I have mentioned several times how much The Lord of the Rings trilogy means to me. Aside from possibly Star Wars, no movie series has been more formative to how I view media, and to my desire to be a filmmaker. I literally cannot overstate how much those movies mean to me.
But, the flip side of that, as many Star Wars fans discovered, is that what you love can hurt you the most. The Phantom Menace is probably not as bad as a lot of other movies, but those other movies aren’t part of a franchise that completely changed my life. And hence, while The Battle of Five Armies isn’t as bad as a lot of other movies, it is, by any standard, a disappointment. And that’s why it hurts.
The plot, picking up moments after the last movie’s ending, starts out with the dragon Smaug attacking Laketown…which is resolved inside of 10 minutes and leaves Laketown devastated. The citizens, led by Bard (Luke Evans) then head to the Lonely Mountain seeking the gold they were promised by Thorin (Richard Armitage) for supplies.
Unfortunately Thorin has been rapidly going insane due to…gold, I guess? I dunno, they don’t explain that too well. He refuses, and when Bard starts getting backup from Thranduil (Lee Pace) seeking a set of jewels in Thorin’s possession because…I actually don’t know, he grows even more stubborn and summons assistance from some nearby Dwarves.
But you can’t have a movie consisting of three (theoretically) good guys arguing over treasure, so of course a horde of Orcs show up, trying to claim the Lonely Mountain for it’s strategic value. The Orcs immediately start wrecking s**t up, forcing the Elves, Dwarves, and Men to team up to stop them.
The problems with the movie begin from literally the first minute. Kicking off the movie with Smaug attacking Laketown probably seemed like a good idea, but it sets a standard that the movie is incapable of matching. The action, well staged though it might be, is almost entirely a step down, which is what happens when you start the movie with the climactic action scene from another movie.
Of course since the movie is made up of the last 60 or so pages of a reasonably light book also means the movie’s pacing is shot all to hell. The movie doesn’t have an act structure or an ebb and flow to the action; it just goes. Without any lulls to relax and create a baseline, the movie becomes exhausting. Battle of Five Armies is the shortest Middle Earth movie, but it feels like the longest.
This isn’t helped by a weak script that is unable or unwilling to balance character work and action. As I stated in my earlier paragraphs, Thorin and Thranduil’s motivations are confusing and poorly established. Thorin changes from ‘Willing to outright murder members of his party’ to ‘Hero again’ over the course of one hallucination. A comic relief character hangs around being excruciating the entire movie and I have no idea why.
The movie’s issues eventually compound on each other until it collapses. It doesn’t even crash spectacularly like some movies, it just slowly falls apart under it’s own weight. By the end I was less interested in the movie itself and was amusing myself by trying to figure out which scene from Lord of the Rings they were pulling stuff from.
Which is a shame, because there are elements I like. Jackson may have forgotten pacing and self control, but he certainly hasn’t lost his ability to cast great actors. Martin Freeman is still a great Bilbo, even if the movie forgets him so often that I flat out left him out of the plot summary. Armitage’s character arc may take place largely off screen but he’s putting all he’s got into making it work.
Speaking of working hard, Tauriel’s subplot may be largely pointless, but Evangeline Lilly is doing her best to make it worthwhile. It’s wasted effort of course, a useless awkwardly forced in love triangle was always going to be excruciating, but I appreciate the effort. On that note, recurring characters like Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman are still awesome for showing up, even if their scene is the single most pointless in the movie.
The entire movie is like that; I like the action scenes and the monster designs, but without dramatic engagement, it’s all ultimately for naught. I like the actors, but their characters don’t interest me. Bilbo’s final scene with the Dwarves is actually a mild improvement over the book, but because the entire lead up to it (in this movie, at least) is basically an unending battle scene, it feels completely unearned.
This is the sort of negative review I hate having to give. The Hobbit should not have been split into 3 movies, that much is undeniable at this point. And the end result is that the entire trilogy was an exercise in disappointment. It’s probably too late for me to stop anyone, but if you’re reading this, don’t bother with Battle of Five Armies.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and what does it say that the only role you can stick a new female character into is ‘Love triangle bait.’
– good acting
– solidly put together action
– good cgi and monster design
– script and pacing are terrible
– dramatic engagement is missing
– large chunks of the movie feel pointless