Monday, 16 February 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Watching The Hobbit trilogy has felt a bit like Christmas dinner. The first course is absolutely delicious and you come away satisfied and hungry for more. By the time the second one gets under way, you realise you're getting fuller and could probably made do with some smaller portions. Then comes the dreaded final course. After the first two you've had so much fucking food you might burst but then someone brings out the Christmas pudding. You know you don't need it but you eat your portion anyway and spend the rest of the day, uncomfortably full, half regretting you're decision. It's all lovely in itself but together it's just too much.


Since the release of the first Hobbit film in 2012 I have defended Peter Jackson's decision to drag the short children's novel out to make three films. I argued that this relaxed and time consuming process worked well with the style Tolkein played up in his LOTR trilogy. However, upon finally sitting down to watch the final instalment at the beginning of January, I suddenly found myself wavering. Having lived with the Smaug-shaped cliffhanger for 12 months I was excited to finally see the great dragon wreak some havoc. What I got for my year long wait was 10 minutes of confusing CGI smashing and a weird, human bow and arrow. Yes, for all that waiting, Jackson only goes and kills Smaug off even quicker than you can finish your popcorn. What was the fucking point?

There is a lot to enjoy about The Battle of the Five Armies but I couldn't help finding it all a bit unnecessary. I admit that I sat there in a bit of a strop because it had become painfully clear that Jackson was stretching this as thin as possible. So little happens in this film and what does happen is just not interesting enough to cover up that fact. There aren't as many fun, geeky references for die-hard fans to pick up here and Bilbo becomes much less prevalent in all the chaos. The titular Hobbit who has so far guided us on this journey is thrown into the background as other, less interesting characters, take centre stage.

Having finally ended their journey and watching some other schmuck deal with their annoying dragon, the dwarves have everything they've ever wanted. Now they just have to keep hold of it. As it turns out, a fucking massive, unguarded pile of gold and jewels is something everybody is willing to kill for. Having spent the last two films building up the bravery of this ragtag band of brothers, The Five Armies shows them hiding from much of the conflict they have helped create. It's fucking inspiring stuff.

Meanwhile, a weakened Gandalf is still trapped in Orc-ville desperately waiting to tie-up any remaining lose ends, no matter how unnecessary, with Jackson's previous trilogy. Now the Necromancer has been unmasked, it'll take some of the most powerful actors from LOTR to draw him back into that dark corner of Middle Earth. In scenes never before associated with The Hobbit, Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond help him escape by battling the dark forces only for Gandalf can go and situate himself in the middle of another fight he isn't ready for.

There are obviously several stand-out moments that are incredibly exciting: I'm mainly thinking of the time when, thanks to a little outside help, the 92 year old Christopher Lee kicks orc ass. Part of me feels that that alone makes the film worth it. There are several shining lights within the cast; notably Luke Evans and Evangeline Lily as The Bard and the Jackson original, Tauriel. These two still manage to bring a refreshing and emotional performance in the midst of the tired appearances from Jackson regulars and the floundering of great actors lost in a CGI world.

For someone who created some excellent battle scenes in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Jackson has a great deal of difficulty keeping track of his five armies. The main part of this film I taken from such a small section of the book that there was a great deal of potential for greatness. Instead of the well choreographed and exciting battles we're used to seeing, the Battle of the Five Armies is a complete clusterfuck of fantasy creatures fighting over some gold, complete with Billy Connolly on a boar.

Let's be honest though, this battle was never really going to work, was it? After all, a massive, confusing battle over evil is one thing but a massive, confusing battle over money is just... confusing. I sat through the hour or so of fighting in this film wondering one thing: why should we care? The various races of Middle Earth coming together to fight for power and wealth? It's fucking Victorian!

By this point there are just too many characters to keep track of and too many campaigns to follow. Everyone, Jackson included, just gets lost in the fray. For something that doesn't take up much room in the book, the battle of the five armies truly outgrows its cinematic surroundings and becomes as Falstaffian as a battle is ever likely to get. It's a shame that such brilliant actors and characters aren't given enough time to develop. The director really struck gold getting Richard Armitage on board as Thorin but he has never really let the actor stand out. This final instalment was the perfect chance for him to shine but he was relegated to hamming it up as the fucking mad dwarf king. This whole “dragon sickness” plot is pushed a little too close to soap opera territory.

The Battle of the Five Armies isn't a mitigating disaster but neither is it the film we hoped it would be. Of course, you will read plenty on the internet about the amount of the plot that is either a figment of Jackon's imagination or out-of sync with Tolkein's timeline. By this point, that's just to be expected I'm afraid. It was always going to be a fucking stretch and you're fighting a losing battle if you do anything but accept things for the way they are. Yes, Thraduil mentions the Ranger Strider despite the fact that Aragorn would only have been a boy at this point. Calm the fuck down. It's Jackson's lead up to The Fellowship of the Ring, he had to get a mention of the eventual King in there somewhere. This trilogy is Jackson's gateway drug to the harder stuff on offer in LOTR. If you must get angry, this is the internet after all, then get angry about how fucking stupid it is to signpost the audience's way into a story they've all seen more times than they can remember. It's like that moment in Revenge of the Sith when Lucas emphasises the names of Padme's children as if anyone watching is still fucking surprised.

Like the Star Wars prequels themselves, The Battle of the Five Armies becomes a bit of a showcase for all of Jackson's worst qualities. The battle scenes drag on for fucking years, stories are resolved in whichever way allowed the writers to finish quickest, the romance is completely overblown, and the signposting to his later story is just fucking laughable at this point. Like Revenge of the Sith is for the Star Wars saga, The Five Armies is both the best of the LOTR 'prequels' and the stupidest. It is as technically astounding as it should be but none of this matters when you're just watching Jackson continually flogging a dead horse before your very eyes.


I guess I didn't hate it but it was the first time during these trilogies that I was disappointed with the director's approach. Non-stop action and tireless entertainment are one thing but I value necessity and validity of existence above all else. Plus, I guess I just find it fucking hard to swallow the “money is evil” message when it comes from the mouth of a man who stretched out a fairly short children's book into a 9+ hour film going experience.  

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