The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies movie review: there and back again… at last

The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies yellow light

I fear that Peter Jackson has been suffering from a similar affliction to the dwarf king’s “dragon sickness”: a compulsive lust for epicness.
I’m “biast” (pro): big Tolkien geek…

I’m “biast” (con): …but Jackson’s second trilogy has tried my fandom

I have read the source material many times (and I love it)

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The best thing about — finally! — reaching the third and last chapter of Peter Jackson’s ponderously epic eight-hour adaptation of the rather brief and chipper novel The Hobbit is that we may be assured that once the DVD hits next year, some intrepid fan is going to whittle the whole thing down into a breezy 105-minute phantom edit… like it should have been in the first place.

I am really looking forward to that.

A terrible affliction, er, afflicts the dwarf king Thorin here. Chasing off the dragon Smaug and reclaiming the accumulated treasures of his people — as had happened by the end of the second film — isn’t enough for Thorin (Richard Armitage: The Crucible, Into the Storm). Because he is in the grips of “dragon sickness,” the same unshakeable compulsion that kept the dreadful reptile glued to the gold in the first place. It’s a lust for riches in general, and in Thorin’s case, for one particular gem, the Arkenstone, also known as The King’s Jewel.

That no one here seems to think that name is snicker-worthy is a symptom of how solemn and humorless the flick is, which is a shame, because J.R.R. Tolkien’s book is full of hearty humor. But never mind. The thing is… I now realize that Peter Jackson has been suffering from a similar compulsion for the past decade: “blockbuster sickness.” I don’t know how else to account for what he did to The Hobbit. It’s kind of like — to switch genres — what Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day, how after that one glorious perfect day with Andie MacDowell, he tried to force that same relaxed romance in future reiterations of that day. And of course that’s impossible. You can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice. Doing it once is — and should be — magic enough.

Jackson has failed to do for The Hobbit what he did for The Lord of the Rings, which isn’t at all surprising because epicness was built into the latter, and was never in the former. All the problems of Jackson’s Hobbits 1 and 2 remain here: everything feels forced and — bizarrely but unsurprisingly — anticlimactic. It feels like nothing is at stake, because not much is. The five armies here — humans, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and eagles — are fighting over the treasure in the mountain. That’s it. There is no resonance for those of us watching, and there’s no reason why there couldn’t have been: the world is being ruined by a lust for money and the power that money represents, and yet instead of this Hobbit feeling in any way meaningful, it feels like we’re watching a videogame.

When Jackson decided to title his third installment The Battle of the Five Armies, he was being quite literal. The dragon holocaust of Lake Town, in which Smaug (the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch: Penguins of Madagascar, The Imitation Game) is dispatched by Bard the bowman (Luke Evans: Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6), is over so quickly that it almost feels like it should have been part of the previous film. So we’re left with two hours of battle. It’s not all fighting, of course: there’s a lot of not-really-talking and thwarted diplomacy between Thorin and Bard, who has come for Lake Town’s share of the treasure so that they can rebuild, but what with the dragon sickness and all, Thorin is disinclined to make good on his promise. And the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace: Guardians of the Galaxy, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2) shows up, and for the life of me I cannot remember why. Something to do with not letting the mountain fall into orc hands, maybe? I’m sure it’s mentioned, but it hardly matters. Army of pretty elven warriors in pretty capes! What is important, in this version of The Hobbit, is the 45-minute battle of the five armies. Which is awesome for CGI videogame values of awesome, I suppose. But it’s not terribly interesting.

And where is the titular halfling in all this? Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman: The World’s End, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) has almost nothing to do here. He has served his purpose as the company’s burglar, and the one essential chore left to him at this late stage is dispatched in mere moments. Some more time might have been given over to the moral quandary on Bilbo’s part that this chore entails, and to how it connects with Thorin’s dragon sickness — which comes on so quickly that it makes him seem like a cartoon villain — but then that battle might have needed to be cut to a mere 35 minutes, and that simply wouldn’t have done, I suppose.

Peter Jackson has made it really tough to be a fan with his Hobbit movies. I like visiting Middle-earth! Thranduil riding a mighty elk like it’s the Best Steed Ever is pretty cool. Martin Freeman is still the most hobbity hobbit possible. Hot guys cosplaying! But I’m sad that the most we can concede that Jackson has done here is to make a pale imitation of his own epic trilogy. Maybe I’ll go watch that again now.

I saw a 2D 24fps presentation of the film

See also:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug review

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies for its representation of girls and women.

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