Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee
Running Time: 144 minutes
Synopsis: As the threat of Smaug looms large over Lake Town, forces from around Middle Earth converge on Erebor to lay claim to its treasures. Thorin Oakenshield and his company of Dwarves stand in their way – leading to an ultimate showdown…
“I know I have no right to ask you this… but will you follow me, one last time?”
So utters Thorin to his Dwarven clan at approximately the halfway mark of Peter Jackson’s final excursion into Middle Earth, and it feels like the LORD OF THE RINGS director is speaking directly to us. His two previous outings to the world of Elves, Dwarves, men and Orcs have been lacklustre at best; akin, really, to the STAR WARS prequels – boasting an unnecessary, bloated plot overloaded with CGI.
So when he implores us, through his Dwarf King, to carry on the charade, it’s difficult to empathise. Stretched to three films for purely financial reasons, his grand finale feels excessive, pointless and uninteresting. After an opening scene that, perplexingly, was not left on the end of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG but instead plucked and placed here (resulting in a wholly unfulfilling narrative for the middle chapter), we’re thrust into two hours of hollow action.
Somehow, despite a melee that encompasses seemingly every race known to Middle Earth, THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES never reaches the scale of even the battle of Helm’s Deep. The action is a blur of bland CGI masses, interspersed with the rinse-and-repeat motif of last-gasp rescues for almost every named character. After a couple of near-death occurrences, even the threat level vanishes, and all emotional intensity is wrought from the film.
Poor dialogue and ill-advised slo-mo clutter up the script, invoking more than one cringe-inducing moment. And again, we’re reminded that all that’s at stake here is lots and lots of gold (oh, and a ‘strategic battle point’ – hardly worth a grand, five-army skirmish). It seems like diminishing returns over the original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and it’s obviously difficult not to hark back to that gold standard when we’re reminded of it throughout THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – as Jackson shoehorns in a handful of connective tissues, few of which add to the original trilogy in any way.
Legolas’ presence is once again unnecessary; the cardboard cut-out character of LORD OF THE RINGS is afforded no real development here. The love-triangle story between Tauriel, Kili and Legolas is still pointless, aside from lending the film another female character. Tauriel is quite interesting, but the love story is not, so she’s ultimately wasted – as, again, are the Dwarves. (In fact, Thorin’s cousin Dain, introduced in the battle, has more personality than any of the other twelve Dwarves are given over the entire trilogy.)
It’s quite telling that the film’s strongest action scene comes in its first few minutes, and has nothing at all to do with the title. It’s also focused on original trilogy characters, as Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond defend Gandalf from the Nazgul. The ultimate effect of THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is not to give us a satisfying conclusion to the Middle Earth saga, but to make us wish Jackson had just left it with the altogether more interesting LORD OF THE RINGS story. THE HOBBIT, particularly when stretched to three films, has proven disjointed and uninteresting.
Towards the film’s end, Gandalf spends what feels like a lifetime scraping the inside of his pipe in an attempt to light it, while Bilbo sits beside him in awkward, silent reflection. It’s moments like this which feel, on some level, like a grand metaphor for Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy; the director scraping around inside the depths of Tolkien’s extended works for more material to plunder (or simply fabricating his own additions) while the audience sits awkwardly, wondering what the point of it all is.
Robbed of all emotional intensity by crude CGI and a hollow script, THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES falls flat. It’s not entirely without merit, as there are a handful of standout moments – the Dol Guldur battle springs to mind, along with some notable performances from Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen – but on the whole, it’s an altogether disappointing end to the Middle Earth saga.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is in cinemas from Friday 12th December.