(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
While The Hobbit trilogy is largely considered to be of lesser quality in comparison to Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings films, The Battle of the Five Armies does a solid job tying both sagas together and providing an entertaining and satisfying finale to the adventures of Bilbo and Thorin. Character subplots are wrapped up (some better than others), the action is fun and engaging and Middle Earth is as gorgeous as ever. If you have been a fan of the previous films, there is more than enough here to keep you happy.
The Battle of the Five Armies takes place immediately following the events of Desolation of Smaug. The gargantuan serpent is driven from the Lonely Mountain and is now laying waste to the people of Laketown… at least the dwarves got their home back. The cold opening can actually be quite jarring if you haven’t seen the second Hobbit film in recent memory. Smaug is defeated in timely, yet epic, fashion in order to pave the way for the real meat of the film to begin. The surviving humans, led by Luke Evans’ Bard the Bowman, march toward the mountain seeking refuge from the elements as well as their share of the monumental wealth that lay in the mines of Erebor. Meanwhile, Thranduil (played by the always intimidating Lee Pace) and the elves are also making their way toward the mountain to claim a portion of the riches.
Unbeknownst to either party, Thorin has been struck with “dragon sickness”, the same affliction his grandfather suffered from that turned him from a noble leader into a greedy SOB. Oh, and two more armies, led by Azog (Manu Bennet), are attempting to take control of the mountain for its strategic location and because Sauron said so. For the most part the story serves as a way to gather all of the main players in one location in order to facilitate the titular battle. Jackson focuses on certain groups of characters giving us enough information to know what they’re up to and then quickly moves onto the next. This often makes certain characters feel superfluous from a narrative perspective and as if a majority of them were shoehorned in as a final farewell to the franchise.
Ian McKellan is his usual grandiose self and plays the role to perfection but Gandalf’s inclusion in this particular story is unnecessary, as are the rest of the white council. The single scene they appear in is intense and action packed but detracts from the main plot, that of Bilbo and Thorin’s tumultuous relationship and the emphasis and meaning of home. But you can’t really complain about Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee dressed as Tolkien characters kicking ass.
Speaking of relationships, Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman are excellent. Armitage manages to convey the greed, paranoia and madness that accompanies immense power while offering moments of compassion and raw emotion lingering from and earlier pre-throne Thorin. His interactions with Freeman are a definite highlight of the film and provide a nice counterpoint the films excessive action sequences. Freeman as Bilbo is his classic oddball self and you can’t help but root for him one final time. The two play incredibly well off of each other and they leave The Hobbit trilogy with some of its most emotionally rewarding moments.
The rest of the cast does a wonderful job bringing the world to life but, as previously mentioned, they are far from the main attraction. Out of all of the subplots going on (the resurrection of Sauron, the humans battle for survival, Thorin’s revenge against Azog, the elves reclamation of their shiny things…) the one that feels the most out of place is the love triangle between Kili (Aidan Turner), Tauriel (the beautiful Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom). The romance between Kili and Tauriel had always felt forced in the previous two films and the fact that things are wrapped up with them so abruptly makes the payoff disingenuous. It does segue into an exciting fight sequence but emotionally there’s nothing there.
The opening sequence features an abundance of CGI and the choice to shoot the film at 48 frames per second makes the contrast between props and graphics all the more glaring. Not to say it doesn’t look good, it’s just blatantly clear what is what and the shifts between the two can be a bit off putting at times. Luckily (or not so much, depending on your preference) Jackson opts for even more CGI later on which makes things a tad more consistent. Smaug is as imposing and impressive as he has ever been, the orcs/trolls/goblins come in all sorts of varieties and the locations are gorgeous; everything you would expect from a Jackson epic. It’s just a shame the whole thing feels like the ending to a different film (as it probably was when The Hobbit was proposed as two films).
All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies serves as a fun albeit not completely satisfying end to The Hobbit trilogy. Some beloved characters appear simply to say goodbye, while others would be better off not appearing at all. The crux of The Hobbit films, the Thorin/Bilbo story, is treated with the utmost care and it shows. The action is incredible and the visuals are a wonder (with the exception of the jarring beginning). If you are a fan of Middle Earth there is plenty to look forward to.
Overall I give this film a 7/10