The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014) Movie Review “A Grand Finale”

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We have finally reached the end of our journey. The final film in the well liked but also controversial “Hobbit” trilogy. Unlike other recent big finales like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”, “The Dark Knight Rises” , “Hangover Part III” (if you can call it a big finale), and the upcoming “Mockingjay Part II”, the end of the journey for “The Hobbit” singles the beginning of a new one, leading directly into “The Lord of the Rings”. Yet did Peter Jackson successfully bring his new trilogy of Middle Earth to a satisfying end? “The Hobbit: Battles of the Five Armies” is a more than satisfying conclusion to what could be our final journey into the Middle Earth world; loaded with epic battle sequences, genuine emotion, and a great balance of a well versed storytelling mixed with terrific action. “Five Armies” does get weighed down with some rushed sequences in the beginning and end but never the less the film as a whole holds up to those small flaws and succeeds in what it mostly sets out to do.

After awakening Smaug from his slumber in Erebor, the surrounding towns are in his path of destruction. Bilbo, Thorin, Bard, and the remaining company of the Dwarves must band together to stop him from destroying everything in his path. While also the Necromancer reveals himself as the white council moves in to save Gandalf, the Necromancer sends Azog out to attack Erebar with his massive Orc army; as the Elves of Mirkwood head out Erebor to reclaim the jewels that was promised to them years before Erebor fell. All armies meet at Erebor.

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The common theme that keep popping up with my reviews of “The Hobbit” trilogy is my fear of lack of material that the filmmakers had to work with. Each previous installment has proven me wrong, with “Unexpected Journey” and “Desolation of Smaug”. Even though I was proven wrong twice, again I worried about a serious lack of story. This is after all called “The Battle of Five Armies” and easily Jackson could have fallen into the trap that “Matrix Revelations” did, and have a film comprised a bunch of mind numbing increasingly boring action sequences. Yet once again (and I should learn to forget my doubts more) Jackson whipped away all doubt.

You be wondering how Jackson avoided this problem. This entire film is comprised of several large scale action sequences, why would this be any different than something like “Matrix Revelations” ? The biggest difference is Peter Jackson and his team of editors break up the fighting and leave spots where the audience can catch their breath and spend time with our main characters. There is a strong cadence of events, hitting all the right beats; character moment, development, action, emotional moment, action, character, action. I’m making it more simplistic than it actually is, but just breaking it down to give a more clear understanding of what I mean by that.

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Throughout the film, Jackson gives each character their own moment to shine. Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin, Bard, Legolas, Smaug, and countless are all given memorable scenes that won’t soon leave your body. You see now the seeds that have been planted for Legolas in the later “Lord of the Rings”, Bilbo continues to grow as a character by showing his courage and even willing to die for the Dwarves he now calls his friends. Yet the character that has been one of the focal points for the trilogy is Thorin because his arc is brought to a close here and now easily joins the ranks of best characters in the Middle Earth saga.

Thorin’s descent to Dragon sickness started to become apparent after the second film, and now it consumes him. Dragon Sickness is a level of greed that descends people into madness. It’s a tragedy that Shakespeare would be a fan of. Over the course of the movie, Thorin descends into this darkness and needs to be able to redeem himself. Richard Armitage gives his best performance as Thorin, and what’s interesting is to juxtapose Thorin’s journey to reclaim his kingdom to Aragon’s quest in “Lord of the Rings”. Both are rightful kings yet both take different paths in getting there. I almost feel like Jackson wanted us to think of Aragon from “Rings” to make the tragedy feel more palpable.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

We all knew from “Lord of the Rings” that Peter Jackson is able to create enthralling large scale battle sequences. Here in “The Battle of the Five Armies”, Jackson scales another epic war where hundreds (possibly thousands) of men (and creatures) come clashing together in spectacular fashion. There is something different though that Jackson does with these sequences here. While he does give us grand spectacle, he also gives us some smaller more intimate scenes of battle. He stages several of the fights based on one v. one combat, and have several characters confront one another in a way I don’t know if has ever been done in the Middle Earth films.

The one that stands out the most is Thorin and Azog’s final fight. All that tension that was felt in “Unexpected Journey” has been amplified and taken to a new level. Your body almost goes through its own fight or flight mode as everything comes to a head with one confrontation. The level of excitement that goes into this scene will make you want to get up and cheer on like a fan in a boxing match. It’s one of the best fight scenes in the Middle Earth saga.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

There is much to praise here, yet this is no “Return of the King”. I find the comparison is a little unfair considering that “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” is among the greatest films of all time. With the concluding chapter of that trilogy there was nothing to cease the well deserved praise. Here in “The Battle of the Five Armies” there is one thing that keeps the film down from the masterpiece level it could have achieved: rushing. Many of you might find that a contradiction of my previous praise of its pacing, but the rushed segments occur in the beginning and ending of the film. Smaug’s desolation felt way too quick. Anyone who has read the book knew that Smaug wouldn’t have had as big of a part at he did in the previous film, but the whole scene felt incredibly short, which squanders all the great build up from the previous film. I believe that just an extra 5 minutes would have satisfied the scene. The horror of the aftermath is brilliantly realized on screen and a good showcase for Luke Evans as Bard (increasingly an actor I’ve come to admire).

Then of course we arrive to the ending. After the battle between Azog and Thorin, the film quickly wraps up all fights and sends Bilbo on his merry way back home and leads directly into “Fellowship of the Ring” and boom, cue ending credits. Wait a second where is the rest of it? For a film series that’s primary criticism is dragging out the story and creating too much fat, this film does the opposite. What happens to Bard and his people? What happened to the Arkenstone? What happened to Taural? Hell, did the armies have a grand cheer of victory? Joke around all you want about “Return of the King’s” 5 different endings but at least it wrapped up the story and tied all loose ends. Here it seems Peter Jackson tried everything he could to not repeat that and finished it all up rather quickly. It’s not an awful ending; on one hand I love how it leads into “Fellowship”, yet on the other I cannot help but feel like the very conclusion was given the proper attention it deserved.

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Could they have made this trilogy into two films as originally intended? Honestly, there may have been a way but I am more than happy we got a trilogy with “The Hobbit”. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” may not have given its own story the proper conclusion but it’s a grand adieu to the world of Middle Earth, a world I’m not certain when it will pop back onto the big screen again. It’s exciting ending for filmgoers that have not experienced “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and now have a great lead in for one of the greatest sets of films of all time and have a whole new kind of experience. This final “Hobbit” is achievement just from Peter Jackson’s perspective; directing all six films and all of them at a higher level of quality and help bring this world from the pages to the big screen.

Final Score

8/10

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