Mar 30, 2015

[Movies] The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

As much as most folks like or at least respect the Lord of the Rings movies as being fun fantasy romps, I think we're all in agreement that The Hobbit movies have been dragging a bit. There's a fair amount of extraneous elements introduced into the story in order to help expand the thing into a full trilogy of movies despite the source material having been positioned as something for younger audiences. And while it's still fun to see the various characters adventuring across Middle Earth, it has required viewers to sit through a LOT of filler materials.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was meant to wrap up this second foray into Middle Earth, which may also be the last adventure with all these familiar faces. And while there's a lot of prequel material out there, I'm actually kind of hoping that we leave things as they are and have the folks involved quit while they're ahead.

But who knows, really. We sort of thought that everything was done and over with given the first trilogy and the fan hopes of a Hobbit movie were modest aspirations as best. But everything turned around and we ended up with a heck of a lot more movie material than we had bargained for.

Synopsis: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the third and final chapter in The Hobbit trilogy of movies. As with the others before it, the movie was directed by Peter Jackson while the screenplay was written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro.

When we last left our dwarven heroes (plus one hobbit), their efforts to defeat the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) had failed and the beast was now terrorizing the human settlement of Laketown. Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) is imprisoned initially, but of course manages to escape in order to join the fight against the dragon. What passes for the town's local government have little to contribute to Laketown's defense or even its evacuation as they only care for their own needs at the time.

Meanwhile Thorin (Richard Armitage) continues to search the dragon's hoard for the fabled Arkenstone, which remains secretly in the possession of the burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). Thorin then orders the Lonely Mountain sealed off as the dwarfs make their claim. Elsewhere, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is the prisoner of the Necromancer, who had already revealed himself to be none other than the dread lord Sauron. But soon the White Council of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) arrive in time to save him.

It goes without saying that the visuals of this movie remain the best part of the whole adventure. From Smaug's attack on Laketown, the little skirmish between the White Council and Sauron and of course the final battle of the titular five armies at the end of the movie, there's a lot to be enjoyed. For a movie that runs 144 minutes, naturally there has to be something to be enjoy and make things seem to be worth the cost of theater popcorn and such. And again casting is still brilliant and you have a great group who really do well to bring the characters to life. There is no disputing that Peter Jackson has such a distinct vision of Middle Earth that his passion for the franchise shows in most of his scenes.

But then we have to talk about why this movie exists at all and how the horrible timing of things really sets things up on a bad note. At the end of The Desolation of Smaug, there was that distinct feeling of the movie ending rather abruptly and quite inappropriately. And true enough, this movie begins with the very end of that battle, which means that we start our final leg of this adventure with quite the anticlimactic battle. Seriously, what a waste of a good dragon. We should have just had Smaug defeated in the second movie and had this one focus on the war ahead.

Then we have the whole side adventure with Gandalf finally coming to a close, but again it felt like a plot point that could have been resolved in the prior movie. It's not like the confrontation with Sauron led to an additional side plot. In the end Gandalf re-joins the dwarfs and Sauron's forces eventually join the battle of the five armies as, well, one of those armies. I know, I know, the value of the whole encounter with the Sauron/Necromancer character has already been based online repeatedly when it came to reviews of the second movie. It's still annoying since it dragged int this third installment.

The battle of the five armies itself did feel expansive, but it didn't feel epic. If anything, it ended up feeling rather tedious, despite your silly moments like Thranduil (Lee Pace) engaging in battle while riding a large moose (or whatever) with ridiculous antlers or Dain (Billy Connolly) riding about on a war pig. And as much as the battle had a lot going on, apparently it wasn't too bad since they had lengthy conversations and moments of exposition while in the middle of the fight. If you can chat about the battle that you're in, maybe things aren't quite as serious.

I could go on and on about all the different moments that made this movie worse and worse like the inevitable direction of the Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner) romance, or Legolas (Orlando Bloom) now defying the laws of physics to an even worse degree than what we saw when he fought those oliphants in Return of the King. The movie just had so many of these crazy moments, it's clear that no one was in a position to hold back Peter Jackson's enthusiasm for playing with all these different characters in the world's most epic session of fanboy make-believe.

On its own, I suppose you can't exactly say that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a truly bad movie, but it did feel unnecessarily long and more tedious than ideal. As much as we all love a good fantasy romp in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, this just wasn't that great of a journey. And so the movie can only get 2.5 battle animals out of a possible 5.

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