Finally saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last week.
This prequel trilogy has been a wildly uneven ride for me. I don’t think I’d ever care to watch the first film again in my life; it was three long hours of boredom, unnecessary story padding, pointless cameos and forgettable action sequences with far too many CGI characters. The Desolation of Smaug on the other hand was a pleasant surprise that made me feel like these films finally had a reason to exist. It still suffered from many of the same problems, most notably overlong action sequences with very questionable physics (even by movie standards), but it also injected some urgency and momentum into the story, introduced new engaging characters, and had great action even if some of it went on for too long. I even liked the elf/dwarf romance which apparently annoyed a lot of people. And of course it had the magnificent creature that is Smaug the dragon.
The first 15 minutes of Five Armies deal with Smaug frying the hell out of Laketown in revenge for helping the dwarves, and the attempt by Luke Evans’ Bard to take him down. It’s a spectacular sequence but it also felt like a bizarre start to the movie, to be honest, as something like this would normally be a climatic event near the end of the movie. It makes the rest of the movie feel like an aftermath or an epilogue rather than a story that builds up to a big conclusion. There’s barely any story at all, in fact, as the bulk of the movie is taken up by the titular battle of five armies: the big-scale action and the individual combats, which, while never actually boring, still go on for too……. damn………… long. (As a nitpick, were there really five armies? I didn’t keep a tab or anything but some of the parties involved seemed too puny to deserve that description.)
Martin Freeman is, once again, a delight to watch as Bilbo, but unfortunately he’s sidelined badly in this movie, even though his character is the owner of the biggest head in the poster above. Which was probably inevitable: he can’t play much role in the combat, and his character development from being a reluctant adventurer who’s been yanked from his comfortable existence to getting respect from the rest of the dwarves was already done by the end of the first film. He also doesn’t have a show-stopper dialogue scene here like he did with Gollum and Smaug in the previous two films. Most of the character development here belongs to Thorin, who gets corrupted with the dragon sickness and basically doesn’t give a shit about helping the Laketown survivors or even joining his fellow dwarves in the battle when they get overrun with an army of Orcs. (Why does this sickness affect him alone and none of the other dwarves, by the way?) I thought Richard Armitage did a great job, even though I didn’t really like the idea of Thorin getting possessed by the evil gold; it feels too much like a rehash of the One Ring from the original trilogy.
It kinda pains me to say this because I loved loved Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, but I just never felt like Ian McKellen’s heart was really in it this time around. Maybe it’s because his original hesitation to reprise the role is showing through, maybe it’s because his character is saddled with a total bore of a subplot. The Necromancer segment is clearly an excuse to throw in some veteran cameos like Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee, and set up the events of the original trilogy, but to me it all fell flat and unnecessary. Behold the doom and gloom and the dark forebodings of terrible things to happen… except, er, they won’t actually happen for many decades to come.
Rest of the characters? Thranduil, the fabulously haughty Elvish king is again enjoyable here – and this time he rides into battle on a giant stag! How cool is that? Though I liked their romance in the previous movie, Kili and Tauriel’s doomed love story gets lost in the shuffle and its conclusion is not as moving as it should have been. The rest of the dwarves remain as anonymous as ever. Despite what I said about pointless cameos above, I really enjoyed seeing Legolas again in these movies and I’m not even sure why; Orlando Bloom is not my kind of eye-candy and as a character Legolas is paper-thin, and when it comes to ridiculous movie physics the scene where Legolas runs up the crumbling steps is the worst offender in the whole trilogy. I think I actually said oh come on! out loud in the theatre when it happened.
In terms of visuals and production values the movie looks as beautiful and rich as ever and after featuring in six films the New Zealand landscapes are still stunning. I really don’t like this new heavier reliance on the CGI though; I realise that real people wearing latex suits probably limits the design of the creatures, but Azog the albino Orc for instance just doesn’t have the solidity and menace of the Orcs and Uruk-hai in the Lord of the Rings.
Overall, The Battle of the Five Armies is not anywhere as dreary as the first film but I don’t know if I’d re-watch it like I would the second film. I think it would have worked much better as a final act of a movie rather than its own thing, and it would have benefitted a lot from some ruthless editing.
Trailers before the movie included The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. All I could think of was, wow they’re really handing movie critics some serious ammunition with this title. And wow, is everything these days milked for sequels or what?
Saw the teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie, as well. Nothing remotely exciting happened in it and it looked like more of the same: desert, stormtroopers, Millennium Falcon, lightsabers etc. The only exciting bit was John Williams’ original score – I’m not even a huge Star Wars fan or anything but man it just raises your heart rate hearing it in the cinema.