The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ★★★★

"If you ever pass through Bag End, tea is at four. You are welcome any time. Don't bother knocking."

This was a weirdly emotional film for me. I didn't grow up in the 70's and 80's watching the original Star Wars trilogy and then move onto the prequel trilogy from there. And there really hasn't been a real grand "franchise closer" in the past decade or so (you could claim Toy Story 3 and The Dark Knight Rises earned this label, but both have reboots or sequels coming very soon). Even Deathly Hallows, while great in its own right, felt oddly cold when it was all said and done.

With the Middle Earth saga, I watched all three Lord of the Rings almost religiously as a child and was highly anticipating this set of films adapting The Hobbit. So to me, this was quite odd, since I'll be going from my childhood with the original trilogy to leaving for college with these final films of the Middle Earth saga for good. And for the most part, it was great sendoff that, admittedly, almost brought me to tears towards the end.

Unlike most, I was actually glad to hear that the film was split into two films when the project was first announced. The Hobbit, while a fantastic book, felt very episodic and emotionally empty, especially when compared to The Lord of the Rings. However, three movies was just too many for this adaptation. Most of the filler belongs to The Desolation of Smaug, a film that's only saving grace is the confrontation with the titular character, who was beautifully realized in these films. But just like The Two Towers burdened The Return of the King with its bloated set of forgettable characters, The Battle of the Five Armies's flaws are a continuation of its predecessors' issues. But unlike the TTT/RotK situation, Desolation feels like the first two acts of the story, while this film feels like the climax stretched out to meet an expectable running time (by Peter Jackson standards).

The opening is quite memorable, but I had some issues with it as well. For starters, this is where the previous film should have ended, because once the exciting sequence ends, the shift back to what the actual plot of the film is feels more than jarring. Imagine if Darth Vader gave his memorable speech at the beginning of Return of the Jedi instead of at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Now, itt might not have been as drastic story-wise as that example, but you get the point. Also, some of the film's worse CGI is on display here; the flames engulfing Laketown look surprisingly cheap in some shots. But the final showdown is breathtaking, to say the least. It just sadly doesn't fit with the rest of the film.

After the fierce and rousing opening, we settle down for the build-up to the real showdown: The Battle of the Five Armies. In the book, this plot point lasted for maybe a page or two before Bilbo is knocked out and wakes up to find out the battle is over. Thankfully, Jackson took advantage of his creative rights here and extended the battle into something much grander. A lot of people have complained that the battle looks like a massive cutaway scene from a video game, and I'd have to disagree with a lot of those people. There is a lot of CGI on display and some of it is very noticeable (the cringe-worthy Legolas scenes in particular), but it felt monumental overall. It doesn't match the heights of the franchise such as the Helms Deep battle, but it's impressive on its own terms.

While the battle takes up a significant amount of time, there are quite a few emotional beats involving the dwarves, elves, and Bilbo to give this film some substance so it's not just an all-out assault on the senses. In particular, the scenes involving Bilbo and Thorin are remarkably well-acted. Both actors dive right into their roles and evoke some true emotion into their scenes. Martin Freeman was truly born to play Bilbo and is much better at playing a hobbit than Elijah Wood ever was. And unlike the other Hobbit films, there's a sense of threat this time around, with many main characters biting the dust before the closing credits. This is something that many critics have complained about that Peter Jackson has finally capitalized on here as he bridges this trilogy into the darker lore of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And let me just talk about the ending here. I thought the ending was going to be lackluster, seeing how Jackson ended Return of the King with an absurd amount of endings. Not only that, but like I said earlier, the film is meant as a bridge into the follow-up films which is not an easy task. But let me tell you, Jackson gets it right. And when I mean right, I mean it's absolutely perfect. The final scene with Bilbo hit me like a freight train full of emotion as it is the best way possible to end this film. Definitely one of the defining moments of the Middle Earth saga.

Here we are at the end of this stretched-out Hobbit trilogy. There are those who loved it, those who thought it was merely okay, and those that flat-out detested it. I'm leaning more towards the "love" side of the reactions. Does it live up to Lord of the Rings? Nope. But was it really ever going to? Desolation of Smaug definitely sticks out as the weak link here, feeling like 2/3 of a film and awkwardly leaving the last installment with its climax. But, The Battle of the Five Armies overcomes this daunting obstacle due to its extremely impressive battle sequences, emotional beats that actually hit the mark, and a sense of danger and urgency that this trilogy has been lacking until now. I'd comfortably rank it alongside An Unexpected Journey in terms of quality, even though they feel quite different from each other.

Quite the sendoff of this epic saga, especially with my lowered expectations and the lackluster reviews that had been released beforehand. A few flaws aside, The Hobbit trilogy managed to be solid addition and conclusion to the lucrative Middle Earth saga, and you can beat your ass I'll be there and back again to watch it all again once I add this film to my collection.

Grade: B+

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