Peter Jackson on wanting to explore character backstory and story setup of those that feature in his original trilogy.  “We’re about three or four years away from the generation that will see these films – six movies – in the order that they should see them in,” explains Jackson who 17 years ago originally pitched to producer Harvey Weinstein to make one Hobbit film first, followed by two Lord of the Rings adaptations.

Whereas The Lord of the Rings films can each stand on their own or as part of their trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is merely a conclusion and not a story in its own right.  Beginning where the excellent The Desolation of Smaug left off, BotFA swiftly puts an end to that wonderful story arc and marches straight on into a battle of epically long proportions.  Characters are killed, redeemed, set off on new journeys to be continued in The Fellowship of the Ring, but everything feels shallow.  The Hobbit could have beautifully been one film – long, but one.  A tightened edit of this trilogy could have in fact made this Peter Jackson’s best work to date and certainly could have seen him garner another Best Picture Oscar which he will no doubt miss out on for this film.  Each film in The Lord of the Rings received a nomination, with The Return of the King winning the coveted prize.  It did this because it was its own story in addition to being the conclusion of a grander one.  It’s a shame to berate BotFA for doing the job it’s intended to do – concluding a trilogy and setting up another – because at this, it greatly succeeds.

A beautiful spectacle, BotFA sees Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) step into the role of hero as he slays the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) and prepares for battle as the five armies fight for control of the mountain lair of Erebor alongside the elves led by king Thranduil (Lee Pace) as the mountain and its gold are being protected by the dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage).  Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finds himself in the middle of this mess and musters up the courage to help resolve this drama and save his friends the dwarves.  If this ending was tacked on to the former films, it would have had a strong emotional impact as Bilbo’s character arc is quite extreme.  As he remains the same throughout this particular film, the emotional power of his journey is lost, as is the emotional effectiveness of any of the central characters’ deaths.  In the book, these are very meaningful, but in this film, they practically die in vain.

But again, it’s in the name – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies does what it says on the tin.  While the stakes may feel low due to the time that has passed since we’ve seen the last Hobbit installment, the battle is exhilarating, fun, spectacular, epic, orcy, and nostalgic of the excitement that LOTR brought to our screens in the first place.  It is camp, over-the-top and tongue in cheek with characters dramatically pausing before every time they say the word [dramatic pause] “war”.  Laughable moments such as “The Eagles are coming!” and not-so-sly nods to what’s to come in LOTR as Thranduil sends Legolas on a journey to find “Stryder” are silly but fitting.

It may be a bit odd to end Jackson’s six film legacy on a fun note, especially as The Return of the King seemed to carry the weight of the world on its (Frodo’s) shoulders with dark deathly themes, but, remember – this is merely the beginning.  The next generation’s fresh eyes will for the first time get to see Peter Jackson’s six films as intended.  Lucky them!

Check out The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies full press conference coverage featuring Peter Jackson & cast photo & video gallery + audio highlights.

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