Review – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Anime Reporter turns to the world of Western cinema to talk about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. If you’re reading this and don’t know the details of the first two Hobbit films, then I appreciate you coming to AnimeReporter.com, but you’re wandering directly into spoilers territory. If you’d like to skip major plot details, you can just skip to the bottom part of this review, where a checklist has been provided for your convenience.

At the end of the second film, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, the second and more dragony of the two title characters was making his way towards Laketown, directly away from the small number of dwarves who’d just then managed to annoy him and fully intent on burning the inhabitants of Laketown to vent a little bit. What follows is Smaug causing all of the destruction and death that he should have in the previous movie, before being quickly shunted to one side in favour of a very rushed and easily avoided standoff between dwarves, men, elves and the other races entirely devoid of attractive humanoids.

What eventually unveils itself is a story of the three acceptably attractive and therefore virtuous races trying to protect a fortress stronghold from an unspeakably large horde of orcs, goblins and some trolls to do the heavy lifting. Make that a lot of trolls, but don’t worry, they’re easy to kill now. We get to see people stubbornly refusing to see reason until a wizard rides in and tells everyone exactly what should be done and then a great sigh of relief as elves decide to unite with the other goodies and a glorious battle can commence. That’s right, it’s essentially quite similar to Two Towers. Well, I mean, they don’t have a berserker with a whole lot of explosives, but they do have a troll with a very, very pointy hat, which it turns out, is pretty much the same thing.

In terms of characterisation, things are most definitely lacking, I’m afraid. Bard the Bowman and Thorin are both trying to out-Aragorn each other, but Bard is also trying to be Legolas, while Thorin is suddenly Gollum and Legolas is trying to be Spider-man. Now, don’t get me wrong; when Legolas slid down some stairs on a shield in Lord of the Rings, shooting arrows with ease along the way, it was brilliant and it was brilliant because it was small, stylish and cheeky. When he turned a riverbank into an apparent skate park in Desolation of Smaug, it felt cheap and artificial, (that’s artificial in a movie where I’m willing to accept trolls, wizards and talking spiders, by the way). What Legolas does in this film is slightly more ridiculous if only marginally less cartoony than its direct predecessor.

There’s a lot that can be said about this film, but I feel like my stance has quickly become apparent. More than anything, it feels like a wasted opportunity. This film could have, somehow, bridged the worlds of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but it seemed too busy trying to construct giant neon signs saying “Lord of the Rings is coming!” than actually trying to build any emotional build up or connection. In the last three films, it has to be said, there hasn’t been half of the connection between characters or between characters and audiences that were was in a single one of the LotR films. Now don’t get me wrong, the cast is truly great. Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage and Evangeline Lily all deliver their parts fantastically. But the film is given no emotional centre, no character to empathise with, (particularly surprising given that one central character has been named for the entire trilogy), and it’s quite hard to care whenever a character suffers or rises in triumph. Action is thankfully less over the top and more grounded than in the previous two films, but barely so.

I’m foregoing my usual percentage rating system, knowing that opinion will likely be quite divided on this film. I’m opting instead to give you this handy checklist to let you know if it’s for you.

You should definitely watch The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies if you really want to see:

  • A man and a dwarf competing for the title of “Most-Aragornish”
  • Legolas’ mad hang-gliding skills
  • An incredible volume of reminders that Lord of the Rings is coming
  • References to things being bred for war
  • Two Towers, but with less sharp CGI, less satisfying action and plot and less interesting characters
  • Billy Connolly’s face surrounded by poor green-screen effects
  • People riding a variety of farm animals
  • Eagles
  • Thorin tripping major balls on a shiny gold floor
  • All the desolation caused by Smaug that should have perhaps made up the last twenty minutes of the film called The Desolation of Smaug instead
  • Legolas finally running out of arrows
  • The least satisfying resolution to a love triangle since Jack, Rose and a piece of driftwood
  • The return of Gandalf’s ‘spooky wizard voice’
  • Far too many trolls
  • Battle horns which play a shockingly wide variety of notes
  • Rhosgobel rabbits
  • Legolas’ mad hopscotch skills
  • Five out of the thirteen main dwarves being given speaking roles
  • Grima Wormtongue’s halfwit ancestor
  • A few less endings than Return of the King
  • Surprisingly little of the hobbit
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