After almost 10 years of development, The Hobbit is finally finished. While I'm sure there will be an extended edition of the final installment next year, we can now watch how the epic concludes in theaters. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies picks up immediately after the last film, The Desolation of Smaug, as we watch the titular dragon destroy Lake-Town with his mighty roar and fire. While pleasing to the eye, it seems that The Battle of the Five Armies falls short of redeeming the entire trilogy as a whole.
Over the past three years, the biggest criticism of The Hobbit is that it seem very unnecessary. There was no need to turn an 125-page book into three epic movies that would clock into at over eight hours long. Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. decision to turn The Hobbit into three movies seems purely financial and had very little to do with storytelling and art. While bringing The Hobbit to the big screen was a creative enterprise, it really does seem that Peter Jackson developed "dragon sickness" in making his new trilogy.
The Battle of the Five Armies kicks off with Smaug destroying Lake-Town in a visually stunting spectacle. The entire town embarks on a wide evacuation, as Bard the Bowman, played by Luke Evans, attempts to escape from his jail cell to smite Smaug in mid-flight, as the rest of the Dwarves help everyone leave Lake-Town. As wonderful as this opening sequence is, I couldn't help but think that the resolution from last year's cliffhanger was very anti-climatic like a disappointing series finale of a once-beloved TV show. It's unclear why this couldn't be in The Desolation of Smaug as a finale instead of an introduction in The Battle of the Five Armies, but it seems to represent everything about these three Hobbit movies; over-long, excessive, and completely unnecessary.
Throughout The Battle of the Five Armies' 144-minute running time, I couldn't help but think, why is this so dramatic and big when the stakes and scale of the film's premise and story are so small. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the way of life of everyone in Middle Earth can be affected, if Frodo and Sam don't accomplish their mission to destroy the One Ring, in The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield II and his company go into battle over gold and a promise that he takes back. It just seems that the 45-minute climactic battle could've been avoided with diplomacy instead of war, a war that Peter Jackson seems to fetishize and savor from CGI decapitation to CGI decapitation.
While ultimately these movies are supposed to be about Bilbo's journey, he also seems to be treated like a side story or supporting character, rather than the titular one. But honestly, I can say that The Battle of the Five Armies is the best movie in the entire trilogy, I would also contend that the bar is really, really low when compared to what came before it. The film's ending appears to be rather abrupt, as if Peter Jackson listened to the criticisms of how he ended his last trilogy. Although The Return of the King felt like it had multiple endings, The Battle of the Five Armies feels like it should end stronger than it does. When Bilbo finally says goodbye to the Dwarf company, it seems as if the scene should be more emotional than how it actually plays out in the film. I kept thinking to myself, "Who's that Dwarf and what is his name?" and "Look, it's the fat one and the bald one!" After spending three movies with these characters, it seems I should have a handle on their names and personalities by now.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies looks as good as a video game cut scene could look on the big screen, but nothing from the almost two-and-a-half hour film comes close to anything that deepens or heightens emotional storytelling. While the battle scenes and action sequences are large in scale, they seem to be in service of nothing substantive or meaningful. The Battle of the Five Armies lines up with Fellowship of the Ring (with some clever ret-conning along the way), but I don't think it's mandatory viewing for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is a much better film series overall. But really, The Hobbit should be seen as a smaller and shorter side quest or footnote to the Lord of the Rings, rather than the epic journey it claims to be.
I'm sure somewhere down the line some enterprising individual will cut together The Hobbit trilogy into one three hour movie, but until that time comes (I'm guessing some time in 2016), we'll have Peter Jackson's nine-hour epic to look forward to in the future. As for now, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is only worth watching if you're a big Tolkien fan or if you've already seen An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug -- you might as well finish off the trilogy, if that's the case, right? However, I think your time would be better spent re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy or actually reading "The Hobbit" book. We'll see you in 10 years when Peter Jackson adapts "The Silmarillion" into a new film trilogy. #Silmarillion2024