Saturday, December 27, 2014

Film Review: The Hobbit - The Battle of Five Armies

A big, bold spectacle sends off the final Middle-Earth movie.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies picks up the exact moment that The Desolation of Smaug ended.  The great dragon attacks the helpless citizens of Laketown as Thorin's company looks on helplessly.  But after about 12 minutes, this problem is resolved and the story pushes forward to the main issue at hand: who is to claim the treasure of the Lonely Mountain.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) begins the story by falling to "dragon sickness," which is like what lust that Gollum had for the one ring, but this time centered treasures in general.   And because of this, Thorin slowly begins to fall into madness, much to the anguish of Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the other dwarves.  This irrational greed makes him refuse to treat with Bard (Luke Evans ) of Laketown and Tranduil (Lee Pace) of the Woodland Elves.  This pushes these 3 races to battle each other.  That is until the Goblins come, lead by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennet) and one other army (that I will not mention here) so that we get the eponymous battle.

The movie's strengths lie in Jackson's incredible talent for visual amazment.  This a beautiful movie to watch, not just in terms of set design and special effect, but also in Jackson's sweeping direction.  Of course, this can also be a bit problematic.  When struggling with his "dragon sickness" Jackson uses an elobarate cinematic sequence to convey his inner conflict when a much simpler sequence would have been better.  But this movie is "go big, or go home."

Many of the performances are also great.  I adore Freeman as Bilbo.  He infuses so much personality and character with his every mannerism and twitch.  I only wish that there was more of him in the movie.  I find it so odd that even though he is the title character, there is no doubt that he is a supporting character in an ensemble rather than a lead.  Armitage also bring a lot of gravitas to the diseased Thorin.  Ian McKellan's Gandalf is as vibrant as ever.

There are some performances that are not up to par, however.  Lee Pace's Tranduil never comes off as a believeable person.  And worst of all is Alfrid (Ryan Gage).  He is the Jar Jar Binks of this movie.  Every scene he is in drains life and vitality from the movie.  I inwardly groaned whenever I saw him.  This is less the actor's fault as it is the writers.  His part could have easily been removed and the film would have so much better.  Every time the film wants me to take it seriously, they trot out Alfrid and he wakes me from the spell they are trying to cast.  I cannot emphasize enough how awful Alfrid is.

It cannot help but feel like he was put in there to pad the story with things not from the book, as was Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the romance of Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lily).  But the romantic subplot was actually a nice added dimension to the story.

But this film feels like it has more real peril, both internally and externally.  The battle at Dol Guldor is one of my favorite moments in the battle.  You really feel the power of the wizards and elves.  I particularly enjoyed watching Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchette) use their full power against evil.

I especially love Bilbo's dilemma.  As Thorin becomes more consumed, he has to figure out what to do.  As his friend he does not want to hurt him, but he knows that in his current state, Thorin will destroy himself.  Freeman does an excellent job of expressing this inward struggle with sincerity and believability.

But the problem with his Bilbo (and this is not the actor's fault but the writer's), is that he is a bit too stoic by the end.  I honestly think Peter Jackson was injured by the criticism that The Return of the King's ending was too long.  I thought the criticism was wrong, since that extend goodbye gave everyone closure and catharsis.  But The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of the Peter Jackson Middle-Earth movies, and he wraps up the ending fairly quickly.  But I think the latter is a deficit rather than a strength.  It did not feel like you had enough of a chance to say goodbye the company of Thorin.

The other issue (MILD SPOILER) is that because this film has to connect to The Lord of the Rings, it ends on a slightly down note that the book does not.  Bilbo returns as a war veteran who has become an addict.  He is addicted to the ring and rather than ending on an uplifting note, we say goodbye to young Bilbo in the throws of his addiction.  This works to connect it to the other trilogy, but it feels like shortchanging this one.

Speaking of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I have been rewatching them since seeing the final Hobbit.  And it seems to me (though I could be wrong), that there was a lot more CGI locations and sets rather than actual physical, outdoor shots.  The same thing happened with the Star Wars prequels.  The only reason why I mention it here is that the concreteness of the world in The Lord of the Rings gave it a more believable look than The Hobbit.

However, Richard Taylor and WETA did a fantastic job of realizing their world.  One of my favorite things from the movie was watching a dwarf army in formation, something I have never seen before.  It was so fantastic to see these 5 distance races of armies side-by-side and distinct in every way.

So if you've enjoyed the previous Hobbit films, then you will certainly enjoy this one.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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