The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ★★½

What Hollywood says it is: The glorious, epic finale to Peter Jackson's immense cinematic achievement, The Hobbit.

What it really is: Essentially a two-hour long video game.

And so, the bloated and pretentious prequel trilogy came to a resounding end with a flurry of self-important battles, CGI warfare and implausible battle scenarios. People said almost the exact same thing nine years ago when Star Wars: Episode III had been released, and unfortunately, it must be said that the comparisons between that prequel trilogy and Peter Jackson's The Hobbit are very well-founded indeed. They might return you to a universe you'd fallen in love with so many years ago, but they also are likely to leave a sour note once you've finished the films, as they cannot even come close to matching their original brethren's greatness. With The Battle of Five Armies, Jackson has crafted not a cinematic work but something of a two-hour long video game cutscene.

At this point, commenting on the excess CGI would be an exercise in futility. Unfortunately, a substantial amount of the cool practical effects utilized in Lord of the Rings were abandoned for The Hobbit right at the outset of the trilogy, and that naturally is the case here. Orcs actually look lousier than they did in Lord of the Rings; the bats look silly; the ogres look dumb; nothing really looks terribly convincing, and the barmy lighting that Jackson adopted to try and pull off a fantastical atmosphere casts everything in such an odd afterglow it's a little hard to appreciate. Some things look great, like sweeping landscape shots, Smaug and general mise en scene of the battlegrounds. Unfortunately, too often, the overwhelming use of CGI is actually distracting as massive armies look silly and artificial. Other times, it actually looks unfinished in its unconvincing look.

That's not the only time The Hobbit III seems unfinished. This even extends to the writing itself. Character strands will be dropped or resolved awkwardly; scenes will arise only to be forgotten afterward. Most notable include the actual end of the titular battle (we never actually see how/when the battle ends; we're simply told that all that happened off-screen), the disappearance of Alfrid in spite of a substantial amount of character development that would've made it seem as though he would receive divine retribution at the end of the film, and one comically inept segment in which Thorin claims melodramatically that he would handle "a little less than a hundred goblins." When the scene cuts back to them a few minutes later, there aren't even any corpses around, suggesting that not only did Thorin manage to kill all a hundred of those goblins, he ate them, too. It feels as though Jackson was keen to address his detractors who said that Return of the King took too long to end, and so didn't bother ending the film properly at all. The frame story told at the start of the trilogy isn't resolved at all, either, leaving the whole thing hanging. It's not very professional.

Then there's the battles themselves. The Hobbit is a cheesy film. Gratuitous slo-mo abounds, as do ridiculously stylized kills that take away a lot from the movie. Here, heroes don't just stab trolls; they leap from tall towers, impale trolls through the head, swish their blade around slightly to disorient the troll further before apparently controlling the troll's motions with a forward jerk of the sword. Heroes don't just slash at ogres; they leap into carts, push them off stairs and ride them toward the ogre while screaming maniacally, fending off arrows midway before using the momentum to impale the ogre straight through the chest. Elves don't just leap out of harm's way; they run up falling blocks Kung Fu Panda-style. Soldiers don't just ride animals into battle for mobility; they pick up six orcs at once with moose antlers and then decapitate them all at the same time. Villains don't just ominously rise out of the water; they open their eyes dramatically beneath the ice and (against all physics) burst straight through the ice to launch an attack. This isn't Middle-Earth; this is freaking 300. I can't even begin to point out all the violations of Newtonian mechanics here, and honestly, even if someone had brought them up to Jackson, he probably wouldn't really have cared.

Therein lies the issue with The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Jackson has allowed his fanboy-nature to run wild with the characters and storyline. Why does Galadriel go all freaky-mode again? Why does Sauron have epileptic seizures in his color scheme, wildly alternating between orange and black? Why is Tauriel there? Why is she there? Why is her dialogue so horrendous? Why is there a painful love triangle? Why, why, why?

The performances themselves are, however, largely decent. Jackson's crew continues to exhibit a knack for unexpectedly solid casting, with people like Richard Armitage and Luke Evans leading their roles with appropriate gravitas. Armitage does give his all as Thorin Oakenshield, though the writing itself marginalizes his abilities in lousy turns of plot. Thorin's recovery from Dragon Sickness is deeply unconvincing, resulting not from any conversation or slow process but from one bizarre dream. It's not elegant writing. Meanwhile,Ian McKellen is as dependable as ever as Gandalf the Grey, doing fantastic work as his enigmatically heroic role. The easy highlight, naturally, is the titular character's portrayal by Martin Freeman, whose lovably bumbling attitude continues to be the selling point of the series.

Other strong features to the film include Howard Shore's ridiculously entertaining and action-packed score (senselessly dialed out by Jackson numerous times), Billy Boyd's song, and some admittedly enjoyable action scenes. Basically, if you can turn off your brain and enjoy huge, CGI-laden action scenes, you'll probably enjoy the Hobbit and its grandiose melodrama. Don't expect anything truly great out of this movie, and you won't really be disappointed as it doesn't really try to be great either. It is a spectacle, and little else. This is not the same Jackson you saw in Lord of the Rings, and you won't find much in the way of quality filmmaking here, either. In the end, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is a disappointingly mundane fantasy actioner with ludicrous battles and silly writing, buoyed almost solely by the sheer scale of the war itself. While it's likely to kill at the box office, it must be said that whatever it manages to scrape in will be decidedly undeserved. There was a period of time when I would've done anything to return to Middle-Earth; alas, bidding this series a Last Goodbye wasn't supposed to be as easy as it was at the end of this lousy send-off.

Watch it if: you've already seen the first two Hobbits and need closure or if you've been waiting for the sequel to 300: Rise of an Empire.

Don't watch it if: you love Tolkien and the original trilogy.

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