With Smaug’s fiery destruction ended relatively swiftly, the majority of Battle of Five Armies is dedicated to character development, the titular battle and paving the way for the plot of Lord of the Rings.
The latest, and final, instalment of the Hobbit franchise requires quite an extensive suspension of belief even for the fantasy genre. Tolkien’s world is one of magical rings, gravity-defying elves and, in the Hobbit’s case, excessively CGI-d orcs, but Lord of the Rings always had a touch of realism to it. This may be in part due to the sweeping sets, from the halls of Gondor to the interior of Mount Doom, the sets added to an almost overwhelming sense of realism. But the idea of the, in comparison, limited armies of Thandriul even combined with the dwarf, human and eagle forces, defeating the expansive army of orcs, reached beyond the boundaries of fantasy believability. Watching the dwarves retreating and on the point of extinction made it difficult for me to believe a measly eight more would make a difference. Granted, they’re proven skilled fighters, and Thorin proves a rallying point, but the crane shot that showed the differences in numbers made me believe the demise of at least a significant portion of the dwarf army inevitable. On a quick, pedantic note: two dwarves fighting a hundred goblins with apparent ease, not sustaining even a shred in their clothing? This made it difficult for me to believe any situation would be perilous to this apparently immortal race. (Yes, I was quickly proven wrong.)
Another issue I had with this film is one I had in regards to Lord of the Rings: the eagles are essentially a deus ex machina, a plot device. What perplexed me was; why didn’t the eagles return Gandalf and Bilbo to the Shire? It took a considerable amount of time to reach the Mountain, and the trip was shown to be one of perilous danger in the first two instalments. Regardless of this, hearing the Eagles are coming, previously used in Return of the King as a symbol of hope and salvation, turned into a sign of helplessness and despair, was particularly harrowing, and I applaud the script-writers for this subversion.
The ending left me somewhat unsatisfied also, with more than a few lingering questions. What happens to the contents of the Mountain? Does Bard become Master of the town? Was Tauriel unbanished? Peter Jackson seems to have gone down the polar opposite route of Return of the King with it’s multiple endings that, despite dragging the already long running time, leave you with the satisfaction of knowing the outcome for most of the characters. I did however, enjoy the final scene, which effectively linked the Hobbit series with Lord of the Rings.
The above criticisms are not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie; Battle of Five Armies ties in with An Unexpected Journey for my favourite of the Hobbit franchise. The battle scenes were up to their usual Peter Jackson standards, and, for someone who’s never read the novel, filled with tension about what the outcome would be. The acting also was spectacular. Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman were stellar as expected, the latter’s performance of denial and grief was particularly stellar. The stand out actor for me was Richard Armitage however. Armitage pulls off Thorin’s broody, vengeful persona effectively, but his performance during Battle of Five Armies, particularly the effects of dragon sickness was unsettling, his demise and reconciliation with Bilbo evocative.
Despite it’s flaws, Five Armies definitely exceeded my expectations after the disappointment of the bloated Desolation of Smaug, and contains stunning performances from it’s standout cast. I’d describe the movie as more of a popcorn flick, an enjoyable way to kill a few hours with some remarkable action scenes interlaced with, questionably timed, comedic moments.