The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was my most anticipated film of the year. I had a lot of expectations going into the theater after what I had experienced with the previous two installments. Every film fan and epically us in the Tolkien community, have had that fear that the finale of a trilogy or a series of films might not end on a perfect note. More than anything, with the final film in The Hobbit Trilogy, fans hope and expect Director Peter Jackson to go out with a bang. Especially when a final film in a trilogy in a beloved saga is titled The Battle of the Five Armies. Does the film live up to its expectations? Can the motion picture get a diehard fan like me to say that this is the best film in the trilogy? One word: ABSOLUTELY.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE FILM. RECOMMENDED TO BE READ AFTER YOU HAVE EXPEREINCED THE FINALE.
The story begins literally seconds after Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) bursts out of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor at the end of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There is no prologue or set up from the previous film. You are in literally a “READY, SET, GO!” kind of opening. “I am fire! I am death”, says the great fire drake as he flies down to terrorize the city of Lake-Town; in response to the dwarves attempting to kill him and receiving aid from the Lake-Town citizens to reach the Lonely Mountain. Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), escapes a jail he was trapped in by The Master of Lake-Town (Steven Fry) in the previous film and runs across the burning rooftops to kill the dragon. Armed with a bow and arrows he reaches the bell tower and fires at the beast. He keeps failing until his son Bain (John Bell) appears with the one black arrow. Being aided by his son, Bard is able to launch the arrow into Smaug’s flesh from the missing scale off of his breast. The result ending with a dying Smaug flying for one final time, with the light from his eyes disappearing, and crashing into the water; destroying Lake-Town.
The reason why I loved this scene was not just because this was one of the moments I was looking forward to most. The other reason was because Bard was facing off the dragon for his children. He could have easily commanded his son Bain to leave the town. But Bain gives Bard the extras push by delivering the black arrow to him. There was two ways the filmmakers could have gone with this scene, with both working positively. The first is that Bard could have spotted the lose scale area and shot the black arrow and killed Smaug with uncertainty that it was going to work. The second way is the way they did it in the actual film. Which was Bard spotting the hole and shooting the arrow with utter confidence that he was going to make the shot. I felt as if they applied both to the scene in a way. At first when he’s firing the arrows off of his bow, he is desperately trying to hit the scales and kill the beast. But once he spots his target, with Smaug creeping towards him, he puts his skills into action and kills the dragon. The way the scene was shot was amazing. I appreciated the build up of the scene. At first Smaug is just flying over the town in complete darkness. Then we see a tracking shot of Smaug swooping down and letting out his first breath of fire. That was awesome! The only humor in the scene was that of the death of The Master with Smaug crashing into the water killing him as he tried to escape. The scene ran for about ten minutes, fifteen at most, and that was satisfying enough for me. Before seeing the film I hoped it would run longer. But to be honest, I think it was just the right amount of build up and action until the beast was killed. The acting by Luke Evan’s was superb as usual. The Lake-Town sequence was the first scene Evans ever shot on The Hobbit Trilogy. I could see that Peter Jackson was saving the best for last. Because this one event, changes Bard’s journey for the rest of the film in ways he never expected.
Let’s all face it; this is really Thorin Oakenshield’s (Richard Armitage) story. Armitage has stated that it has been a privilege to be able to play Thorin’s arc throughout the entire Hobbit story. He loved taking Thorin into the lowest of the low and see where he comes out of it. And that is exactly what happens. Armitage plays Thorin so strait, that the first scene that we see of him is him turned back from the burning Lake-Town. Not even caring about the fury that they had unleashed. It comes into full circle with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) talking to Balin (Ken Stott) about Thorin’s Dragon-Sickness, or the hunger for gold and power. Balin tells the Hobbit that he had seen this sickness infect Thorin’s father Thrain and grandfather Thror long ago. “You cannot see what you have become” says the Dwarf Dwailn (Graham McTavish) to Thorin who is willing to protect his treasure with war rather than avoiding death at all costs. The story arc of Thorin becomes the most interesting when you hear the words “I will not part with a single coin, not one piece of it”, spoken by Thorin himslef echoing the words of Smaug to Bilbo in The Desolation of Smaug. This was edited so cleverly in that when Thorin delivers this line, you can actually hear Smaug’s voice creeping in to show that the Dwarf king is no better than dragon him self. I was even more connected to because on the commentary track for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition, Peter Jackson himself said that the fans should look out for that because it comes around full circle in the final film. You spend so much time rooting for Thorin in the past two movies that when you see the greed taking control of him, you don’t hate him as much as you would imagine; but instead feel sympathy more than anything. But Thorin really looses his senses when he finds out that Bilbo had indeed found the Arkenstone and given it to Bard and the Elf King Thranduil (Lee Pace). He threatens to kill Bilbo by throwing him off the ledge of Erebor, but is stopped by a persuading Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
I thought that the interactions with the different races were so amazing. I mean, come on! Bard talking with King Thranduil, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf is just what all the Tolkien fans want to see. But Jackson does a great job structuring all of the characters in just the right amount. For example, I never had a problem with the Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) story. But I was worried that it was going to be overused. The film does it in the right way in that Kili confesses his love for Tauriel and returns with the other dwarves to Erebor; simple and to the point. Unfortunately, most of the dwarves don’t get their own character moments. It’s mainly Thorin, his two nephews Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili, Dwalin, and Balin. Because there is so much happening in the story structurally, not every character can have their moment. All of the other dwarves are just there, there is nothing else for them to do. But it doesn’t hurt the film at all.
A film titled The Battle of the Five Armies needs to deliver a spectacular battle. Does it live to its expectations? Very much so in that it’s not trying to compete with the battles in The Lord of the Rings films. This is a more character driven battle. It’s all about the story in this bombastic action. Amongst all the fighting Jackson cuts to the faces of characters to emphasize that there is a cost to this war and sacrifices and death will be witnessed. The battle is structured and choreographed in such a careful way that there is no question as to who is fighting who. All the races are recognizable. The battle is shot so smoothly that you can actually witness the clash and slaughter of characters really easily. Recommend to be watched in HFR (High Frame Rate), especially when it is presented in IMAX 3D. As the Elves and the men of Lake-Town are ready to fight the dwarves, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) arrives with his Orc army to take over the mountain commanded by Sauron (Benedict Cumberbatch) himself. Thorin’s cousin Dáin (Billy Connolly) arrives with his army of dwarves in time and the battle ensues. I thought that the Dáin character was really underused. I understand that he is a fan favorite character and that he must appear for the extra muscle for Thorin. But if you are using a character like Dáin, give him some real moments. For me it was as if he just appeared, did his part and left. The argument could be made that he would be strongly used in the Extended Edition. But if that is really the case, then that was a poor filmmaking choice. Because if they are only going to use an important character for that long and not have him to much of anything until the Extended Edition, the writers might have run out of time or ideas. Because unfortunately, most of the world is going to only see theatrical cut of the film. And for someone that is not a diehard Tolkien fan like you or me is not going to see the value of something that is underused. For me it’s a minor quibble because the film ends on such a satisfying note, that I can forgive issues like that. Don’t you worry there is so much happening during this battle that issues like that will fly over you head.
The White Council comes to rescue Gandalf from Dol Guldur from his encounter with Sauron in the previous film. As Sauron appears and tempts Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) to join his forces, Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) fight off the Nazgûl as Galadriel is able to cast off Sauron and the Nazgûl away from the fortress. I thought this scene was very well done. It’s has the creepy vibe that Jackson is really good at displaying on screen, but also the way they tied this event to the events to come in The Lord of the Rings films. It was satisfying for the theatrical cut. Hopefully, we get to see more of it in the Extended Edition.
After Thorin has an epiphany in realizing what he was turning into, he joins his company in the fight for peace. “Will you follow me, one last time?” asks Thorin of his company before they burst out of the mountain into the war. When we see the shot of the entire company running out of the mountain into war, it is amazingly satisfying. The final charge with the Eagles swooping in with Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) and Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) was spectacular. We get to see Beorn turn into his bear form and take out dozens of Orcs. Though expect to see more bear Beorn in the Extended Edition as we literally see a few seconds of him in the theatrical cut. The climactic ending to the film is the most emotional. After Azog kills Fili in front of Thorin, Thorin climbs on top of Ravenhill and confronts his enemy once and for all. Meanwhile Azog’s son Bolg (John Tui) kills Kili, while protecting Tuariel form Bolg him self.
The Thorin versus Azog scene was probably the one I was looking the most forward to other than the Lake-Town sequence. In the last two films Azog has been hunting down Thorin for cutting his arm off at the battle of Azanulbizar. The pale Orc swore to wipe out the line of Durin, and that is exactly what the stakes are in this final fight. As the two characters fight on top of cracking ice Azog slips and falls underwater. He floats underwater with Thorin watching. It was so obvious that Azog was not dead. Right after he opens his eyes and stabs Thorin in the chest. But Thorin takes the upper hand and stabs Azog in return. Way back when the first trailer for this film came out, I predicted that they would both die at each other’s hand. And I was so glad that that was the case. It just made it so much more dramatic. The whole time you are holding your breath hoping Azog does not reach his arm blade into Thorin’s flesh. But unfortunately the fate of Thorin Oakenshield is a sad one which leads us to one of the best scenes in the film.
Those of us who have read and know the story of The Hobbit, know that Thorin Oakenshield’s fate is not a triumphant one. Thus the battle is over, Thorin lies on his death bead as Bilbo arrives to his aid. Thorin forgives Bilbo for his betrayal with the Arkenstone and realizes that if people valued food, song, and home more than gold, the world would be a merrier place. This was the most emotional scene for me. Shout out to my cousin Elise, whom I experience the HFR IMAX 3D Trilogy event with; who also had an emotional reaction as much as I did during that scene. You got to be the most unfeeling person in the world not to feel any sense of heartbreak during this scene. I have reactions to movies, but never physical. I was trying to keep the tears away and I was sitting forward in utter captivation as to what was happening on screen. It really hit me when Thorin died and a crying Bilbo tells him, “look Thorin, the eagles are coming.” That scene got me to the core and did the film justice for me. They ended the story so well, that you could forgive any flaws that happened before in the film. This scene will have an extended scene in the Extended Edition. Richard Armitage who played Thorin confirmed that the tragedy does go on for a little bit longer in the scene. I’m glad there is more, as we quickly transition from that scene to Bilbo bidding farewell to the rest of the company of dwarves before he heads home with Gandalf to the shire.
After Bilbo and Gandalf return to the borders of the Shire, Gandalf tells Bilbo that he knew all along that Bilbo had the possession of a ring and warns him of caution; not knowing what kind of power the ring holds. I love that kind of ending because the filmmakers did not need to spend explaining how important the ring is. Most people have seen The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. But those who have not, not to worry as there are three more epic stories to look forward to. Bilbo returns to Bag End to find the Sackville-Bagginses auctioning off his belongings, believing him to be dead; due to his long absence. Thus, Bilbo proving his identity by showing his name that he singed on the contract of Thorin Oakenshield, stating that Thorin was indeed his friend. That was another emotional beat for me as the film ends with the old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) greeting Gandalf at his doorstep right before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring. I could not ask for a better conclusion to the story of The Hobbit; ending with that heartfelt and emotional song by Billy Boyd, “The Last Goodbye”.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a triumph. From epic directing by Peter Jackson, amazing acting from a stellar cast, beautiful and powerful score by Howard Shore; the third and final Hobbit film is a celebration of the Middle Earth saga. This is a film that means to be seen on the big screen, preferably in IMAX 3D with the High Frame Rate projection. So will you follow Thorin Oakenshield “On last time” and experience the event of the year that is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies? It is a celebration of Middle Earth all should be a part of! Whether you choose to experience it in HFR IMAX 3D, HFR 3D, 3D, or standard 2D, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is an epic finale to an epic saga and reminds us all why these stories are classics.