Peter Jackson’s six-movie Tolkien cycle comes to an end with his The Battle of the Five Armies – a noisy, CGI-fest that won’t win over his detractors but provides a satisfying conclusion for those who have stayed the course for the last 13 years.
Any review of the movie inevitably has to address a number of points, and I won’t shy away from these Oliphants in the room. Yes, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a more satisfying piece of work, The Hobbit movies do take a lot of liberties with the source book, and on the evidence of all three Hobbit movies it’s clear that with a bit of judicious editing of the screenplays the story would have been better told in two parts. But, a trilogy it is, so let’s judge this final third on its own merits.
At 2 hours 21 minutes it’s the shortest of the Hobbit movies and it certainly feels lean, with no Dwarf songs or field rambles to slow things down. Not a minute is wasted, with this final segment picking up directly from the Desolation of Smaug’s cliffhanger climax. Benedict Cumberbatch’s fiery dragon is really angry and he’s about to desolate Laketown. This is a great sequence, boasting some lovely 3D arrows, but I’m still convinced that this 15-minute pre-credit sequence would have sat better at the end of the previous movie, thus making it feel more of a complete film. That said, Smaug’s inferno is a rousing way to get this film moving.
And so to the mountain, where Thorin Oakenshield is desperately searching for the Arkenstone jewel in the deserted hall of gold. Richard Armitage delivers his best work here as the dwarf leader, succumbing to ‘dragon fever’ as avarice consumes him. Unfortunately, it’s only Thorin, Fili and Kili who get anything thing substantial to do out of the dwarf characters, with many resigned to a single line or standing silently in the ensemble. Maybe we’ll get more of their content in the expanded edition?
But at the movie’s suffix proclaims, this is the Battle of the Five Armies, and the change from the previously announced There and Back Again is apt. Character moments aside, this is one very big battle and Jackson clearly has fun with his box of digital toys. The armies are vast, the action is huge, and pity the poor trolls (surely Middle Earth’s most put upon race?) who are either mobile catapults, masonry-headed suicide teams or battering rams. Oh, and there are actual battering rams too – well, armoured, horned mountain goats! And giant Frank Herbert-esque earth worms… and war bats. Five armies? And the rest!
But amongst this pixel-heavy mayhem there’s still room for emotions, and as you’d expect from the concluding chapter to a story, there are casualties. Readers of the book will no doubt cry: ‘But we already know who doesn’t make it to the end.’ No spoilers here though and as has already been apparent in the previous movies, don’t take it as read that just because something happened that way in the book means it will happen that way on the screen.
But what of Gandalf? Last time we saw him he was facing Sauron’s minions and in a precarious position. Suffice to say that he makes his escape in a very cool, though too short, scene that piles on the ‘cool factor’.
And if all of this is sounding just a bit too dark and dismal, light relief is provided in the snivelling form of Alfrid, the Master of Laketown’s cowardly page. Perhaps too much so, with this repulsive character soon wearing on the nerves. Other humour comes from the OTT manner in which the villains meet their ends; a knife in the head is never enough if you can then also be flattened by a boulder!
It all ties up neatly with some references to The Fellowship of the Ring so that you can read all six movies as a single Ring cycle. And perhaps that’s the greatest shame. If Jackson had made The Hobbit first and then progressed to The Lord of the Rings it would be seen as a natural progression. As it stands, the masterpiece has been followed by a less accomplished triptych. In final analysis, The Hobbit movies can’t be seen as failures – they’re too well-crafted to be a waste of time. They’re just not as good as they could or should have been, but second-rate Jackson is still preferable to the best efforts of most other mainstream directors.
Verdict: A worthy ending to a middling Middle Earth saga that couldn’t quite step out from the shadows of its predecessor. 7/10