Peter Jackson returns for the sixth and final time to the world of Middle Earth that he spent decades bringing to a reality. The Lord of the Rings and its follow-up trilogy The Hobbit, have been truly innovative and have paved the way for serialized cinematic storytelling that we will be seeing regularly from Marvel, DC Comics, and Star Wars, among other universes. Shooting multiple films simultaneously, while planning for films years ahead is a model that is being adapted daily. However, it is not a flawless model created by Jackson and his latest film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is an example of when a movie is planned without a compelling story to back its existence.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies begins with the heroic slaying of the monstrous dragon Smaug. Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarves find Smaug's treasure and Thorin claims it as his own. However, Smaug's death creates a vacuum in the region. The first half of the film is spent exploring the different intentions of the five armies who are all converging on Thorin's stronghold, setting the stage for a five-way battle that would make Ron Burgundy proud.
Martin Freeman does a serviceable job with his role of Bilbo Baggins. However, he is given even less to do than in previous chapters. Largely due to the direction and writing, Bilbo never seemed to put a stamp on the series that is named after him. As written, his role in the adventure was to be the burglar and blend into the shadows at times. However, Bilbo is as memorable a character in J.R.R. Tolkien lore as Gandalf, yet never seemed to stand out.
Jackson added other Tolkien material in an effort to stretch the story out over three films. That may be the largest reason for the misguided shift off of Baggins. This movie is filled with Tolkien cameos and supporting roles that are present just to connect the tissue between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. Roles such as Legolas are overextended and bring to light how flimsy the characterizations in this film are, in comparison to the previous trilogy.
Jackson uses Thorin to show the dangers of power and greed. After gaining access to Smaug's treasure he develops "dragon sickness" and goes mad searching for the Arkenstone, which Bilbo found in the last film. He hides it from Thorin understandably fearing it would cement his tyrannical behavior. Jackson substitutes gold and treasure as the corruptive force, which functions as the stand-in for the "precious ring." So Thorin goes through a similar fall from grace and redemption as the other ring bearers. The problem is that we have already seen that story stretched out over the course of two trilogies. It forces Thorin to become the main protagonist of the story, again stealing the spotlight from Bilbo, the film's title character.
Ultimately this movie and the series, didn't have characters that were easy to identify with and care about. I may not remember their names, but I instantly recognize and feel familiar with the four hobbits we spent a trilogy adventuring with in The Lord of the Rings. In The Hobbit series, I would be hard-pressed to remember two of the dwarves from the extras. And there were three films to establish a connection. This disconnect was personified in characters such as the previously harped upon, Thorin Oakenshield.
The biggest strike against the film is that it ultimately does not really have much to say. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies doesn't introduce any new themes or ideas, that hadn't already been introduced in the previous five chapters. The result is a movie that feels empty and unnecessary. The last hour of the film is a battle whose scale and epic scope have only been realized in Jackson's lens. At times the movie feels very much like a Universal Studios ride, with danger around every corner. Despite the frenetic pace, the battles lack the grit and medieval charm of the first trilogy. In those battles you could practically feel the sweat and hot breath of the extras bringing life to the various warring creatures. It raised the stakes. The CGI sheen and gloss of this movie makes the violence seem cartoonish and lessens the impact of every clanging sword. Despite there being some telegraphed deaths, all of the characters seemed superheroic and more like video game characters than cinematic ones.
Ultimately if you are a fan of The Hobbit trilogy it is recommended that you check out the final movie in the series. You already know what to expect and it is the final goodbye, which Jackson actually wraps up well. However, if you are in the camp that holds Jackson's films, particularly The Hobbit in low esteem, then you might not want to put this at the top of your list. If you are looking for action and spectacle, Jackson certainly delivers and it is a joy to watch. However it does feel bloated and will not give you a deeper appreciation for the series. Now that this final chapter is over, it will be interesting to see what Jackson does next. While this film series will be remembered for all time, The Battle of the Five Armies may be one of the last parts of it to come to mind. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a mind-blowing spectacle with an empty farewell.