Slow motion close ups; needlessly drawn out battle sequences; shameless fan service; love story arcs that didn’t exist in the source material and were only added for dramatic effect. It can all mean only one thing. Another instalment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has hit your local multiplex once again.
You’ve already given it your money, haven’t you? Even though there’s nothing, aside from precious story resolution, on offer in this film that you won’t have already seen in the two previous instalments before it. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you have already watched all three films in the series by now, having gleefully paid full price each time as your inner child gushed over your favourite childhood fantasies being brought to life every year.
I apologise for making this assumption if it is not, for you, the case. I apologise because my review is not for you, dear untainted reader. When you instead go and watch The Hobbit trilogy after it is released as the one movie experience that it is, or buy the box set of all three together and enjoy them as they are supposed to be enjoyed, you will realise you were one of the smart people.
Otherwise, you’re probably already on the defensive. How dare I consider this movie to be just another average piece of Hollywood fodder, right? Even hinting at such a tone is nigh on heresy. I could reel off a list of irritations I found lurking within The Battle of the Five Armies: the fact that its running time could easily have been cut in half if the camera didn’t frequently spend 10 to 15 second bursts studying the facial features of its main characters, for example. Or its regular offering up of terribly trained orcs as sacrifices for the seemingly invincible main characters. But as you may inherently disagree with my opinion, I’m going to instead pander to you on this occasion: let’s talk about what’s good with this film.
I’ll admit the final part of The Hobbit trilogy has its merits. I may have had trouble finding them, and it may just be that I’ve been too spoilt with the occasional brilliant film this year (doesn’t happen all the time), but I feel they are definitely in there somewhere. Martin Freeman is a joy to watch as main character Bilbo; indeed his screen time – which at times feels criminally limited, considering this is supposed to be his film – makes for some of the movie’s best moments.
Visual effects are as impressive as they were in last year’s offering, The Desolation of Smaug, with Smaug the dragon making a memorable comeback from that film. However, this comeback is brief (as one who’s read the novel will have expected), and its inevitable placement as a visually stunning set piece in the films opening harms the overall pacing of the movie. This was something I felt it did not fully recover from over the rest of its two hour and twenty minute running time.
In the end, while this final third may be technically the shortest film of the trilogy, it strangely feels like the longest. Even more so than in the previous two, there is a lot of filler on top of a story that didn’t really need such convoluted padding.
Having said that, there are still moments here that make the film more worth seeing than not. Christopher Lee’s Saruman sees more physical action in one scene than he’s had in the whole saga up to now, and the ageing actors presence on screen is still a joy to behold after all these years (despite his all-too-brief appearance, the 92 year old is a close second to Freeman in his performance). Likewise, Evangeline Lilly lights up every scene she is in as the red-haired elf Tauriel, though perhaps not quite to the extent as in the previous film.
Ultimately I suspect those who most love Tolkien’s original story will be the ones who get the most out of what’s on offer in this end of year blockbuster. On this occasion, judging this film as fairly as possible based on how it excited me (or failed to do so) at the cinema, I’m afraid I cannot join in this enthusiasm. There will be many feeling sorrow at the conclusion of this fraudulent epic; conversely, the only emotion I felt was hope that we would get something fresher in future.
5 / 10