By Jarrod Jones. It requires very little patience to wait for the carnage to ensue in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Picking up just seconds after last year’s Desolation of Smaug, Jackson’s third – and final – chapter of his troubled Hobbit series has zero time to fuck around, and there’s probably a good reason for that.
The filmmaker is probably well aware that patience for this sprawling, needlessly overlong saga has been stretched to the breaking point. After 330 minutes, we’ve already endured plenty of ass-punishing exposition in watching the first two adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (most of it completely fabricated for the sake of an extra buck), and now all that’s left is to persevere though its final act. When approaching The Battle of the Five Armies, instead of anticipation, there is an unmistakable feeling of obligation.
Keeping that in mind, Jackson’s film is all business – most of the time. There is still an appropriately epic running time to fulfill, so the movie – which is all Third Act anyway – takes the requisite detours in order to pad its length. (Though even that proves to be quite a stretch: at 144 minutes, Five Armies is the shortest entry in Jackson’s Middle-Earth saga.) There is much to accomplish in order to adequately twist this children’s tale into a garish and violent PG-13 epic, and it appears that Battle of the Five Armies seeks to accomplish only this. If there was any doubt that the beating heart of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy had been jettisoned for mere fan service, let this final, “definitive” chapter clarify things for you.
While it would seem that the final act of The Hobbit should spend much of its time mired in the spectacle of its titular skirmish, Battle of the Five Armies has more pressing matters to address: there’s the quickly deteriorating disposition of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who has succumbed to an unnatural greed after reclaiming Erebor with his company of dwarves. There’s the small matter of Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch), who seeks to decimate the small lake town of Esgaroth for its association to Bilbo’s infiltration of the Lonely Mountain. And lest we forget, there’s the completely puzzling inclusion of the Necromancer – now known to be Sauron – who has imprisoned Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellan) in his orc-laden lair for no discernible reason whatsoever. (Though there is a nagging feeling that Gandalf’s subplot – which includes characters that may have no place in Tolkien’s novel but boast serious star-power nonetheless – is guided more by the hand of finance than anything else.)
And there’s the insipid love triangle between the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, making the most out of a character created simply to provide such drama), Legolas (Orlando Bloom, appearing only to pander to the masses), and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner, whose lack of makeup betrays the physicality of dwarves for the sake of interracial palatability). There was never much room for this part of the film’s unsolicited invention, save for what the subplot forged for itself. And with a massive war mounting Jackson struggles to find things for all these characters to do, leaving little time for amorous intrigue. The romance in The Hobbit is practically non-existent, and what little of it that occurs in Battle of the Five Armies evaporates with a minimum of fuss.
There’s also the drama surrounding Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and his altruistic attempts to offer a little salvation to a town squashed under the greed of its Master (Stephen Fry) and his sniveling shit-head of a servant (Ryan Gage). This subplot proves to be the most useless, and every character involved with it – including Bard’s trio of rosy-cheeked cherubs – gets swallowed whole by the film’s skirmish. They arrive from the chaos of The Desolation of Smaug simply to disappear.
As a matter of fact, very little registers – or even matters – in Battle of the Five Armies. There’s plenty of bloodshed (as much as could be allowed, anyway), and while Jackson ensures there are plenty of tears and humor, none of it rises above the din of the ensuing pandemonium. Even the reliable, sage-like wisdom of Gandalf, doled out so expertly throughout The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is completely lost here. The sharp-witted might of McKellan’s grey wizard withers in Jackson’s screenplay (co-written by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro). That leaves the weight of this debacle to fall squarely on the meager shoulders of Martin Freeman’s ineffectual Bilbo Baggins, though the task proves to be a bit more than what the hobbit is capable of. Frodo may have had Samwise to back him up, but Bilbo stands alone, and with nobody for the furry-footed ring-bearer to relate with, there’s little left that can be used to endear him. In effect, Baggins becomes the least important person in Jackson’s world.
The journey through Peter Jackson’s long and winding road proves to be a fruitless one. What magic remained in his Middle-Earth has since been spent, much like the laughably huge amount of money that was thrown at this convoluted fiasco. It’s all in the title: The Battle of the Five Armies, formerly known as The Hobbit: There and Back Again, is a film owed more to market research than source reverence. It’s the 745 million dollar equivalent of smashing action figures together.