Overview: The Hobbit ends a prequel trilogy of movies that should have been one. 2014, Warner Bros, Rated PG-13, 144 minutes.
Honesty Is The Best Policy: The Lord of the Rings is, as far as I’m concerned, the single perfect trilogy. The Hobbit films were never going to live up to that; even if Guillermo Del Toro had stayed amidst production troubles to do his two-part epic take on An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again. And as someone who enjoys fun fantasy, these films are more enjoyable than I’d give credit. But that doesn’t stop them from bursting at the seams with extraneous plot padding and other Middle-Earth references.
At one point, a member of the audience shouted “Oh, because Lord of the Rings!” and while the repeated shouting of that phrase got tiresome, that’s honestly how it feels to watch some of these stories progress. An early scene wherein Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond team-up to save Gandalf ends abruptly just to leave a thread hanging for when you watch your inevitable Middle-Earth marathon (we’re all going to do it. Don’t even play).
The biggest flaw of the previous film was sidelining the title character to a strong supporting role. Battle of the Five Armies mostly rectifies this problem by putting Bilbo’s relationship with Gandalf and Thorin to the forefront. Martin Freeman continues to make Bilbo a likable presence. His goodhearted nature plays well off the corrupting mind of Thorin Oakenshield. Richard Armitage plays Thorin – now officially King under the Mountain – more broad here, almost verging on operatic insanity. Sir Ian McKellen brings the same gravitas from the original trilogy but isn’t given the same meaty role. He’s there to support Bilbo and the dwarves before fighting in the gigantic battle that lasts for a good portion (75% at least) of the film. Then he’s gone. You can’t fault the movie for fun characters or actors, just how it uses them. And when characters die, there isn’t the dramatic weight you’d expect.
Still Better Than the Star Wars Prequels: All this being said, I can’t say I didn’t have a good time watching the farewell to Middle-Earth. It lacks the punch Return of the King had (You’ll miss the “For Frodo” moments). As someone who enjoys the previous Hobbit films as well, there is no denying the heavy flaws. But dammit, I had fun with these movies. If I were 10 years younger, I might have loved them. And that’s more than just appreciation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The primary character relationships are interesting on their own. Thorin’s rise and fall in the trilogy (which, again, could have been covered just fine in a single movie) is satisfying. Although it’s never explored in-depth, the themes of power leading to corruption is enough thematic food to chew on as the series wraps up. The company of dwarves can’t pick up the dramatic fuel to represent themes of fellowship quite like the other 9 guys did but none are absurdly cartoony either. A minor footnote character from Laketown gets a bigger role in this final chapter and his comedic bit doesn’t work. Like, at all.
I understand the romance between Tauriel and Kili turns some fans off because it comes out of the fucking blue. It works just fine. Nothing special. A little tragedy here and there. It’s a perfectly functional Romeo and Juliet (Baz Luhrmann was less subtle in his telling at least). Evangeline Lilly doesn’t get enough credit here either. Tauriel is no Eowyn (Who could forget “I am no man”?) but she’s willing to forsake everything for her morals. Lilly also sells the hell out of the action scenes. Please dear god let her be Wasp in the Marvel Universe.
When Bilbo isn’t being sidelined in his own story, he’s a truly lovable hero. He’s someone easy to root for. It’s when all the bloat seeps in from the ridiculous CGI (Billy Connelly has a cameo and he was enhanced to look like a videogame character), and overlong material that sticks a landing that’s just good enough.
Whether or not you enjoyed the previous Hobbit films will most likely factor into your enjoyment of Five Armies. If you did, you won’t be blown away. Director Peter Jackson does nothing here to push the material. But you might have a good time during your Middle-Earth marathons. I’m sure I will.