John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies Poster

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Genre: Fantasy, Action and Adventure

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage

MPAA-Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 17th, 2014

“The battle for the mountain is about to begin, visit ” states Gandalf (Ian McKellan) in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. He’s not wrong and in fact, there this film even feels like the beginning of something great.

After those two arguably unnecessary features— both of which worked as standalone features— The Battle of the Five Armies concludes the trilogy (which, ask of course, serves as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings series). Much was made about the decision to make The Hobbit, a short and easily-readable novel about one character’s adventures, into two three separate features. It’s a decision that forced the writing team to add extraneous subplots, a few new characters and even a romantic subplot to the story. The first two Hobbit movies were quite good but if the story had been compacted into one feature, that movie might’ve been great.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the best of the trilogy and the first one to actually approach greatness.

Director Peter Jackson, a masterful filmmaker, shows what he’s capable of in bringing this story together in this final chapter. At the end of the second feature, the treacherous dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbath) was unleashed, destroying a nearby village in a matter of moments. With Smaug no longer reigning over the mountain— which houses hordes of gold and offers a strategic position worth fighting for— chaos ensues as five armies fight for the chance to be, for lack of a better phrase, “King of the Mountain.”

Despite the fact that Jackson has already crafted five full-length feature films set in Middle Earth, his vision for the kingdom still inspires and astounds me. Bringing the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien to the big screen was no easy task— it took decades for the first film to be made— and Jackson has admirably crafted a series that services both hardcore Tolkien fans and those who have never ventured into Middle Earth before. In both the films’ smaller moments of character growth (there are several of those here) and its larger-than-life epic battle sequences (there are plenty of those), Jackson uses the camera uniquely to focus on elements in the story that would’ve otherwise been ignored. After one small brief scene, for instance, Jackson focuses in on one of Gandalf’s enemies as he falls off a cliff, only to return seconds later, instead of the fight occurring only a few feet away.

The camera doesn’t simply follow the swordplay and the bloodshed. Instead it dwells on the characters themselves as they struggle to survive and gain power.

Power is everything here and the struggle for it remains the story’s focus. “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold,” Gandalf  presciently notes before the main battle begins. The short-tempered Thorin (Richard Armitage) is the greatest victim of that temptation as he seeks to maintain control of the mountain even as armies of orcs, humans and elves stand outside preparing to fight him for it. Of course, hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman)— the naively innocent character at the heart of the story— keeps a steady and honorable course even in the midst of a strong group of dwarves.

In one of the film’s quietest moments, Gandalf tells Bilbo “You’re a very fine fellow and I’m very fond of you.” In the end, it’s hard to step away from that sentiment.

Sure, we can be cynical and note that The Hobbit should’ve been only one film and we can argue that some elements of this trilogy feel out of place (such as a unnecessary love triangle) in such a grand epic. But at the end of the day, The Hobbit is a very fine film series and despite the fact that it’s not as good as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’m very fond of it.

Review by: John Hanlon