The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

“If any of you ever pass through Bag End, tea is at four. There’s plenty of it. You are welcome any time. Don’t bother knocking!”

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve read the novel of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien and though I don’t recall every minor detail, the overall direction has come flooding back to me as the events unfolded on screen as the company of 13 sometimes 14 made up of dwarves, 1 halfling hobbit and 1 wizard fight their way back to and reclaim Erebor aka the Lonely Mountain from the gold obsessed dragon Smaug. An adventure that has been adapted and stretched to the thinnest of pages that was not questioned more as a trilogy made the most sense to pursue. Though it may not have been the logical choice given the execution in breaking up the story into 3 complete films. 

Somehow the shortest of the Middle Earth novels gets a full trilogy when the succeeding novels and their respective films made the story work with only 1 film. Part of the reason is to squeeze every nickel and dime out of fans pockets with a promising return to Middle Earth as each film made close to or over a billion dollars at the box office. Apparently, fans can’t get enough of the familiar and comforting high fantasy epic in the same eagerness that co-writer and director Peter Jackson has at adapting the novels and returning to Middle Earth.

I still don’t like the decision to split one book into an unevenly paced and spread-out trilogy. The Battle of the Five Armies is presented as one moment expanded to fit in while An Unexpected Journey Desolation of Smaug housed much of the plot and driving force of the characters. Think of an acceptance speech – Unexpected Journey is the award winner making their way up to the microphone and saying how they don’t deserve the honor, Desolation is all the callouts of thanks and reminiscing of the personal journey the award winner went on to get to this point and Battle is the rambling on while the music is playing the person off as they continue to squeeze one more name into the speech.

After 2/3 of the journey to get to this point, The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right where Desolation of Smaug’s cliffhanger left off. Smaug is on a warpath to destroy Laketown and leave it in ashes – war is upon the Lonely Mountain and like the title proclaims, it’s between 5 armies. I’d argue as the frontlines take their place, angry chants and threats screamed out in the heat of battle that there are only 4 armies and 13 dwarves that take their time entering the fray. There’s the survivors of Laketown led by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), the Elves led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), The Dwarves led by Dáin (Billy Connolly), and the Orc’s led by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett). 

And then there is the company or fellowship of dwarves led by the appointed and proclaimed king under the mountain, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who has become stricken with dragon-sickness, a sickness that has turned Thorin into a possessive and corruptible king after reclaiming the vast treasure from Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The company of Dwarves included are at odds with Thorin who refuses aid to his cousin Dáin in battle over fear of the loss of treasure.

This isn’t the brave Thorin we’ve come to know and admire over the past two installments that resembles the previous trilogies heroes. Armitage brings a nuance to the role as he turns cowardly, a shell of his former great self, full of anger and hatred as he slowly becomes what he promised he never would – just like his grandfather, obsessed with the Arkenstone. As the themes of greed and possession are heavily featured throughout the Hobbit trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s the bravest characters like Bilbo (Martin Freeman) who find their courage buried deep within to prove their doubters wrong every step of the way and gain the respect they deserve.

Much of the journey happens in the first two entries that The Battle of the Five Armies is essentially a 2-and-a-half-hour blood-soaked battle for the Lonely Mountain with personal battles mixed in that will supposedly wrap up individual arcs. The action sequences are right up Peter Jackson’s alley – no one is doubting whether he can make 5 armies full of thousands of troops blurred together look spectacular, but he does. In his final time helming a Middle Earth epic, no expense is spared, the grandiose spectacle of the battle fits snugly into Jackson’s comfort zone. Like a composer completing his final symphony. Full of tense moments, stylistic kills, pools of Orc blood, and a ton of heroic moments, The Battle of the Five Armies lives up to its name.

Within the sheer scale of the battle are more personal sequences highlighted throughout – some getting lost in the heat of the moment. The Battle of the Five Armies features breathtaking sequences that are effortlessly edited and transition into the next making the battle feel fresh throughout. Bilbo being the driving force to steal the Arkenstone from Smaug has a reduced role in the finale saving his best moments for those epilogue of the story. Though he has proven himself with the Elvish blade that glows when goblins and orcs are close by, he fulfilled his contract. Not to take away from Martin Freeman’s performance – once again his Bilbo is the anchor for this trilogy.

While the focus has mainly been placed on the reclaiming of Erebor and Bilbo’s journey as a brave individual, it’s the Elves that steal the spotlight away. Poetic in how they fight, gracefully in sync, unfazed, and calm entering the battle for their share of the treasure. Following what happens in Laketown, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) race to aid their kin and save Kíli (Aidan Turner) who can singlehandedly takedown the Orc army with unmatched skill and ferocity, proving the ensemble cast all have a part to play in defeating Azog and his son Bolg (John Tui).

Picturing the grand finale battle in your head as the events are written that may only last 1 to 2 chapters and seeing it come alive on screen with all the special effects, the framing, sound design and the ensemble cast is truly remarkable given the back-to-back shooting commitment. While we all had to wait a year between the films, Jackson and writing partners Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro, and Philippa Boyens seamlessly pick up where they left off previously as if no time passed at all. 

The Battle of the Five Armies may not have that same satisfactory conclusion or emotional connection that Return of the King left with but it’s a strong return to Middle Earth of the journey culminating in a battle that will supposedly end all wars (sound familiar), usher in a new era of peace and explore the lush mythology J. R. R. Tolkien envisioned during his time as a soldier. Thematically, anyone can attach themselves to a character and see a piece of themselves in this story, it’s the brilliance of Tolkien’s writing that transcends the page making it easily adaptable to screen. Jackson has always been the right person to adapt these books – whether the right call was made in breaking The Hobbit up or not.

Written By: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Guillermo del Toro

Directed By: Peter Jackson

Music By: Howard Shore

Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Where to Watch: HBO Max

Release Date: December 17, 2014

Running Time: 2 Hours 24 Minutes (Theatrical), 2 Hours 44 Minutes (Extended)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%

Based On: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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