I hate goodbyes. I especially dislike when the sun sets on imaginative, thrilling worlds like Middle Earth. No more Gandalf, no more Legolas; the world of Dwarfs, Elves, Hobbits, Wizards and Orcs has come to an end. Over 14 years after releasing Fellowship of the Ring, The Battle of the Five Armies ends Peter Jackson’s amazing captaincy of the Lord of the Rings universe.
Maybe it didn’t need three films—not like the first trilogy did—but the final chapter in The Hobbit story arc ends with a hearty roar, wrapping up Thorin’s struggle while ending with a beautiful transition to the first LoTR film. The Hobbit films haven’t quite lived up to expectations (I’ve quite enjoyed them, FWIW), so it was doubly daunting for Jackson with BotFA. Not only does he need to wrap up what’s been a tepidly-received trilogy so far, but he has to do so with the verve and gusto missing from movies like Return of the King. Not an easy task.
Jackson mostly sticks the landing, taking viewers for a tremendously entertaining 144 minute ride; battles are grand, deaths are aplenty and the locations are gorgeous. The film begins right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, with the beast descending upon Lake-town to seek vengeance for his ouster from the Lonely Mountain. For all its chaos and demise, the set-piece is truly spectacular, showing the unsinkable Smaug raining fire on the people below. This all happens before the pre-credits even roll, and it’s probably the best part of the movie.
What follows is a brief moment of calm, before the film eventually descends into one long, exhausting battle. First between Thorin and the Elves, then the Elves and Dwarfs; finally Orc armies appear, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. That more or less sums up what happens in The Battle of the Five Armies—not that that’s a bad thing. Peter Jackson has proven he knows how to choreograph beautiful large-scale battles and, it must be said, they’ve never been more magnificent or vicious.
But therein lies the dilemma. As the movie builds up toward the final battle, so many stories are left half-cooked. The tale focuses mainly on Thorin Oakenshield’s reclamation of the Lonely Mountain’s gold, and his descent into “Dragon Sickness.” He soon loses sight of all that’s noble and good, failing to make smart decisions while suspecting his own group of stealing from him. Eventually a crucial moment arrives, and indeed it’s an impactful one. There are a few moments among the fighting that succeed in making an emotional impact.
However, most time spent with key characters is fleeting, while bit-part players are pushed further into the background. Thorin’s group, for example, barely gets any airtime—they mindlessly serve even as the world crumbles around them. Only Kili, love interest of Tauriel, gets any significant attention. Even Gandalf, so important to the overall universe, gets relegated to the bench, while a character like the reprehensible Alfrid is featured in a lot of important scenes.
Middle Earth, meanwhile, doesn’t play a particularly large part. In the previous two movies—and in LoTR—the locations are so crucial and important to the story; they’re diverse, dangerous, unpredictable. In BotFA, we’re stuck at the Lonely Mountain, with only a brief reprieve at the ruined fortress. It sets a a more serious and oppressive tone, with very little room to breathe as wave after wave or Orcs invade Thorin’s new home base.
As a whole, BotFA is very entertaining, but narratively, it’s nowhere near the quality of the previous two films, and certainly doesn’t reach the heights of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. A lot is unanswered at the end of BotFA, and I was frankly astonished the Orcs were even defeated in the first place. Jackson took a lot of creative liberties when creating the new trilogy, and it’s certainly apparent in the final chapter.
Still, the movie is stunning as expected, and I particularly enjoyed Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins; he’s sensitive, brave and virtuous throughout, settling down what is an otherwise tireless film about greed and war. Battle of the Five Armies is perhaps best approached as a pure action movie, one with heavy CGI fights and beautiful landscapes. So, yeah, pretty much like the other five movies before it. If that’s your cup of tea, then by all means.