This is a spoiler free review.
Synopsis: Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the terrifying Smaug from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Review: I think Peter Jackson is a fantastic director. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy are a fantastic set of epic fantasy films. While some subplots were left out for continuity, the adaptions are true to the main narrative arc. Helms Deep, the Plains of Pellinor, and the Ride of Rohan are three of the best fantasy fight sequences depicted on film. So I was desperately hoping that The Hobbit Trilogy would feature similar cinematography and narrative progression. While An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug did not live up to the other films, they at least captured some of the original charm. However, The Battle of the Five Armies was an enormous let down. I felt like I was watching As the World Turns: Middle Earth Edition.
The Battle of the Five Armies is not a bad film, parts of it were beautifully executed. But Jackson lost the point of the story and added in superfluous bloat. My biggest problem with this trilogy is the addition of Evangaline Lilly’s character Tauriel. Not only does Tauriel not add anything to the narrative, her presence detracts from the main emotional drama of The Hobbit. These movies were supposed to be about Thorin Oakenshield’s desire to reconquer his homeland. Along the way Bilbo learns about the world outside the Shire and discovers his sense of adventure. The emotion is supposed to come from the consequences of conquering the Lonely Mountain, not a silly Elf-Dwarf-Elf love triangle. Especially since this love triangle changed some characters original emotionally-charged deaths. In the novel, Fili and Kili give their lives to protect their King, Thorin Oakenshield. In the film, they die for completely different reasons. And this detracts from the dwarves’ loyalty to Thorin. Jackson included all these dramatic scenes to conclude the “love triangle”, but all the scenes came across as hokey and overly contrived.
The third film begins right where The Desolation of Smaug ended, with the dragon laying waste to Laketown. However, these sequence ended way too quickly and seemed incredibly rushed. I wanted the battle to last longer than ten minutes. If you are expecting an epic showdown between man and dragon, you will be disappointed. While the cinematography and effects were amazing, the scene ended so quickly I wonder why the last movie did not end with this sequence. Though if the love triangle had been left out, there would have been more time for battle. I watch epic fantasy films for sword fights and swashbuckling adventure, not star-crossed lovers. Which brings me to Thranduil, the Elven King. Lee Pace was perfectly cast as a powerful and calculating Elf King. His scenes in the other two films were excellent and he dominated the screen. But Pace was given the short stick in this film. Jackson threw gravitas to the wind and gave Thranduil some of the most ridiculous lines ever uttered in Middle Earth. It is if all the drama and backstory of the other films were ignored. Thranduil should have been the main elf of the movie, not Tauriel.
Also, Legolas was turned into a moon-struck teenager. I would have loved more scenes exploring the tension between Thranduil and Legolas. There is nothing wrong with emotionally charged scenes between father and son, we do not need a female character to add tension. There was enough tension already established in the lore, a love triangle just makes everyone appear brain addled. The actual battle was well-executed but significantly diverts from the book. Jackson cut out some scenes from the book that would have added some much needed depth. And the amount of screen time dedicated to Thorin Oakenshield and his company is dismal.
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield is the only dwarf with a well-developed arc in the film. But Jackson should have devoted most of the film to Thorin. After all, the whole story is about Thorin’s quest to reclaim his homeland and how the gold drove him mad. Armitage infuses a perfect amount of gravitas and emotion into Thorin. The King under the Mountain is a tragic figure and his story was not granted the screen time it deserved. Which is a shame, because the dwarves were all well-depicted and the actors were fantastic. Instead of focusing on the dwarves, Alfrid was given a lot of unnecessary screen time. Remember Alfrid? Well do not be embarrassed if you do not. Alfrid was the Master of Laketown’s lackey, the spineless yes-man with an unfortunate uni-brow. He is given all the comic relief scenes in the film, which makes no sense story wise. The past two films have established that the dwarves are capable of being both hilarious and dramatic. Instead of giving the dwarves screen time, they sit around looking morose while the secondary characters dominate the screen.
The star of the show, however, was definitely Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins. Freeman is a welcome reminder of what these film were supposed to be, an epic adventure with an inspiring message. Bilbo was the voice of reason in The Battle of the Five Armies and was the most consistent character throughout the trilogy. Whenever the film feels off track, Freeman appears on screen with some Hobbit charm and pulls the audience back into the narrative. Bilbo and Thorin shared some remarkable scenes and captured the main spirit of the tale. If they had been the focus, the bloat would not have been necessary. Bilbo is a fantastic and relatable character, much more so than Bard. Luke Evans is a good actor but his character was poorly developed. Most of his scenes were unnecessary and detracted from the main story.
Overall, The Battle of Five Armies was a disappointing end to a beloved franchise. I think all the parts were well acted, but the film focused on the wrong aspects of the narrative. And parts of the story were inexplicably changed to the detriment of the story. I am sad that The Hobbit Trilogy ended on such a note.