- Year: 2014
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
When you think about it, it’s strange how inconsistent the first two Hobbit films are. Don’t get me wrong, sequels are usually lousy, but this was a planned trilogy based on a single novel. The book itself never drags, but The Desolation of Smaug often felt dead in the water. There were brilliant scenes, sure, but they didn’t salvage the movie as a whole. Things weren’t looking good for the final installment of the trilogy, as Tolkien only wrote on the titular Battle of Five Armies for a few pages.
However, we have more than just the battle to deal with, as the last movie ended with Smaug escaping the mountain. This time, we start right where we left off. The opening scene of Smaug destroying Lake-town is breathtaking, and I could watch it over and over.
The destruction is instantaneous, with Smaug wiping out basically the entire town in a matter of minutes. We got a sense of this in the cartoon, but it’s in full effect here. Knowing there’s not much time, Bard (Luke Evans) Macgyvers his way out of prison and goes to the tower to try to kill Smaug. Meanwhile, his son Bain (John Bell) leaves his boat to try and help. Bard didn’t seem to have a solid characterization in the second film, but I like him a lot more here. Luke Evans is a really good actor, and his emotional scenes with his children (who are also all very likable) work.
Smaug’s death is as fantastic as you could imagine, with Bard actually balancing and aiming his arrow on his son’s shoulders. Benedict Cumberbatch does amazing work with Smaug’s voice, unleashing threat after threat, being completely oblivious to the fact that Bard has found his weak spot.
He falls down in the shadow of Lonely Mountain, and right onto the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry), thankfully killing him and some servants. Sadly, Alfrid (Ryan Gage) is saved, meaning more pointless comedic antics are coming anyway.
One aspect of The Hobbit that really makes it transcend the “kids’ book” mold is that from Smaug’s death until the goblins enter the Battle of Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield himself basically becomes the antagonist. Bard’s town has been demolished by Smaug, who the dwarves are responsible for letting out of the mountain, so his request for gold is totally justified. The Wood Elves join the fight due to their alliance with the Lake-men, so they are pretty much in the right as well. Thorin’s greed has gotten the best of him and he has unknowingly become the villain.
There is undoubtedly a darkness to Richard Armitage’s Thorin, so it seems like he should portray this transformation just fine… but the writers decided to do this stupid thing where they make gold fever a literal fever. (OK, they call it “dragon sickness,” but I’m calling it gold fever.). Apparently when a dragon sits on treasure for too long, it becomes enchanted and drives most anyone who tries to claim it mad. As usual, I’ve got just a few questions about it.
- If this insane form of greed only happens when a dragon sits on a treasure, what happened to Thorin’s grandfather Thror? It was clearly pointed out that his greed was what brought the dragon to begin with. Was there another dragon who sat on this gold before that no one was aware of?
- It’s mentioned in the first two films that Thorin may fall to the same sickness that destroyed Thror. If this isn’t the aforementioned gold fever, why do they bring up the gold fever at all? Maybe he just comes from a family of greedy jackasses.
- If the dragon sitting on the gold enchants it and sickens all who enter the mountain, why is there no other dwarf who shows signs of it? They all continue to act exactly as they have in the previous two films. Maybe Dori, Nori, and Ori became pickpockets off screen or something.
- Ultimately, doesn’t it lessen a character if you blame his shortcomings on something entirely beyond his control? The Thorin of the book is a very flawed character, but he eventually realizes he was wrong. There are movies that deal with greed realistically and poignantly. I’m reminded of one John Huston film in particular where a troupe of greedy travelers find gold in a mountain, but one member gets too greedy and dies for it…
I like that the movie tries to show that Thorin is becoming as greedy as Smaug was, but they aren’t very subtle about it. I would have been fine with them having him say the line about not parting with a single coin, but overdubbing Cumberbatch’s voice goes a bit far. It’s odd, because he says another line about Thranduil paying “a pretty price” for the elven gems in the mountain, which is a callback to a line from The Great Goblin in the first film, but they don’t do the stupid dubbing thing. Do you trust your audience or not? In spite of this, Armitage does a great job of showing just how far Thorin has fallen, and he has some truly chilling parts. It also leads to some great character moments with Bilbo (Martin Freeman), as Thorin has begun to lose trust in everyone except for the titular Hobbit.
What I love about the first hour or so of this film (at least in the extended cut) is that it doesn’t rush into the battle itself, but instead we see these characters preparing to fight and even to confront their own deaths. We sympathize greatly with Bard, a man whose town has lost everything, and we get to see a lot more of his kindness in this film. He really doesn’t think it will come to war at all, hoping the dwarves will realize they have no shot and give the men what they deserve. I love the little moment where Thranduil (Lee Pace) comes to town with supplies and says “I heard you needed aid.” Howard Shore gives us a heroic spin on his Lake-town theme as Bard and the people of Lake-town are genuinely grateful, but of course Thranduil has to ruin it with his melodramatic “Oh how I hate dwarves” business.
Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) gets freed from prison by Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). Elrond, Saruman, and Galadriel attempt to banish Sauron from the west by… fighting the ring-wraiths with swords? It looks cool, I guess, but these are just regular swords, right?
The ring-wraiths are ghosts, so why are they being defeated with swords? Couldn’t we get a line saying “These are special ghost swords,” or something that sounds more magical and less dumb than that? Galadriel also uses her stupid dark voice to banish Sauron, and it just sounds like someone auditioning for a metal band (in which case it really should have been Christopher Lee). That said, we do get more Hugo Weaving as Elrond, which is always great, especially in a film filled with other elves I don’t care about (Tauriel aside).
When Bilbo is escaping to bring the Arkenstone to the opposing armies, we get a lovely callback to the Bilbo/Bofur scene from Unexpected Journey. Bofur (James Nesbitt) has taken the first watch and thinks Bilbo is running away for good.
He doesn’t try to stop him, saying no one would blame him for leaving, and gives an incredibly heartfelt goodbye. I love how Bofur is both the biggest clown of the group and has the biggest heart. It’s so much better than just saying “Here’s the nice one” and “Oh, watch out, this one’s a jokester.” He may not have as many scenes as other characters, but we feel like we know him as well as anyone.
Martin Freeman has a brilliant moment when Bilbo delivers the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil, with Gandalf standing by. Thranduil asks angrily if this is the hobbit who helped the dwarves escape his prison. Bilbo awkwardly responds with “Yesh…sorry about that.” While Thranduil is obviously still upset, Bard cracks a little smile and tries not to laugh. It’s priceless.
Of course, Thorin gets mad that Bilbo stole the Arkenstone and wants to kill him, and opts to go to war with the men and elves. The dwarves from the Iron Hills arrive to fight, led by Thorin’s cousin Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly). When the film came out, the digital effects on this character were so bad that it took you out of the movie entirely. However, this seems to be very much corrected in the extended edition.
Billy Connolly is a very funny man, and he really just plays himself here. Dain is basically just a plot device in the book, as he simply leads his army into battle and is crowned king when Thorin dies, so I have no problem with the casting here. It’s just an attempt to make him memorable, and it works fine.
The battle sequences go on for a long time, but with the title, that’s not surprising. I don’t believe any scenes were cut or shortened for the extended edition, but the meaningless battle scenes feel fewer and far between. Perhaps this has to do with more character scenes being added into the middle of it all. In the theater, I remember sitting there just waiting for it to be over, but there are not too many audible sigh moments when I watch the extended cut. Sure, there are stupid moments like Thranduil decapitating multiple orcs with his elk’s antlers…
Or Legolas building a video game bridge…
Or literally everything Alfrid gets into…
But the extended cut makes up for this with scenes like Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur fighting together. It’s clear these three relatives are incredibly tight-knit, so it’s enjoyable seeing them together. Remember that running joke (that needed more attention to be truly great) about the axe stuck in Bifur’s head? Hey it comes out in the extended cut! Bombur runs back with it, and Bifur says, finally in English, “You know where you can stick that.” There’s a part of me that is upset this joke didn’t lead to more, and another part that applauds the filmmakers for going this far just for that one line. Ultimately, I lean towards the latter opinion.
We get more comedic moments in the extended cut, like Balin’s Danny Glover-esque “too old for this” moment and Alfrid finally unmercifully biting it (to the cheering of every audience member), but we also get more blood. Heck, the extended edition is rated R! You know what? I like it. War is ugly in Tolkien’s work, and it’s good we get to see that here. I remember the theatrical cut just feeling like a painfully long final battle, but the extended cut feels like a war film in Middle-Earth.
The orcs continue to have little purpose except just being mooks, so I’m not sure why we keep cutting to them saying lines like “Kill them” over and over. If you want to actually give them character, great, but don’t do this halfway thing. It’s a minor complaint though, but these are fairly weak villains.
The deaths of Kili and Fili are absolutely heartbreaking, perhaps even more so to readers of the book who know it’s coming. Even in spite of this, Fili’s death is incredibly swift and surprising, letting us know the end is near. After that, Tauriel watches Kili die, unable to do anything. I feel their love is perhaps taken too seriously as it never really goes above some flirtation, but I really do like the chemistry between the two. You believe they could fall for each other.
Thorin finally confronts his arch-enemy Azog the Defiler, and both mortally wound the other. Bilbo wakes up in time to have a final scene with Thorin which, as expected, is brilliant. Bilbo is in so much distress over Thorin dying that his breathing pattern becomes stilted, as if he was dying too. Martin Freeman does little things like this all throughout the trilogy that are easy to miss the first time around, leading to a complex and masterful performance.
We don’t see a lot of the action on the main field of battle, which is fine as most important characters are involved in their own skirmishes, but when the eagles swoop in with Radagast and Beorn, it’s majestic. I do have to admit that Beorn landing on the battlefield as he turns into a bear is thoroughly entertaining.
Because apparently the Legolas character needs some closure, he and Thranduil have to participate in one of the stupidest scenes in the movie… or rather just one of the stupidest lines. Legolas tells him that he will not return home, and Thranduil is understanding, saying he should seek out a ranger in the wild. Thranduil says he’s known as Strider and is the son of Arathorn, but that Legolas must learn his true name for himself. HUH? I would understand him saying “The guy’s called Strider and you’ll learn his real name,” but you literally just told him his father’s name. How hard is it going to be to figure out what his real name is? Also, why don’t you just tell him his real name? What does Legolas benefit by not being told Aragorn’s real name?
One of the most egregious aspects of the theatrical cut was the removal of the funeral of Kili, Fili, and Thorin and the crowning of Dain as King Under the Mountain. For all the criticism Return of the King got for taking too long to end, I was in shock how rushed the ending of the Hobbit trilogy was. Thankfully, we get those scenes here in all their solemnity.
When Bilbo returns home, his possessions are being auctioned off, just like in the book, showing there will now permanently be a divide between himself and the “respectable” hobbits. We cut back to old Bilbo at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the film ends with Billy Boyd’s gorgeous “The Last Goodbye.”
With the previous installments, I’ve recommended the extended cuts over the theatrical, but in the case of The Battle of the Five Armies, I can only recommend the extended cut. It honestly turns a mediocre movie into a good one. The character arcs feel complete, loose ends are tied up, and the ending is poignant. Let’s take a look at the final score.
Adaptation (39/50 Points)
It’s tough to judge, because it takes just a few chapters and makes a war film out of it, but it does a very good job. The character moments are brilliant, the war scenes are mostly effective, and it doesn’t clash with Tolkien’s views on war. It’s an epic war film in Middle-Earth, and it works. That said, the gold fever thing is kind of silly and should have been cut.
Cast (20/25 Points)
Martin Freeman brings it home with his emotional and funny performance, Richard Armitage ends Thorin’s arc in grand fashion, and I like Luke Evans’ Bard a lot more here. Bofur, Kili, Fili, and Tauriel are all great, and while the Council of the Wise scene may not be necessary, it’s nice to see all the actors return. Still, Legolas is overused and Thranduil is ridiculously melodramatic.
Experience (17/25 Points)
The CGI is often conspicuous and overused, especially in the battle scenes. However, the score continues to dazzle, and the destruction of Lake-town is a visual marvel. Billy Boyd’s “The Last Goodbye” is a perfect way to end.
FINAL SCORE: 76%
I can’t believe how much I actually enjoy this film now, considering my frustration the first time I saw it. The Hobbit trilogy still didn’t need to be three movies, but since it is, Peter Jackson did pretty well for himself. There are two solid, effective films in there, and part of another. I know the one I like the least is the one most people love, but hey, to each his own.