Musings on the final Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Seems like it was ages ago since I saw the first Hobbit film. But in fact it was exactly two years ago that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released. There were – and still are – quibbles about how a 320-page book warrants a three-film adaptation, and I was actually one of those people who didn’t mind it. I LOVED the Middle-Earth universe that J.R.R. Tolkien built, and The Lord of the Rings is perhaps my favorite film trilogy ever and so in my mind it was a worthwhile journey. The second film introduced us to the best CGI-dragon ever conceived on film, and so The Desolation of Smaug was even more exciting second chapter in The Hobbit journey. I listed 10 reasons why I loved that movie, with the wine barrel sequence and of course Smaug himself being the major highlights.

For some odd reason though, the third and final film just didn’t give me as much of a rush as the first two. I mean, I saw the trailer, then the second one, but I wasn’t feverishly anticipating it. In fact I didn’t even post hardly anything about it until I finally saw it early this month at a press screening. Perhaps I’m not the only one who’s feeling meh about the final Hobbit. Per EW, though the film won the box office this weekend with $56 mil, compared to the rest of the Hobbit films, The Battle of the Five Armies didn’t fare as well: The first film in the trilogy made $84.6 million its opening weekend while the second took in $73.6 million. The studio marketing machine emphasized on the phrase “One Last Time” and how one feels about such sentiment depends on how one feels on this franchise. As for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed the excursion to Middle Earth, there and back again as it were, I was ready to bid my farewell to Bilbo & co.

There are a few things that I love about the first two films that I still like this time around, so let’s start with those…

  • I still love Martin Freeman as Bilbo, he’s just so easy to root for. He pretty much is the most selfless character in the whole Middle Earth, and he pretty much risk his neck every time he goes out of his way to prevent war. I’ve always liked his casting and not only he has a believable resemblance to Ian Holm but he has that manic energy and whimsical antics that makes him so fun to watch.TheHobbit3_Bilbo
  • The character arc of Thorin is a strong one here, and Richard Armitage shows that inner conflict convincingly. The role takes advantage of the actor’s specialty of projecting ‘dark, brooding, conflicted’ in a magnetic way. The scenes where he struggles with the dragon sickness is one of the main highlights in the film, though how he recovers from it seems too quick and too easy, and perhaps there’s more of it that’s left in the cutting room floor?
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  • The slithery Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is still awesome to behold. I’d say if there is one thing that makes it worthwhile to see The Hobbit movies in 3D glory, it’d be to see Smaug. Too bad the fire-breathing dragon didn’t quite have much screen time despite that awesome cliffhanger we saw in the second film. The action-packed sequence in Lake Town, involving Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) doing what he does best, is thrilling to watch. The special effects with Dolby Atmos sound is especially incredible in this sequence and I have to admit I wish Smaug had more screen time. But of course, he’s done his duties… that is to lead everyone to the main event: The Battles of the Five Armies.

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Now, people who have been anticipating the battle sequences, this movie certainly delivers. It’s amazing how in the book, the only reference to the battle only amounts to a sentence, but here we’ve got at least a whole hour worth of battle sequences. We’ve got the Dwarves, Laketown people, and the Elves fighting a whole bunch of Orcs and Goblins, including a whole army of the Dol Guldur Orcs that are supposedly VERY scary and powerful.

That brings me to the not-so-good things about this film:

  • You’d think that the battle would be the most exciting part of the film, I mean I was expecting something in the vein of Battle of Helms Deep in LOTR: Two Towers, which was one of the most amazing rain scenes ever filmed, but it’s not even close. Somehow I find the whole sequence to be rather boring and by the end of it, I was getting so battle fatigue I couldn’t care less who wins. It’s hard enough to keep up with the current participants as it is, we’ve got Thorin’s cousin, Dwarves of the Iron Hills, joining in. Led by Billy Connolly whose accent is so distracting it’s hard to concentrate on what the heck is going on. I have to admit that my mind wandered for most of the battle scenes. In fact, I started noticing the strange looking codpiece that Azog, the Orc chief, is wearing. Seriously, I never noticed that before but I couldn’t stop giggling once I noticed that.
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  • I think the battle would’ve held more meaning to me if I had a firm grasp just what’s really at stake here. But even those lovable dwarves in the first two films just aren’t so fun here as they’re barely even in the movie! Even the dramatic tension surrounding the Arkenstone of Thrain, that is THE single most important gem of the whole Erebor’s vast treasure, just wasn’t as compelling as I’d imagine. I get that it’s a family heirloom for generations until it’s lost to Smaug, but somewhere along the way, its significance to the people is dwarfed (pardon the pun) by the overwhelming visual spectacle and action extravaganza. What’s worse is that the two main characters, Bilbo and Gandalf, often end up in the sidelines during most of the action. I don’t know why Peter Jackson would rather give a lot of screen time to Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the conniving servant of the Laketown Master, that doesn’t serve the story much at all. He sort of became a comic relief by the end before he disappeared and never to be seen again.
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  • The unnecessary and uninvolving romance between Tauriel and Kili is once again aggravating because it’s yet additional filler on top of the already piled-up filler to make up the three films. I literally roll my eyes every time they appear on screen and the repeated farewell scenes. No offense to Evangeline Lily and Adrian Turner but really, I feel nothing for their characters and their supposed *relationship.* Meanwhile, Legolas (played by the eternally youthful Orlando Bloom) is reduced to nothing more than a Ninja Elf with his Matrix-like moves. Never mind the character inconsistencies with the follow-up movies, when the fight scene was over, some people actually applauded him in the theater.
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  • Despite all of those thrilling fight and battle sequences, I was left feeling meh and unfazed. Even when one major character perished, followed by yet another seemingly-endless farewell, I still remain emotionally-detached. I mean I cried when Boromir met his end and I still get teary-eyed thinking about that scene. Now, it’s no fault to the actors in The Hobbit as I think they all did a good job in their respective roles, but more of a problem with the script (done by no less than FOUR writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro).
  • The scenes with Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman as they battle the evil Sauron seems disconnected with the battle of the five armies. I don’t know if it’s the choppy editing or that simply an issue that there are just too much going on. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear who the main enemy is, but The Hobbit trilogy overall lacks the focus that gives the quest real meaning.
  • [SPOILER WARNING]
    Towards the end, there’s all these references to The Lord of the Rings. Thranduil (Lee Pace) told Legolas to find Aragorn, even though he didn’t specifically mentioned his name, it’s obvious who he’s referring to. Now, I don’t know how old Aragorn is supposed to be during The Hobbit timeframe, but this scene just feels forced to me. Pretty much every reference to LOTR, whether it’s Bilbo playing with the ring, the appearance of the demon Sauron, feels like nothing more than nostalgia. I suppose the continuity is to be expected, but it just further proves how much The Hobbit as a franchise just won’t hold up on its own and it reinforces the fact that they don’t measure up to LOTR movies.

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In summary, the final Hobbit does have its moments and some of the action sequences are pretty entertaining. The attention to detail is amazing too, there’s really a lot to marvel in terms of visuals, and I remember ooh-aahing Thranduil’s Elven Elk with its majestic antlers. But overall, there are more bad than good here, which is pretty disappointing. I expected something more epic in terms of story, not just visual spectacle. It’s actually the shortest of all the Hobbit movies, only 144 min compared to 169 and 161 min of the previous two films, yet I checked my watch the most often whilst watching this. I’d think that even the most ardent Middle Earth fans should feel relieved that it’s finally over, if only it could’ve ended on a much higher note.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting the Hobbit movies anytime soon, but for what it’s worth, it does make me want to rewatch my Lord of the Rings extended box-set.

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Well, what did you think of the final Hobbit movie?