WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2014)

 

Director: Peter Jackson

 

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Billy Connolly

The final piece of the Middle Earth puzzle, The Battle of the Five Armies was pitted as the ‘defining chapter’ of the saga. It isn’t. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, in fact, it’s a very decent movie.

 

Peter Jackson had many loose ends to tie up, some from the source material, others thrown in by the film-makers and ended up finishing with mixed results. But there’s one thing Jackson does right the vast majority of the time…

Battles. Big ones.

 

Set immediately after the events of The Desolation of Smaug, the new Fellowship watch helplessly as the mighty dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch) heads to Lake Town and rains down fire and death upon the unsuspecting residents. Not a great time to live in a wood-built town. With only one spot of vulnerability under his scales, the freshly-unjailed Bard (Evans) eventually takes the dragon down with a black arrow, killing the loathsome Mayor (Fry) with him. The triumphant, but weary, townsfolk declare Bard their new leader after his victory.

 

Meanwhile, the new Fellowship has re-fortified their kingdom and Thorin (Armitage) begins spending hours and days within the unquantifiable amount of gold hidden under the mountain, slowly being driven insane as he searches for the Arkenstone. Sadly for him, our favourite burglar, Bilbo (Freeman) found it previously and has it hidden from the ever-maddening Thorin.

 

Legolas (Bloom) and Tauriel (Lilly) head to Gundabad to investigate word of a dark army being spawned under the eye of computer orc Bolg (John Tui) as Galadriel (Blanchett), Elrond (Weaving) and Saruman (Lee) fight the Nazgûl and Saruman (still formless) at Dol Goldur, eventually banishing them and releasing Gandalf (McKellan) from his cage. The gang is back together. At the mountain, Thranduil (Pace), backed by an Elf Army, and Bard arrive at the mountain to reclaim jewellery and gold owed to them - but Thorin isn’t going to part with a single piece, instead, it’s war.

 

Men, Elves, Dwarves, Dol Goldur orcs and Gundabad orcs converge around the mountain in a final battle to claim the wealth and the mountain itself. It’s time for heroes.

 

The shortest movie in the saga at an infinitesimal 2 hours 24 minutes, The Battle of the Five Armies is Jackson’s last hurrah in Middle Earth and it’s clear he intended to go out with a bang. Whilst the movie isn’t the grand finale that Return of the King provided (though it has fewer endings than that movie), it’s still a worthy ending to a trilogy that’s had plenty of ups-and-downs.

 

The opening salvo of Smaug vs Lake Town is nothing short of spectacular. Talk about literally starting with a bang. The editing, visual and sound FX are all of the highest level and the devastation brought upon the town is fiercely shot and lit. Fantastic stuff. Trouble is, it’s too short. Yep, something in the Middle Earth saga is too short. But with plenty of ends to tie, it was inevitable that tight editing was required. Visually, the movie is once again great (painful CGI orcs and CGI BILLY CONNOLLY aside) and the sweeping battle shots are what brings me back to Middle Earth time and time again.

 

The battle itself is well-shot and choreographed, as is to be expected by now. It’s at times fast, sometimes brutal, sometimes a montage of greatest hits kill but it’s always compelling. The introduction and combining of the five armies are well handled and given clarity. The opposing forces even allowed time for Dain (Connolly) and Thorin to embrace and converse literally in the middle of the (raging) battlefield – facepalm. It’s an epic battle for sure, and with the changing perspectives, it’s always engaging.

 

The first thing to mention about characters is the Dwarves are still not given any attention, therefore 95% of them remain near-unknown, which is a big shame. The movie belongs to Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage, both bring high-class performances and drive the film from parallel perspectives. McKellen and Evans were both reliable, as were the majority of performers. Lee Pace continued his wide-eyed peculiarity and the less said about Billy Connolly…the better.

 

For its relatively pacy runtime (for Jackson), The Battle of the Five Armies manages to cram in some fine scenes and moments. The aforementioned Smaug attack of Lake Town. The discussion between Thorin and Bard through the mountains fortification is sublime – well-scripted, well-shot and well-acted. The good guys vs. the bad guys at Dol Goldur – CGI-fuelled but hey, seeing the dream team unleashed was great to see. Every scene between Bilbo and Thorin. There’s a lot of good to be found this time around.

 

That said, there are simple frustrations with the handling of the movie, as there have been with the previous two chapters. Why was Tauriel even in these movies? She gets no send-off and seemingly just disappears forever. Legolas is back, again for no reason, and his Legolas-ness in once more overblown to ridiculous proportions (Hi falling rocks…). The Rings trilogy got it right, the Hobbit…not at all. It would’ve been great to spend more time witnessing Thorin’s descent into madness, for extra drama and weight as the movie rolled into the third act, though what we do get is sufficient enough. More Bilbo in his own saga, please. Expand on the Dwarves, please. Less Billy Connolly on a goat, please.

 

Somehow, weaselly Alfrid manages to scream the absurd line “abandon the cripples!” and simultaneously be offensive and hilarious.

 

For me, The Battle of the Five Armies is the best of the trilogy. An Unexpected Journey was solid enough, though the closing chapter steals the prequel saga. Riding a wave of more ups-and-downs, the movie never drags or falls into pure boredom territory and whilst doesn’t tie everything up perfectly, The Battle of the Five Armies still provides a poignant and emotional ending to the trilogy.

 

For all of the faults with the Hobbit trilogy, there’s a large part of me that would love for The Silmarillion to SOMEHOW be adapted for the big screen (or a Games of Thrones-sized TV series) to continue the stories of Middle Earth, and, hey, even bring back Peter Jackson to complete the puzzle. It’s been an experience, sometimes flawed, sometimes stellar, but it was always an entertaining ride.

 

Thank you Peter and goodbye Middle Earth.

December 21st 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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