‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Review: Been There, But Back Again

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies'

Movie Rating:


Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy might not be as strong as his ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, but at least it isn’t another ‘Star Wars’ prequel debacle. Now that all of the tedious set-up has finally passed, Jackson delivers a feature-length climax that is easily the best entry of this elongated ‘Hobbit’ trio. Everything that’s come before dovetails, peaks and concludes. That’s true of both the good and the bad elements of these movies, but thankfully there has always been more good overall.

The last movie ended on a cliffhanger involving that big ol’ jerk of a dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) flying towards a town that he’s gonna light up like a flaming Christmas tree. This final installment picks up with that sequence, and it’s a hell of a way to kick off a movie given that it’s the most ambitious action scene of the entire ‘Hobbit’ trilogy up until this point.

Then when the Smaug has cleared (apologies for the pun), it’s time for the pace to slow to a crawl for a series of lengthy speeches about good and evil. In the middle of all that, Richard Armitage’s Thorin goes insane while guarding the gold that he’s been determined to pursue for his entire life. That’s a big problem considering how fast news has spread across Middle Earth that the treasure is up for grabs following Smaug’s departure. Soon, the humans from the destroyed town (led by Luke Evans) want a piece, an army of elves show up to claim some precious jewels, a cavalcade of dwarves (led by Billy Connolly!) arrive for their share, and of course a big ol’ stack of goblins and orcs show up for a taste as well. When that many angry armies appear in one place in Middle Earth, there’s only one thing that can happen: a big battle. So they fight and fight and fight for most of the movie. Truthfully, it’s pretty sweet.

As has been stated time and time again, the biggest problem with this ‘Hobbit’ series is that the book simply isn’t substantial enough to sustain three movies (especially when unavoidably contrasted with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, which worked perfectly as three epics). That’s obviously not a problem that can be addressed at this point by Peter Jackson and co., but thankfully it’s less noticeable here than in either of the other ‘Hobbit’ films. After all, this is the payoff. It’s a climax made feature-length, and a pretty damn strong one.

All of the characters have their arcs peak side-by-side. For the most part, that’s good, like when Gandolf gets to cut loose with philosophy and fisticuffs, Thorin gets to go insane, and Bilbo gets to fulfill his hero’s journey (until he stands aside for most of the battle, which is a bit disappointing given that Martin Freeman has been the heart and MVP of the trilogy). At other times, it’s not-so-good, particularly when that irritating elf/dwarf/elf love triangle appears and concludes with Evageline Lilly delivering one of the most nauseatingly cheesy lines in the history of useless romantic subplots.

Pacing can be a bit awkward at times since Jackson and his team of screenwriters don’t quite have the same mastery over all of the moving parts that they had in the last trilogy. Yet, when your movie opens with one of the greatest dragon destruction sequences ever mounted and then peaks with an hour-long battle featuring Billy Connolly calling goblins “buggers,” it’s hard to complain too much.

Once again, some of the digital panoramas can feel distractingly fake, both as a result of the fact that they pale compared to the real sets and locations used in ‘Rings’ and because Jackson is pushing the limits of digital technology. There’s something distractingly antiseptic about the High Frame Rate digital photography and effects that Jackson has employed that looks painful compared to the previous trilogy. Part of it is how animated and studio-bound these movies (as well as blockbuster production in general) have become, and part of it is simply that the magic of ‘Lord of the Rings’ just can’t be recreated. You can only breakthrough once.

When Peter Jackson mounted those movies over a decade ago, he revolutionized fantasy filmmaking, gave audiences something that they had genuinely never seen before, and peaked as an unpredictable outsider genre artist (following such subversive triumphs as ‘Dead Alive’, ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and ‘The Frighteners’). Only few years later, the ‘Hobbit’ films can’t help but feel like a bit of a regression for a filmmaker who has essentially stopped growing, and that’s as much of a problem as any of the narrative padding or over-reliance on digital technology. What was once a series defined by a filmmaker fulfilling his wildest ambitions has turned into Peter Jackson giving audiences what they want. It’s still a fun and often even awe-inspiring exercise because Jackson is such a talented director, but this series ends more with a sense of relief than the sense of loss that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies left us with.

For all their flaws, it’s nice that these ‘Hobbit’ movies exist. I’d wager that Jackson’s entire Tolkien series plays quite well when viewed chronologically and without the weight of expectation. Still, the greatest excitement I felt leaving the theater was the fact that Jackson has finally fulfilled his Middle Earth duty and can move onto the next chapter of his career. I can’t imagine what that will bring, but the fact that it’ll be different is more than enough cause for excitement.

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  1. Bill

    I agree with most of what this review has to say except that I think the reviewer and most others frankly have missed the point which is that Peter Jackson has taken two very different and only slightly related tales and turned them into one seamless, thematically and artistically consistent six part story that can justifiably be called the “Saga of the Ring”. It’s an accomplishment that sets Jackson high above most of the Hollywood hacks that dominate the “business” today.

    • Phil Brown

      Nope. I see that. I did say that the 6 movies will play much better chronologically. That just doesn’t change the fact that these three Hobbit flicks were long, padded, and dull at times. He could have done that all in two films just by cutting the scenes where characters walk across sets or stare wistfully into the distance in half.

  2. David C.

    Enjoyed this one far more than the previous two (which I also liked, just took some time to warm up to). Curious to see the EE on this; I’m normally not a fan of them but Desolation’s was unusually strong (less fluff just added in for fanboys), and it was clear while watching Battle that stuff had been excised. Would like to see more of Beorn and a little more of Saruman being seduced by the darker forces (which is only hinted at in the theatrical, although admittedly quite nicely). This was also my first experience with HFR 3D and I must say I’m a fan; takes about 10 minutes to adjust to it, but the clarity and depth of the 3D image is outstanding. I hope to see more of this, especially if James Cameron is really going to 60fps for the Avatar sequels.

  3. Deaditelord

    Decided to watch this in 3D HFR and while I thought the 3D was good, I couldn’t get used to HFR. At times it felt like someone had hit the fast forward button as everything – from a character’s motion to their lip movements – seemed to be moving unnaturally fast. There was also the sense of watching a play on PBS rather than a theatrical movie which I found distracting. I still enjoyed the movie, but I don’t think I would ever want to see a movie in a high frame rate again.

  4. I would love to see Jackson doing the next chapter in the Tin Tin Adventures THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSE TO HAPPEN!!!!

    The said they were going to do 3 movies, the first was done by Spielberg, the second Jackson and the third a collaboration between the 2.

    Is that thing ever going to happen or not?

  5. Cant wait to check this out, hopefully there are more HFR movies that come out down the road, I LOVE the format. Love how it works seamlessly with 3D and I love how much detail it really brings out from the movie, the costumes, facial makeup, the sets, hell even the Magic looks more real to me because it looks more like real life. I could watch every movie this way honestly, dont know why people are still stuck on the fact that it has to look like a movie. Problem is, seeing HFR one time wont convince you, nothing else other than the Hobbit films have used it so its a bit jarring for some people on their first trip. I took to it right away and have been waiting to see each installment since 🙂

  6. agentalbert

    Is there ever going to be a HFR (48fps) 2D release? i feel like I can’t make up my mind on whether I like the HFR or not (only seen it used with 3D hobbit movies) until I see it without the 3D, which can be distracting.

    • Around the time of the first Hobbit movie, Peter Jackson said that the High Frame Rate was intended only for the 3D version.

      The cinema projectors that are capable of doing HFR are all 3D models, so there’s no incentive for the theater to play the movie in HFR 2D.

      • Drew

        I don’t think you understood the question.

        He’s asking when we might see a different film released in 2D 48fps. He’s not referring to ‘The Hobbit’ series.

        • I think the question can be read either way.

          Regardless, right now the only two filmmakers with any interest in HFR are Peter Jackson and James Cameron. Jackson has said that the HFR goes hand-in-hand with 3D, and I think its safe to assume that “3D is the future of everything!” nut Cameron feels the same way.

          Also, as I mentioned, because all HFR projectors are also 3D capable, there’s no incentive for theaters to show movies in 2D HFR. They’d rather use the excuse of 3D to add an upcharge to the ticket price.

          • Chris B

            This is a tad off topic (although kind of relevent), but have you guys seen that documentary “Side-by-side”? It’s about feature films being shot on film VS. digitally. Cameron is one of the interviewees and manages to come off as kind of a prick to boot. It’s a fantastic doc though, anyone who hasn’t seen it should check it out ASAP.

          • agentalbert

            I was thinking of future movies, not The Hobbit. It’s already in enough formats. I wish there WERE a 2D HFR option. I’ve been wishing this since the first one. I do like the detail it provides, but I’d like to see how it presents a movie where everything actually caught on camera rather than CGI’d. So much of The Hobbit movies is effects, Seeing the HFR with 3D on a movie so effects laden as The Hobbit makes it hard to really judge the merit of the faster frame rate.

  7. William Henley

    I went for “Its the weakest of the Hobbit movies”.You start off with this cool destruction scene which lasts about 5 minutes, then you can litterally snooze for the next two hours until the climax. This is really the first of the movies that I felt was way too long, and actually wished was shorter. Loose an hour off of the run time, and it works.

    There are also huge plot holes in it. This isn’t really a spoiler, but one of the last lines in the movie is “ride off, and search for a ranger who goes by the name of Stryder”. Considering this happens about 60 years before Lord Of The Rings, Stryder shouldn’t have even been born yet, much less be old enough to be riding around in the wilderness on his own.

    The elf/dwarf/elf love triangle is stupid. {SPOILER|The introduction of Sauron and they knowing that he is trying to rise to power again kind of kills continuity with LOTR.

    Pretty much, the movie starts off strong, it ends strong, but all the fluff in the middle pretty much kilss the movie. It’s not a horrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly feels like the weakest of the movies.

    On a side note, watching this in the theater, I started to wonder why nothing else has been filmed in HFR. I really like it, and I am sure there are enough people out there who also like it. The technology has now been out for a while, and the first Hobbit movie came out two years ago. Why is no one else embracing this?

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