“Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty we are free at last.” Those, of course, are the words made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech. These were also my words after the final Hobbit movie. After nearly nine hours invested and a lot of time watching people walking, I was very relieved that my time in Middle Earth is (hopefully?) over for the foreseeable future. Please make it so, Peter Jackson. I’m not the world’s biggest Tolkien fan to begin with – I never read any of his books – but I did enjoy the original Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The Hobbit, however, was a true test of my patience. Had the final film failed to get nominated for any Oscars, I would have waited to watch in on HBO or DVD. But a nod for sound editing meant that The Battle of the Five Armies was in play for my Oscar death race, so reluctantly I trudged off to the cinema.
As the movie began to start, I realized that I remembered very little from The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in this trilogy. That’s not necessarily a good sign. As I racked my brain for information to orient myself, this is all that I could come up with:
- Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), the dragon, was pissed off and about to attack a town.
- The dwarves and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) had spent two movies trying to get to Lonely Mountain for…..some reason. I honestly no longer remember.
- There was some sort of romance brewing between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and one of the dwarves, Kili (Aidan Turner).
- Gandalf (Ian McKellen) was off doing his own thing.
- The Elf King Thranduil (Lee Pace) was kind of a jerk.
- There were way too may dwarves to keep track of.
Thankfully, you can see The Battle of the Five Armies without knowing a lot of the backstory. There are enough cues within the film so you can basically figure out what’s going on even if this is your entry point into the trilogy. Turns out, a lot of the information that was garnered in the last two films was relatively extraneous. I know that life’s a journey, not a destination, but when it comes to The Hobbit movies, the destination is when the action really starts to kick in.
As the subtitle indicates, the focus of The Battle of the Five Armies is, well, a battle. That means that there is a lot less wandering around and a lot more killing, which was a very welcome change of pace for me. The third film is around twenty minutes shorter than the previous two installments and it moved a lot faster and held my attention. One of the reasons I was loathe to see The Battle of the Five Armies in the theater was because it was a 144 minute time commitment, but I have to say that the time flew by. It’s the amazing the difference that some bloody warfare can have on a movie.
The Battle of the Five Armies begins immediately after where The Desolation of Smaug left off – with Smaug on the verge of wreaking havoc on Laketown. Smaug is dealt with – unsurprisingly since his name is no longer part of the movie title – but not before the people of Laketown have lost everything. They seek refuge in the ruins surrounding Lonely Mountain, led by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans). Now that Smaug has left the treasures of the mountain unprotected, the people of Laketown want a share of the gold to begin to rebuild. But they are not the only ones who want a piece of the treasure; Thranduil and his army have also descended on Lonely Mountain, in search of some jewelry that was part of Smaug’s stash. Unfortunately for them, Thorin (Richard Armitage) – the dwarf king currently in residence of Lonely Mountain – is not in the sharing mood and has barricaded himself and his companions inside. Thorin gets some reinforcements when his cousin shows up with a dwarf army and everyone is ready to square off…until the Orc army that’s been lurking in the last few movies shows up to complicate matters. Commence battle royal.
It’s nice to finally have some payoff from the previous two movies; the stakes are pretty clear in The Battle of the Five Armies and while there is some other stuff going on, the film benefits greatly from one focusing event. The cinematography is always top notch in these films and Jackson certainly knows how to do world building, so it’s nice to see these elements used for a greater purpose. The actors all do a nice job as well; this may not be the kind of work that gets you recognized for an Academy Award, but they create real characters that – other than the miscellaneous dwarves – are memorable despite the fragmented screen time required to accommodate so many stories and a cast this size. The action sequences are choreographed very well and even though there is a lot of chaos as battles break out on multiple fronts, it’s never hard to keep track of what’s going on or what everyone is up to. It helps that despite all their bluster and inherent scariness, Orcs seem pretty easy to kill. There’s also a fair amount of humor infused in the film, which was somewhat lacking from the previous installments. My only real complaint is it’s a little unclear on the accounting methods used to get to the five armies in question. There are four obvious armies in play – The dwarves, the elves, the Orcs and the humans – but I’m not sure if they are counting the animals that show up pretty late in the game as the fifth army or not.
All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies was a much needed change of pace from the rest of The Hobbit trilogy. I’m not sure that the previous 5+ hours of buildup were necessary, but the franchise ended on a relative high note. The Hobbit trilogy will always pale in comparison to The Lord of the Rings for me, but The Battle of the Five Armies was my favorite film from the trilogy. If you liked An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, you will definitely dig the final installment of the trilogy. If you found the first two movies as boring as I did, you may be surprised by The Battle of the Five Armies.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is currently in wide release.