It feels like Peter Jackson pulled a false ending on the whole Tolkien universe, and we’ve only now finally put it to rest. Battle of the Five Armies is still running around my head, and I can’t quite decide how I feel about it. This review will therefore contain SPOILERS so that I can properly process the whole thing.
Those who have read my reviews of the previous two Hobbit movies know that I have never minded the filler scenes or storylines. I simply enjoy being in Tolkien’s world (even Jackson’s version) as much as possible. Battle of the Five Armies (or the more succinct and epic-sounding Femhærskrigen) feels even more padded, perhaps too much.
Most of the padding is welcome, however, because it contextualizes and widens the scope of the story and world. The Gundabad fortress is beautiful and creepy, and together with the fight at Dol Guldur against the Necromancer, it puts the battle for Erebor in a much wider context. This context is of course mentioned in the book, but telling it visually with our characters in the scenes makes much more sense.
Other areas of padding are more hit and miss. The political/leadership stuff within Lake Town might make us care a bit more that the Master got his comeuppance, but is the character of Alfric needed? He got a few chuckles out of me, but then he simply disappears, presumably to wander the wilds with a brassier full of gold coin. It is important to set up Bard as the leader, because it makes his negotiation with Thorin more significant. So, Lake Town politics will have to stay.
The big “unnecessary” storyline for most people is the Kili/Tauriel romance. I’m a fan, mostly, and the death scene made it almost worth it. Would we have cried just as much at Kili’s death without her mourning? Would we feel the absence of a female role? The quality of the acting made the romance much more bearable than I ever would have believed when I first heard of her character. Heartstrings were pulled. A brotherly embrace at Kili’s death would have worked just as fine though, so again, it’s really hit and miss.
The fighting was pretty top notch in my book. The PG-13 rating makes it all a bit bland, but they got some surprisingly interesting locations out of a scene I thought was going to be fairly boring background-wise. Instead of just fighting on the plain before Erebor, we got fighting in towers, on ice, on the side of toppled towers, and in the town. Legolas never surfed on anything, but he did defy gravity, so he gets two points for that.
Instead of boredom, which I highly anticipated when presented with a film that is basically a single battle, I had a lot of fun. The action moved from smaller battles to the big overview, making the whole picture more complicated and diverting. We got a lot of over-the-top craziness that we know (and in my case love) from Jackson’s Middle-Earth. We got deadly elves, crazy dwarfs and a battle-pig! But when the final showdown came, it was as intense and serious as it should be. Having followed Azog’s quest to kill off the line of Durin, and Thorin’s desire for revenge, their final battle sent shivers down my spine. I felt such relief on Thorin’s behalf when Azog toppled into the river, I forgot for a second that it couldn’t be over. Seeing that conclusion on screen made Azog’s introduction in the first film make perfect sense.
And that’s the final lesson from this film: it is a culmination, and when viewed as a whole, I know it will be epic. There will be no awkward endings in the middle of the story, it will be one continuous adventure. We will meet Thorin, get to know his character, see his struggle, and say goodbye, all in one. The emotional impact is greater for me than in The Lord of the Rings simply because no one we follow from the first one dies in the third. Bilbo and Thorin will always be, thanks to Peter Jackson and his crew, slightly more engaging than Frodo and Aragorn (and Co.). This is not to say I don’t absolutely adore the other movies, of course. (In fact I just got back from a marathon of the lot)
After this long rant, what was the verdict? Battle of the Five Armies is a great ending to a long, and probably too padded out, story. But when viewed as a whole, The Hobbit just became (by a hair’s breadth) my favourite trilogy.