The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
Having reclaimed Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), must now defend it from disparate creatures of Middle-Earth who wish to take a piece of the Lonely Mountain’s great treasures. But with Thorin afflicted with an obsession to get his hands on the legendary Arkenstone, beyond Erebor’s defenses awaits several armies—Man, Elves, Orcs—that threaten to wage war if they fail to reach a compromise.
Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” offers a pleasant time given its above average level of entertainment, eye-catching special and visual effects, and neat seedlings that are sure to grow and blossom in “The Lord of the Rings.” However, the picture fails to get to me emotionally—at least on a consistent basis. We are supposed to be invested in the characters’ fates, romantic connections, and moral conundrums but they command little heft. Thus, when each subplot reaches a climax, we do not feel stirred or particularly moved; we only wish for the material to keep moving forward so we can see the next action scene.
Undercooked is the romance between Kili (Aidan Turner), a dwarf, and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf. We get a few scenes of the star-crossed lovebirds giving each other sad and longing glances but we do not experience varying depth of their personalities when they are together—or when apart. As a result, it is a challenge to imagine a future for them despite the fact that they come from different worlds. The performers look good together but having physical chemistry and not much else proves to have its limits.
Most disappointing is the screenplay’s treatment of the dwarves once Thorin’s leadership starts to feel questionable. Instead of allowing each member to shine and become memorable, they essentially react in the same manner. A few of them do not even get a chance to speak. Those that do say nothing of particular importance. It would have been the perfect opportunity for us to assess the dynamics of the group once its leader’s values have become contradictory with respect to what everyone signed up for.
This is exactly why Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a seemingly mere hobbit, is easily the most interesting because he is given several chances to show his dissent—in various modalities. We know exactly where his hairy feet stands but we feel the conflict in his mind because he does consider Thorin to be both a good friend and a good leader. He respects Thorin, maybe even fear him a bit given his increasing frustration of not having the Arkenstone in his possession, but a possibility of war is on the rise.
As expected, the picture shines when it comes to its battle sequences. The scene with Gandalf and members of the White Council in Dol Guldur is thrilling—perhaps one of the best in Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. A duel that takes place on a frozen body of water is also noteworthy, executed just right. The environment is quite beautiful but there is always a level of suspense, menace, even a pinch of humor, too. The film is certainly at its best when it successfully balances different emotions within a scene or sequence.
The final installment of “The Hobbit” series is commendable but not exemplary. It is easy to become a grouchy pessimist and make claims such as, “Well, at least it’s over now” and the like. But when one takes a second to compare this movie to other action, fantasy-adventures out there, Jackson’s film is imperfect to be sure, but one cannot deny that the work is still of high caliber.