There is a moment towards the end of Peter Jackson’s final chapter of The Hobbit series in which a wounded Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Artimage), in his farewell to his friend Bilbo (Martin Freeman), proclaims “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.” His words speak to the greed that has led a slew of men, elves, dwarfs and orcs to descend upon his family’s castle, built within a mountain, in hopes of claiming the treasures that lay within. In some ways his moment of reflection could easily be speaking to The Hobbit trilogy as a whole.
Greed has been one of the underlying elements associated with this series ever since it was announced that the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fable would be split into three films. Debating the unnecessary nature of the trilogy versus one single film is a pointless endeavor. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a major financial windfall so it is understandable that those behind the scenes, especially from a studio perspective, would want to replicate that success. Up until now, the defenders of the decision, not like they had any real choice in the matter, have clung to the notion that it will all make sense once the all three parts are released. Well the final chapter is here and the full light has indeed provided clarity to a once murky landscape.
Unfortunately the missing piece of the puzzle did not reveal a Monet, but rather a recycled Warhol. It is a mildly entertaining reproduction of a work devoid of the resonance of the original version.
To be fair, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies succeeds in the same technical areas as the other films set in Peter Jackson’s version of Middle Earth. In fact, one of The Hobbit trilogy’s most appealing qualities is its ability to feel at home with Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson’s films resemble one cohesive tale that just happens to span several years. Something that George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel tried to master, but failed to do in comparison. However, it is in observing the construction of The Hobbit films that the air begins to deflate from the seams of the overblown balloon.
No more so is this the case than in The Battle of the Five Armies. A visual marvel at times, the film lacks both the soul and fun of its predecessors. The film is adequate enough for what it is, but parts feel almost pointless when considering the work as a whole. There are two distinct reasons for this. One is that Jackson adds so many additional characters, not related to the actual text, whose only purpose is to stretch the film to its bloated two and a half hour running time. As a result, there are long periods where the characters that audiences truly care about (e.g. Bilbo, Thorin, and their companions) are given little to do. This leads into the second chink in The Battle of the Five Armies less than shiny armour…the epic battle. The film is essentially a series of long fight sequences, at least it feels that way, that offers little in the way of thrills.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that, thanks to The Two Towers and The Return of the King, these fight sequences have been done better before. Seeing hordes of nameless bodies, be it dwarves or orcs or whoever, smashing together provides little excitement after the fourth time it occurs. Even scene stealing performances like Billy Connolly, as Thorin’s cousin Dain, eventually get lost in the sea of swords clanging and arrows flying.
Furthermore, if the audience is required to eat up the plentiful sugary filling, instead of a truly meaty meal, then the film could have at least spent more time fleshing out certain character arcs. Rather than highlighting Legolas’ (Orlando Bloom) lengthy acrobatic battle with Bolg (John Tui), it would have been nice if Jackson placed more emphasis on fleshing out the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner). Through the entire series that story thread has not carried the emotional weight Jackson was clearly aiming for.
Fortunately for Jackson, even in its weaker moments The Hobbit films have always managed to entertain on a basic level. While The Battle of the Five Armies may not have a raucous action sequence like the barrel scene in The Desolation of Smaug, it still has one the trilogies most valuable assets…Martin Freeman. As Bilbo, Freeman has continually brought both wit and a grounding nature to the film. Possessing the heart and courage bigger than his diminutive frame, Bilbo lights up the screen whenever he is on it. Freeman’s performance is so note-perfect that he puts several of the other actors to shame. Again this may not have been so notable if The Hobbit tale was told in a different format.
It is commendable that Peter Jackson managed to bring both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to the big screen in a way that captured, and at times exceeded, audience’s imaginations. Unfortunately, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies does not provide the triumphant farewell to Middle Earth that audiences hoped for. Similar to Thorin’s words, the greed of men has caused the overstuffed Hobbit to stumble across the finish line, hindered by the unnecessary excess it carries on its back.