American Hobbit Story: ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ Review

In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson was the first person to appear onscreen. In The Battle of the Five Armies, he is approximately on screen the entire time, playing thousands of background characters using his special motion-capture technology which allows him to “fill in the gaps” in his CGI-heavy film, a 145-minute motion picture which is essentially constructed from the outtakes of the previous two Hobbit films and some cheap, rushed pick-up footage. Jackson seems to have a reached a point, both as an arrogant and delusional person and as a filmmaker, similar to that which George Lucas reached in the late 1990s, and we should prepare to witness ‘Special Editions’ of The Lord of the Rings trilogy with added CGI orcs and Martin Freeman’s ghost being released in the next few years when Jackson gets bored on a weekend.

Beginning at the moment Desolation ended, with the Great Dragon Smaug preparing to destroy the Middle-Earthean isle of Laketown, The Battle of the Five Armies starts as loudly and absurdly as it means to go on. Smaug, voiced so well by Benedict Cumberbatch in the last film and a genuinely effective foe for Bilbo Baggins and the Company of Dwarves (led by Richard Armitage’s Thorin, handsome brothers Kili and Fili and a bunch of others who never get much screentime), comes across immediately as a far less believable creature in Five Armies, largely due to the complete and utter lack of a beginning for the film. The storytelling clichés that Jackson leans so heavily on as he throws CGI landscapes and characters of varying visual interest at the screen become apparent within the first 5 minutes, as Bard The Bowman (Luke Evans) is assisted by his characterless son in his assassination of Smaug.When you have a film with over 20 central characters and an incredibly complicated, largely nonsensical set of storylines set up over 6 hours’ worth of cinema, you DO NOT add MORE new characters, MORE new subplots, MORE unnecessary character arcs. Peter Jackson has no restraint and no discipline. He takes for granted that every person watching his film is desperate for MORE, MORE, MORE Middle-Earth adventures, oblivious clearly to the fact that the Middle-Earth adventures in The Battle of the Five Armies are uninteresting, emotionally empty and presented in a manner at times comically inferior to the Rings trilogy, of which my opinion has been increased even further after having to sit through these Hobbit films.

We can criticise Jackson for hours, but there’s no denying that there is talent to be found and pleasure to be had in many aspects of his film. Martin Freeman, in the difficult leading role of Bilbo, had done an absolutely splendid job of anchoring the trilogy emotionally and being arguably a more likeable lead Hobbit than Elijah Wood’s Frodo. Alongside Luke Evans’ Bard and Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly as “sexy elves” Thranduil and Tauriel, he is an actor trying very hard amidst an absolute cinematic mess. Pace gets the flashiest action cues, and the sight of him riding his giant Elk with 5 orcs stuck to its antlers causes one to experience a mixture of awe and hysteria. Lilly gets the strongest emotional scenes, some of which are wildly unsuccessful, while her romance with Aidan Turner’s Unmemorable Handsome Dwarf is revisited at the most inconvenient moments imaginable and ultimately seems quite inauthentic. The films other “sexy elf”, Orlando Bloom’s artificially de-aged Legolas, is so misplaced it’s somewhat sad, hovering on the edge of the Tauriel/Dwarf relationship and handed with a sloppy Dead Mother character arc to give Bloom some acting to do (as if that were a good idea!) Ian McKellen stopped trying to act in these films years ago, and is merely present to perform fan service by shouting a few lines as if they were “You Shall Not Pass!” and riding a horse (best end credits spot of the year- Horse Make-Up Artist) across a CGI field. When the three supremely talented thespians- Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee- show up for their cameos, all one can do is LOL at the bad special effects, the bad acting and the sight of a Christopher Lee stunt double spinning in mid-air. The three years’ worth of hype for Benedict Cumberbatch’s motion-capture performance as The Necromancer comes down to a 30-second beam of light with no noticeable voice.For the third time in three years, I chose to see a Hobbit film in 2D, 24-frames-per-second, digital projection: the “normal” projection format. I honestly can’t say I regret my decision. The CGI orcs and armies of Elves are colourful but astoundingly unattractive, and Billy Connolly’s amusing but underused Dwarf warrior Ironfoot LITERALLY had tusks. The sole most misjudged moment in the entire film, and possibly in the entire Middle-Earth series, involves Ryan Gage’s comic relief Alfrid Lickspittle (a character whose brief appearance in Smaug was reasonably funny but is deeply irritating in his increased role this time around) wearing a dress and stuffing gold down his shirt. It’s a joke worthy of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie and is shamefully imbecilic. It’s content like that which reminds one just how awful these Hobbit films turned out to be. Where The Lord of the Rings was poetic, profound and beautifully made, The Hobbit is visually unattractive, tonally all-over-the-place and amazingly stupid. EAGLES! BEAR-MAN! The Battle of the Five Armies‘ “fantasy epic” content is often sub-Chronicles of Narnia, sub-Spiderwick Chronicles and, God help us, sub-Game of Thrones.There’s no point in any reviewer telling their readers not to see a new Peter Jackson Middle-Earth film, but they can sure warn everybody that they’re not going to enjoy it. It’s very sad to say, but The Hobbit trilogy is much, much worse than the Star Wars prequels, and should never be mentioned in the same sentence as the magnificent Rings films. When Bilbo Baggins rides home to The Shire at the end of The Battle of the Five Armies, the sight of an ACTUAL, REAL New Zealand field is this trilogy’s single most refreshing moment. Bilbo may think he’s the happiest person on Earth to be finished of this tedious journey, but he doesn’t even know the half of it! One Blu-Ray of Fellowship, please!