Peter Jackson’s second stab at Middle Earth has finally come to an end with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the third instalment in a relentlessly epic and tediously drawn out adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel. As with the previous instalments – 2012’s An Unexpected Journey and 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug – Five Armies is an occasionally entertaining but often immensely dull affair that fails to justify any creative reasoning behind splitting one novel into three films.
Picking up immediately after the climax – or sudden stop – of The Desolation of Smaug, the film opens on its most impressive scene as malevolent dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lays waste to Laketown, burning it to the ground before meeting his end at the hands of Bard (Luke Evans) and a giant black arrow. As the man who killed the dragon, Bard is chosen by the people of Laketown as their leader and decides to lead his people to the Lonely Mountain to seek refuge.
Currently residing in the Lonely Mountain however is Thorin Okenshield (Richard Armitage) who has reclaimed his people’s fortune from Smaug, but the gold has gone to his head and he begins to lose his mind in his search for the Arkenstone, the royal jewel of the Dwarf kingdom. When the people of Laketown arrive – with the backing of the Elves who hope to reclaim some Elvin jewellery from inside the mountain – Thorin is less than welcoming, leading to an almighty throwdown between the Dwarves, the Elves, the people of Laketown and an army of Orcs lead by Thorin’s arch enemy Azog. Who the fifth army is, is anyone’s guess.
When films just stop and start so abruptly as this trilogy of Hobbit films does, it’s hard to remember what actually happened last time out, like watching episodes of a TV show a year apart. There’s no real beginning to Five Armies, nor is there really a middle either; it is more just the third act of a story stretched over 144 minutes. As with the rest of the series, there are enough strong scenes and individual moments to make it almost worthwhile. The spectacle of the fiery opening is some of the best action Jackson has directed and Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin’s descent into madness and eventual redemption is fantastic and makes the Dwarf the film’s most compelling character by a distance.
The other characters are largely just interchangeable and archetypal, with even Martin Freeman’s charming titular character Bilbo largely sidelined in favour of the never ending CGI battle scenes. Meanwhile there’s a needless love triangle shoehorned into the story involving Elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Dwarf Killi (Aidan Turner) that never rings true for a second. There’s certainly a lot going on but very little of it is actually interesting.
The grand-scale battle scenes last so long that it’s maddening and despite the astounding effects work Jackson’s WETA workshops have done in the past – not just with the Lord of the Rings series but with the likes of Avatar and Rise of the Planet of the Apes too – the effects here are often distractingly bad. It’s clear Billy Connolly never shared a set with any other member of cast, so obvious is the CGI slapping his face onto the body of a Dwarf warrior. He’s not the only one either; any close-up of a character during battle highlights the obvious green screen work to such an extent that any immersion is lost.
Middle Earth fanatics will no doubt be happy to spend another couple of hours in Jackson’s world but everyone else will ultimately be left cold by yet another Hobbit film that drags minimal material over a gargantuan runtime with Jackson’s pacing and dialogue again proving problematic, not to mention the complete lack of peril for any characters we’ve already scene in the Lord of the Rings films.
Ultimately, The Battle of the Five Armies is just as good or bad as the other two entries in the series; there’s nothing here that will win over those bored by the other two nor is there anything that will really disappoint those who enjoyed them.