The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Dir. Peter Jackson

[Warner Brothers; 2014]

Styles: fantasy
Others: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The strange thing about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the last part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the short children’s fantasy novel The Hobbit, is that the film starts with the book’s climax. For about two and a half hours, The Battle of the Five Armies is all fallout, with various factions jockeying over ownership over a wealth of treasures. Jackson patiently lays out the stakes, including disagreements on massive and intimate scales, yet he once again pads out the action with unnecessary comic relief, superfluous action, and more damn elves.

The previous film in the series, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, ended with a cliffhanger: the deranged titular dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is about wreak havoc on Laketown, a hapless community of men, women, and children. The Battle of Five Armies, therefore, starts in a suitably horrific way, with Smaug burning people and buildings with gleeful, evil abandon. Bard (Luke Evans) eventually kills the dragon, which means there is a cross-species dispute of who, precisely, lays rightful claim over the interior of the mountain where he used to live. The Dwarf Leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) is in the best position, literally, since he stands at the entrance to mountain, his mind warped by “dragon sickness.” This alarms the other dwarves and Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who hides precious jewel from Thorin. Meanwhile, orcs, elves, and more dwarves all approach the mountain, drawing battle lines and getting ready to fuck up each other’s shit.

We know from the previous two films that the children’s novel does not provide Jackson with enough material for an epic-length film, except the crucial difference is that now we’re prepared for it. Sometimes Jackson’s digressions work: there is a strange scene with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) that is both intimate and a little creepy. Still, the two most noticeable digressions are annoying, albeit for different reasons. There is an awkward sub-plot where a craven Laketown resident acts cowardly, dresses in drag, and generally provides broad comic relief.

The second, much more egregious example of Jackson’s kitchen-sink approach to fantasy action happens during alongside the titular battle. As the five armies clash — Jackson films the macro-scale action as if he’s exhausted — there is a sequence in which Bilbo and Thorin scurry after Azog the orc general. All the Middle Earth films include a mix of low-scale and grand-scale action, but here the reliance on Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is, ugh, too much of a mediocre thing. Legolas is more ninja than elf — his acrobatics suggest he’s weightless — and Jackson goes out of his way to create action set-pieces that show off his badassery. Not only is Legolas not really in The Hobbit book — I think he gets a passing mention once — he’s also a distraction from the Thonic/Bilbo arc, which is genuinely interesting. Thorin is the best thing in The Hobbit films: stubborn and brave, he struggles to lead by example except his thirst for power corrupts him. In other words, he’s remarkably human for a dwarf, which is why his final scene is emotionally affecting. The only pity, therefore, is another scene in which Legolas careens around the frame like boyishly handsome Yoda (thankfully, this film has fewer endings than The Return of the King).

For about fifteen years, Peter Jackson devoted himself to adapting JRR Tolkien’s fantasy books. Now that we’ve seen them all — at least, I hope so, since Jackson won’t rule out another Middle Earth film — we have a clear sense of his ambition. With The Lord of the Rings films, Jackson paid respect to Middle Earth and Tolkien by extension. With The Hobbit films, Jackson paid respect to his devoted fan-base. For non-fans, this move is calculating, cynical, and exhausting. For his fans, this is exactly what they wanted, I guess, which is why I think they’re only ones who will care about The Hobbit films in the long run (for those wondering, the second film is the best, and the others are equally mediocre). Either way, I am so thankful this holiday season that that these films are over (for me, anyway). If I see any more, I’d worry I’d develop Post-Traumatic Hobbit disorder, or something.

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