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Thursday, December 18, 2014

‘The Hobbit: The Battle’ of Kill Kill, Stab Stab (Movie Review)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: 3 out of 5

Gandalf:  You have but one question to answer:  How shall this day end?

The second cinematic Middle-Earth trilogy has ended and now we are back where we started in 2002.  I am happy for those who are excited to rewatch The Lord of the Rings trilogy, following this ‘defining chapter,’ but I am left with other curiosities.  Having never read J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit, I am curious about whether or not audiences who enjoyed what I am aware is a reasonably amusing book for a younger crowd were hoping to see a blood-thirsty final film to close this three-film adaptation.  My impression, after first learning of the films that we would be getting was that of an understanding that we’d be dealing with more light-hearted Middle-Earth adventures.  I did not get much of that in the previous Hobbit films and certainly not with The Battle of the Five Armies, but that would be less of an issue, if the movie was still good, regardless.  Well, it’s not bad, but as much as I like seeing lots of action on display, there is a point where enough is enough, and with this film…well I’m just happy “One Last Time” is part of its mantra.


Following an opening prologue that essentially wraps up a rather large element the last film left us with as a cliffhanger, the real story gets going.  With the Lonely Mountain back in control of the Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), many others are now basically on their way to try and tell Thorin what’s what.  Perhaps Gandalf (Ian McKellan) should have thought about this, before setting everything in motion, given the potential mass amount of losses that will result from the clashing of several armies all vying for one part of the map, but of course he has other things to deal with.  At the center of all of this, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is one of the few who may be able to do what is necessary to keep some shaky truces alive, in order to keep things under control, before evil armies can do too much damage to the side of ‘good’. 

Peter Jackson is a very talented filmmaker, I have no doubts about that, as I am a big fan of a lot of his films.  With that in mind, I have not been overly enthusiastic about The Hobbit series, despite finding them fairly watchable, given the visual splendor (among other filmmaking aspects) and a handful of the many performances.  The issue has always been the same and while it is pretty simple, at this point, to knock the film for turning a 300-page book with elements from other related materials into three 2 ½ hour+ films, that does not mean the complaint is not justified.  As a result, this third film is a giant action finale, which may sound pretty neat, but ultimately feels like overkill.  What I was hoping to be a film that could justify this series as a trilogy by giving us a satisfying amount of closure, merely serves as the end of several storylines, following some never-ending battles.


The reason I find issue with what could be seen as a spectacular achievement in action direction that Jackson practically makes look easy at this point is investment.  Characterization has never been a strong suit in this Hobbit series, which is what comes from stretching a simple story and the players involved so thin, and because of this, no matter how cool a lot of the action may look, I had far less to care for than say in the Lord of the Rings films.  That series benefited from having a level of stakes and a group of individuals that simply mattered a whole lot more to me than in these films.  With The Battle of the Five Armies, I have to root for certain characters by default, but that does not take away the irritation I find in having what amounts to a lot of stubborn characters that have no choice but to reconcile things for the sake of the more eviler army of Orcs that thankfully outweighs pig-headedness (though there are some pig-headed orcs).

This does not mean The Battle of the Five Armies is not without its merits, as it is a film that is not only the shortest in the series, but is also the fastest-paced, given how straightforward the narrative is.  It also features fine work from Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage.  Sure, it is quite silly to use the term ‘dragon sickness’ as a way to describe why Thorin continues to be such a dick, but Armitage sure sells it, along with the scenes that play through his ultimate arc in this film.  Moreover, it is pretty easy for me to enjoy anything Freeman does, so getting to watch Bilbo participate (as much as he can) is satisfying enough, despite a real lack of a better narrative arc for his character.  It is also easy to acknowledge some of the older stalwarts of this series as well, even if they only get so much to do (Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee in full kick ass mode).  Plus, we get another fine score from Howard Shore in all of this.


The visuals are of course tremendous, but it comes at a cost of how admirable it was to really notice the healthy blend of practical effects and CGI in Jackson’s previous trilogy.  Sure, we get to see some great sets and production design, but at the same time, this is another film that has huge scale battles, with only so much visceral impact, given how clean the digital work is (not to mention the 48fps, which I have yet to really embrace).  Keeping this in mind though, the opening features a battle scene focused on dragon action that was quite exciting, watching Christopher Lee fight ghosts is a great sentence unto itself, and Orlando Bloom (and his CGI double) has basically been brought on to show off his skills in the most over-the-top, yet still entertaining ways possible.

It is a lot of give and take, as I have already stated that the film having a lot of battling does not necessarily add up to being a better movie.  With that in mind, Jackson has familiar movie-logic issues to go with all of this.  The boring romantic angle continues to drag things down.  Weird moments of humor in an attempt to make up for all the brooding in a film that was supposed to be more fun feel out of place.  Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel character, who was a badass in the previous film, ends up a damsel in distress on more than one occasion.  At least the inevitable one-on-one face-offs lead to some well-done series finales to various adversaries that give me some levels of satisfaction in a series where I have had trouble really getting the chance to embrace it more.


In all of this, the film continues to do all it can to connect itself to The Lord of the Rings, which is expected.  It would be hard for me not to reference the superior trilogy that lies ahead, chronologically, which is why I have done so in this review.  It is not that I needed these films to be as good as those, but it does feel like a hollow series by comparison, no matter how much effort is clearly being put on display.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies wraps things up in a way that is satisfying enough, but I cannot say this has been a journey full of the same kind of wonder.  It has a lot of fine elements for sure, especially given the array of action on display, but at the end of it all, I only feel like I went there, then came back again, and felt little difference after learning more about Bilbo’s travels.


Bilbo Baggins: When faced with death, what can anyone do?




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