I’m the resident book nerd here at Black Nerd Problems, so when we were volunteering to review The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, my hand went up so fast, you’d have thought I was an elf. (A Tolkien elf, not Santa’s elf. Stay with me now.) I took two of my favorite people with me, so we could geek about the movie in the car on the way home. It was a yelling, laughing ride in the Prius, for sure. This was a fun movie and if you’ve already put your green down on the first two, there’s no reason not to go see this one in the theaters.
Note: I love the book, The Hobbit. I loved it when it was profoundly uncool to love it, loved it when Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) was 12 years old and Ian McKellen (Gandalf) was still acting for the BBC/PBS crowd. The book and this movie are two completely different creatures. I’m not going to waste any words on how the two are different, that’s obvious and irrelevant. So if your primary complaint is “It isn’t like the book!” then you can also hit me with the fact that you don’t like water because it is too wet and we can all move on. End note.
The movie opens with Smaug barreling down on Laketown with a fiery vengeance. It is an almost visually perfect opening sequence, all golden red fire and brooding grey blue water. There is even a little more taunting from everyone’s favorite dragon voice, Benedict Cumberbatch, which should keep the fan girls happy. The human hero, Bard the Bowman (played by Luke Evans), does that thing that was well set up in The Hobbit II (foreshadowing is real, so pay attention), the movie hits the title slide and rips on from there.
First point of critique: Smaug is amazing. The visuals here, amazing. How Bard lives up to his family name, amazing. However, it is all smooshed into the first minutes of the movie, before the title slide even shows up. Smaug’s done so fast you barely have time to enjoy it. By moving the fighting climax of the second movie to the beginning of the third, I can see that the director is trying to bind these movies more closely together. But all it really does is make that opening sequence anti-climactic. I felt like I spent the time since the end of the last movie just holding my breath. Once Smaug lays down some fire and dies, I exhaled and thought, “That’s it?”
At this point, the movie splits into 3 points of view: The dwarves Under the Mountain; Legolas (looking creepily ageless as he should) and the female elf hero/universal love interest, Tauriel; and Gandalf off fighting the Necromancer. Each of these trails of the story has plenty of action. My favorite was the main plot with the dwarves. Richard Armitage as Thorin was excellent, subtly playing the king as he goes mad with greed, letting his eyes and the tone of his voice carry more than the words themselves. Thorin’s is the drama of the movie and he carries that central role well. The 2 elves wander about and fight with orcs. It is cool, but not very consequential. Meanwhile, off in the northlands, Gandalf, along with Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman come face to face with…well…
Second point of critique: Gandalf and the tall portion of the cast have some fights that make it abundantly clear who they’re dealing with. What this early reveal does is completely invalidate half of the plot drivers in The Fellowship of the Rings. Either Gandalf and the gang have completely forgotten what happened to them all up on that snowy mountain by the time Frodo shows up in Rivendell a generation later OR they send The Fellowship off knowing it is a mess and just hoping for the best. There are several other points in the movie where, in an attempt to tie together the end of The Hobbit with the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, the writers actually make The Lord of the Rings make less sense. They really should have learned their lesson from watching George Lucas attempt to ruin his original trilogy with his second “prequel” trilogy. Leave some things up in the air, my dude. Trying to explain it all just makes it worse.
From about the middle of the movie on, it just one long fight scene. There are mass battles and one-on-one duels, there are orcs ripping around in every direction and some very bloodthirsty elves. It is all a complete spectacle that is really why you put your money on this one in the first place. I didn’t feel it was as engrossing as the final battle in The Return of the King, but it was still satisfying.
Third point of critique: It was also, at points, hilarious. I give you 4 examples:
- There was apparently a plague of super-sized mythical beasts. Thranduil (Legolas’ father, the Elven King) rides a stag with a gigantic set of moose horns. Dain (Thorin’s dwarven cousin who comes to his aid) rides a war boar (my fellow geeks thought it was just a large pig, but I swear it had tusks). The war boar has its own armor. The orc leaders are still on wargs, the oversized wolf-beasts from previous movies. At one point, to cross the battlefield, Thorin and his crew ride around on, I kid you not, giant war-trained bighorn sheep. One gigantic fantastic beast is cool. Once you’re flipping through the Monster Manual so everyone can have their own, it gets a little tedious. By the time the eagles show up and drop a shapeshifting bear on some orcs, I just wasn’t impressed anymore.
- Everyone in the second half of the movie, be they single people or legions of orcs, appears out of nowhere. The number of times that someone is surprised by the arrival of an army is astounding. I don’t know a whole lot, but I’m pretty sure, as loud as those orcs breathe, you could hear an army of them coming over a mountain, no matter how crazy things might be.
- Legolas. Just Legolas himself, is awesome. His closing fight scene plays like a boss fight from God of War, the ones where you fight, break a wall, reset in the new room, and fight some more. I just have the feeling that “I must be a complete badass” was Orlando Bloom’s request when he signed on. While it is entertaining, when his fight scene overshadows Thorin’s, yeah, you remember Thorin, the dwarf this whole shit-storm is really about? Yeah, him. When Legolas’ fight scene is bigger, more amazing, and more, more than Thorin’s the movie has lost all balance.
- Lastly, the female elf/universal love interest Tauriel suffers from the “Strong Female Character” trap and goes out like Wyldstyle from The Lego Movie: there only to be fought over and saved by either Legolas or Kili. If a movie is going to go out of its way to shove in a female lead, I expect her to hold her own. She doesn’t.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is the big, Technicolor movie we’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson and crew. Everything you’d want is in this movie. And it more than makes up for some of the slow spots in the previous two installments. It is action action action, beginning to end. You’ve already seen the first two, so go ahead and see this one. It completes the collection.
I will spend my Holiday break re-reading The Hobbit and remembering just how good the source material is.