“This day we fight!”
Aragorn might still have one of the most rousing pre-battle speeches of all time, but The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King might no longer have the coolest fight scenes.
For The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies truly lives up to its name.
The third and final movie wraps up the The Hobbit trilogy with a spectacular, climatic bang filled with stylish choreography and no shortage of visual effects.
Unfortunately, Battle of the Five Armies stays true to its name too well, and that is its greatest flaw. For beyond the epic titular battle, the movie fumbles with all the unnecessary drama it tosses at us.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
The plot is simple, save for the Middle-earthian politics that lead up to the Battle; after Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is finally killed by Bard (Luke Evans), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his company of 13 dwarves reclaim the Dwarven stronghold of Erebor. But the rest of Middle-earth wants a share of Erebor’s literal mountains of treasure, whether it be compensation for the Men of Lake-Town (whose home has been destroyed by Smaug) or “white gems of pure star light” for the Wood-elves, in particular their King Thranduil (Lee Pace). To worsen the inheritance squabble, Thorin has contracted “dragon sickness”, an all-consuming obsession for gold. Focused only on finding the Arkenstone, Thorin refuses to honour his offers of the treasure to Men and Elves and begins to distrust his still loyal dwarves. Meanwhile, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) secretly runs back and forth as a secret diplomat of some sort, but he fails in attempting to prevent a war. Said Battle ensues.
But the Armies of Men, Elves and Dwarves (reinforced by the arrival of Thorin’s cousin) hastily unite against a common enemy when Orcs and Wargs show up with their own contingent, determined to conquer Erebor for its strategic position. A squadron of Eagles later arrives to help defend Erebor, and that rounds up the Five Armies. Of course, Battle of the Five Armies is not just 144 minutes of swashbuckling and blood-spilling, but that is not too far from the truth. Drama all of sorts fill in as Battle interludes. Away from the battlefield, the White Council rescues Gandalf (Ian McKellen) from Dol Guldor and encounters the Necromancer, revealed to be Sauron.
The Battle of the Five Armies is not as intense as the many battles in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it spends more time focusing on the smaller-scaled duels between key characters than the Battle in its entirety. The audience understands the scale of the Battle at large, but does not have enough time to appreciate it. However, director Peter Jackson firmly retains his reputation as the go-to man for the most epic medieval battles on screen.
Where the main Battle is actually shown, Jackson awes his audience with slick choreography and the most formidable armies, armour and weaponry that we have ever seen in Middle-earth. Elves and Dwarves have the most stylish and showy rank formation and battle tactics, and when these two Armies finally join forces, they literally build off one another in a doubly stunning assault against the Orcs and Wargs.
Thranduil brings his share of style and substance to the fight as well, as can be expected of an Elvenking who fights while riding an enormous Elk. Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and several of the Dwarves have their own thrilling moments as well.
The fight scene at Dol Guldor between the White Council of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and the Nazgul is perhaps one of the most noteworthy moments of the film, and not just because it confronts an “actual” problem – above that of gold and fortresses – that will familiarly lead us to the events of The Lord of the Rings. If anything, the fight at Dol Guldor can be said to resemble an impressive, high budget action cinematic of the latest blockbuster fantasy game. Because of the revered status of the White Council members, watching Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond fight can, in some extent, be likened to watching Yoda fight for the first time in Attack of the Clones.
Battle of the Five Armies truly delivers on the action front, and for the fantasy fans who value battles and fight scenes above all else, watching this movie could be almost orgasmic. That is, if you are willing to sit through the Middle-earthian trash talk, Elvish/Dwarvish star-crossed lovers, love triangle, family drama, Thorin’s Gollum-esque moments and the annoying and ill-placed attempted comic (Alfrid) to get there.
Most of this extra drama on the side is not found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. In other words, they are creations of Peter Jackson himself, and will easily annoy the Tolkien faithful. These additions are flawed in more ways than one, crippled by last ditch attempts at character development and an absence of significance because they have either just been introduced or have not been developed sufficiently in the previous Hobbit movies.
Alfrid is the comic relief that no one asked for and, while genuinely chuckle-worthy at certain moments, is so out of place that he only messes up the tension and is an uncomfortable discontinuity to the serious tone of the movie.
To give credit where credit is due, these side dish dramas (excluding Alfrid) do bring value to the movie, for the alternative would have been just an exhausting two hours of fight scenes with no emotional weight. The latter certainly is the lesser version of the two. Tauriel and Kili’s (Aidan Turner) romantic escapades and the last minute family tragedy for Thranduil and Legolas are too underdeveloped to mean anything to us. Yet, they do add more emotional investment and meaning to the story, even if clumsily.
Watching Battle of the Five Armies is like watching the Super Bowl, but with odd and out-of-place commercials. If the unnecessary content dispersed between what you really paid to watch does not bother you, then you will have the time of your life.
Nevertheless, Battle of the Five Armies still ends on an emotional note for any The Lord of the Rings fan, for it both concludes three years of a long-awaited return to Middle-earth and leads us directly to the events of The Fellowship of the Ring. At the end of the movie, a handful of references are made to our favourite moments and characters in the original trilogy. Because the first Hobbit movie began with a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring,the six Middle-earth movies are now brought to a full, complete circle (perhaps in the shape of the One Ring).
The credits roll with a slightly melancholic melody sung by Billy Boyd, who played Peregrin “Pippin” Took in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The song is titled “The Last Goodbye”, perhaps a pretty obvious and sad indication about director Peter Jackson’s and the cast’s involvement in any future Tolkien films.
The Hobbit trilogy has been nowhere near the realm of cinematic achievement that is The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but The Battle of the Five Armies does sufficiently well in allowing the prequel adventure to go off in style. For its sheer battlefield prowess, The Battle of the Five Armies is the most Lord of the Rings-esque of the three Hobbit movies.
“You are a very fine person, Mr, Baggins… but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
Indeed, Battle of the Five Armies is just one part of a much larger picture, but it is by no means little, and it is certainly more than fine.
Rating: 3.5/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Good, not great.”)