Past the Popcorn: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

by Jeff Walls

The final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies is billed as the final film in director Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth film series that included both this trilogy and the three original Lord of the Rings films.  The shortest film in the series, The Battle of the Five Armies works both as a final chapter and as a prequel to the original trilogy.  Although certainly a better effort than a prequel trilogy for another major film franchise that shall remain nameless, The Hobbit does not quite stand up to its predecessor.  Still, there quite a lot of entertainment value in this final film that is essentially two hours and twenty-four minutes of non-stop battle sequences.

The last film, The Desolation of Smaug, ended with the evil dragon Smaug fleeing from beneath the mountain and soaring towards the nearby village of Laketown, and this next film picks right up from there.  While the villagers attempt to flee before they burn right along with their town, Bard the Bowman takes one last shot at the weak spot in Smaug’s armored chest.  With their home destroyed, the survivors head toward the mountain where they think the Dwarf leader Thorin will make good on his promise and share the wealth with them, allowing them to get back on their feet.  Unfortunately, Thorin has been struck by the Dragon sickness and an unhealthy greed for gold, which leads him to barricade his borders.

the-hobbit-five-armies-insetThis means war for the people of Laketown and they are not alone.  The Elves and Orcs have also come to claim their share of the gold, with the great Eagles destined to show up to make for the fifth army of the title.  While all of this is going on, Bilbo the Hobbit is desperately trying to fight for peace, to little avail.  Meanwhile, the wizards Gandalf and Saruman, along with the Elf Queen Galadriel, have witnessed the return of Sauron, who is set up as the primary villain of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Although the return of Sauron has been building through the entire Hobbit trilogy, he was not featured in the book on which the films were based, referenced only vaguely as “The Necromancer.”  That is one of the elements Jackson and company added to this trilogy to help set up the earlier films.  It works well and doesn’t seem forced into the story, but it did serve to expand the filmed version of what is only a three-hundred-page book into a nearly eight-hour film saga.  This ends up stretching the third film short when it comes to plot.  With most of the book’s plot being told in the first two movies, the third film does not work quite as well as a standalone film.  It really is just two hours of battles.

Its other plot weakness is that the main character, Bilbo, the character for whom the trilogy is named, plays a very small role in this final chapter.  Mostly, Bilbo is just relegated to the role of an observer, just as he is in the book.  Then, as the movie is wrapping up, the script force-feeds him a couple of lines that are clearly spoken just to help tie the two trilogies together.

The good news about this being little but a two-hour battle scene is that the battle scenes are very entertaining.  The highlights include giant armored trolls bashing through castle walls, an elk with gigantic antlers powering through the crowded battlefield, a helmetless Dwarf head-butting dozens of armored Orcs, and the Eagles, coming in to save the day as always.  The action gets a little too over-the-top at times (often thanks to Legolas’ acrobatics), but despite inspiring a few chuckles throughout the audience, these crazy moments do little to detract from the rest of the action.

In terms of quality and entertainment value, The Battle of the Five Armies is consistent with the two previous entries in the trilogy.   This makes sense, as this really is just one long movie that just happened to have two year-long intermissions.  It is a worthy finale to this trilogy, but the question to be asked is whether or not it will truly be the last movie to take place in the Middle Earth universe.  With how popular these movies have been and how much money they have generated, my guess is that the franchise will continue in some form… even if there are no actual J.R.R. Tolkien books left to license and adapt.  We will come back to Middle Earth.  I am sure of that.

The Battle of the Five Armies opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 and the AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!

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