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Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

December 29, 2014

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Battle of the Five Armies Poster

The final chapter in Peter Jackson’s solidly entertaining trilogy of Middle Earth prequels, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies starts where last year’s The Desolation of Smaug left off, with the deadly dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) ravaging the fishing village of Laketown, trying to protect his gold.

This second chapter cliffhanger is resolved within the first ten minutes, which begs the question of why they even chose to split this captivating sequence between the two films.  Because of this, we are literally dropped into The Battle of the Five Armies, which makes it hard to offer a cohesive review.

This is essentially the third act of a much larger story, primarily focusing on the battle to protect the Lonely Mountain, and the film does provide a reasonably satisfying conclusion to the series, playing as a solid continuation of the still superior first two.

But The Battle of the Five Armies also feels somewhat incomplete as a standalone film, which brings us to the paradox of whether to judge this instalment by itself, or simply discuss it as part of the larger picture.  I think both are valid ways to talk about the movie.

The choice to split such a streamlined book into three movies was always questionable, and seems especially needless this time around.  The result is a third chapter that’s impressive on pretty much every technical level, and absolutely worth seeing for these reasons, but one that also feels overstuffed, with some of the running time seeming irrelevant to the larger narrative.  Although this is the shortest film in the series at 144 minutes, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies also feels like the most padded of the three, with a few too many elements added to the story.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) seems like a needless addition to the already packed cast, and the romantic subplot between her and Kili (Aidan Turner) is just clichéd and distracting.  The comic relief of Alfrid (Ryan Gage), another pointless addition from J.R.R. Tolkein’s book, doesn’t really fit with the rest of the movie.  At times, the extended battles make the film feel like a video game, with the multitudes of brutal beheadings seeming somewhat out of place in what is essentially an adaptation of a children’s novel.

But there are still a lot of things to like about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, as well as some nice little touches.  Although the loveable title Hobbit is unfortunately more of a supporting character this time, Martin Freeman’s endearing portrayal of Bilbo Baggins remains the high point of the trilogy.  The same is true of Sir Ian McKellen, who makes the most of his every moment as Gandalf the Grey, and is another highlight of the series.

There are also some well choreographed and visually arresting action sequences here, including a climactic scene on the ice involving Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).  The special effects are mostly impressive, with the beautiful landscapes and striking cinematography once again immersing us in this richly developed world.  The final scenes do a good job of poignantly bringing the story full circle.

Although I still think they could have done justice to this book in a single film, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t always work on its own terms, the film does play well in conjunction with the first two.  As a whole, this is an enjoyable and entertaining final chapter that brings the expansive series to a fitting end, and is worth the price of a ticket just to see Middle Earth on the big screen one more time.

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