Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Once again, the call of Middle-Earth has brought me creeping back to civilization from my abode in the fetid wildlands. The last installment of the Hobbit trilogy is upon us, and I would not miss it for all the gold in Erebor.

Azog the Defiler commands an army of Orcs in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesMmm, that’s a nerdy reference.

In the end, it was not the spectacular that the Lord of the Rings films were, but I couldn’t rightly call it a disappointment.

Smoke on the water:

Whereas the Desolation of Smaug was fairly plodding, the Battle of the Five Armies hits the ground running and never slows its pace, picking up immediately after the previous movie with Smaug raining destruction on Laketown.

While his role is relatively small this time around, I was once again blown away by how pitch-perfect Smaug is in these films. Every about his visuals and voice-overs is absolutely stellar.

Dragons are so overexposed in the fantasy genre that they’ve become a little blase, but Smaug reminds me of why we all loved dragons. Done properly, they are both majestic and terrible, and Smaug embodies that perfectly.

The Necromancer reveals himself in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesShortly afterward, the audience is treated to the White Council’s confrontation with the Necromancer of Mirkwood, Sauron in truth, at Dol Guldur.

This is a scene that I will point to for years to come as an example of why I love the fantasy genre. It is a clash of powers beyond mortal comprehension, and a triumph of the cinematic art. The Nazgul are more frightening than ever, and Galadriel’s power is both awesome and terrible.

The rest of the movie can’t really hold up to the mind-blowing majesty of these early scenes, but it still proves an enjoyable ride.

I will have war:

The Battle of the Five Armies is pretty much a non-stop action sequence. If the last film was a little too sluggish and bogged down in unnecessary details, then Five Armies can feel a little thin with its endless battles and unending procession of fantastic monsters.

Still, this isn’t Michael Bay does Middle-Earth. There’s still enough character and feeling to keep things from feeling completely mindless.

Thranduil and Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesI am forced to conclude that splitting the book into three movies was probably a mistake. Two movies would have been fine, I think, but three did stretch it out a little too much.

Still, I wouldn’t call this a crippling flaw, and for what it’s worth, Desolation of Smaug suffered from the stretching a lot more than Five Armies did. But I do think the last two movies would have been a bit more satisfying if they had been combined to create a balance between character, backstory, and action.

I have a few other minor issues with the movie, too. One is that Thorin’s descent into madness is a little over-the-top. They made it too surreal, too sudden, and a little too hammy, and it cheapened the message of the story — that greed corrupts.

My one other issue is that I would have liked a little more tie-in to Lord of the Rings near the end. Sauron more or less vanishes from the story after his defeat at Dol Guldur.

This is accurate to the book, as the battle with the Necromancer was little more than a footnote in The Hobbit, but since they were already adding in the stuff from the appendices and Lord of the Rings, I don’t see why they couldn’t have slipped a little nod in. Maybe we could see Saruman peering into the Palantir and confronting Sauron for the first time.

A map of Middle EarthIt’s just a little jarring to have this unbelievably epic battle between him and the White Council at the beginning, only to have that entire story arc vanish thereafter.

On the other hand, there’s a tremendous amount of subtle detail in Five Armies that I truly enjoyed. Things like the beautiful discipline of an Elven army, the boisterous courage of the Dwarves, and the scrappy tenacity of the people of Laketown. The Elven king mourning the immortal lives lost under his command, and little nods to the greater mythology, such as Galadriel calling Sauron, “Servant of Morgoth.”

More so than in all the past movies — perhaps even the Lord of the Rings trilogy — Five Armies is a film where Middle-Earth and all of its rich cultures are brought to life in wondrous detail, and for a fan like me, that’s just wonderful.

Overall rating: 8.9/10

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