‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ review
By Adam Tatelman, Senior Columnist
In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield has a fever dream in which he drowns in a river of the very gold he sought so desperately. I can think of no visual metaphor to better describe the current state of the Hobbit film franchise. With all the money he made through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson’s attempt to make three more movies out of a shorter, simpler novel results in an amorphous, hog-wild mass with more pacing problems than a sprinter with a heart condition.
If each Hobbit film roughly corresponds to a first, second, and third act, then Battle is essentially a three-hour climax. Unfortunately, this means the films don’t stand well on their own and, as such, the trilogy as a whole shoots itself right in the hairy foot.
Case in point: this movie kicks off with a slam-bang fight against Smaug the Dragon and then spends an entire hour trying to continue with progressively inflating CGI action sequences whose context only disintegrates over time. Once the thousandth identical CGI orc was slain and I heard Thorin speak the lines, “Goblin mercenaries. No more than a hundred. I’ll take care of them,” all dramatic tension had evaporated and I was left praying for an end. It’s all visually impressive and well-choreographed, but why focus on a battle which, in the book, was only a few pages long? Doesn’t this fantasy warmongering contradict Tolkien’s anti-war philosophy?
This leads me to the second pedial bullet wound: the criminal underutilization of Battle’s all-star cast. So much of this film is focussed on scale that it forgets about that little guy. For a movie called The Hobbit, you won’t see much of that Bilbo Baggins dude it was supposed to be about. Where Return of the King closed the LOTR trilogy by giving each character a sendoff, Battle ends abruptly and unceremoniously, then asks us to be happy with a cameo from Ian Holm and a musical number by Billy Boyd. When the credits rolled I was sad and unfulfilled, and that’s not how Tolkien usually makes me feel.
Many of Jackson’s earlier films were campy, over-the-top cheesefests with a lot more heart than brains. In that respect, LOTR was easily his most focussed theatrical vision. By comparison, Battle is poorly structured; the plodding tale unfolds at the speed of glaucoma, denying closure to basically everyone who had a stake in the eponymous battle, in favour of closing off a bunch of superfluous side-stories nobody asked for and fewer people liked (e.g. the Legolas/Tauriel/Kili love triangle, the rescue of Gandalf from Angmar).
I can already hear the shrieking chorus of tremulous voices decrying me as one of those basement-dwelling Tolkien purists who probably speaks fluent Elvish and treats The Silmarillion as gospel. While it’s true I named my pet lizard Smaug, my love of the lore isn’t what kept me from enjoying this film. If you want to build on the source material, I’m game. But when you do this at the expense of story beats that didn’t need to be cut or changed, you achieve nothing other than artificially fattening a narrative whose very brilliance was in its brevity.
While I’m sure many will enjoy Battle’s art design and performances, I would have preferred “the final journey to Middle-Earth” to be handled with a bit more gravitas. Given Jackson’s professed love of Tolkien’s work, I’m rather surprised he didn’t feel the same way.