Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett
Rating: Three and a half stars
So I’m going to come straight to the point and admit that I’m not a big fan of Jackson’s move to convert a tiny book like The Hobbit into a celluloid trilogy. I’ve been a lover of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works despite Silmarillion, and have loved how Jackson has taken the feted writer’s imagination and converted it into onscreen splendour. But when he announced he wanted to do The Hobbit, that too as a trilogy, I had my doubts. As is Jackson’s wont, he blew me away with the first part — An Unexpected Journey.
Barring a few creative liberties he took, the film was riveting and not once did it feel like it was the first part of movie based on a book that is basically tinier than the first part of the Rings trilogy. I had hope; I believed the Jackson magic of storytelling has triumphed once again. Then The Desolation of Smaug came along and even the booming voice of Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t help me reconcile with the reality that The Hobbit story was rapidly going down a rabbit hole. The frivolous addition of Tauriel as a love interest only grated my puritan nerves and I was convinced that despite the usual Jackson touch to his films, there would be little for me to watch in The Battle of the Five Armies.
My relationship with Jackson has been such that whenever I’ve expected little of him, he has come and swept me away with his genius. That resultant genius has led to expectations that have swiftly come crashing down. The finale of the trilogy epitomises the highs and lows of my affair with Jackson, but the good thing about it is the fact that there won’t be any more Hobbit films.
Battle of the Five Armies is no Return of the King. Then again Two Towers was a surprisingly good transitionary film. Despite the fact that the Rings trilogy was written as such, trilogies often suffer the curse of the second. The second film is floating piece of work that takes the previous story forward but only so much, because it has to leave the best bits for the finale. The Desolation of Smaug was ho-hum, the meaningless love angle notwithstanding. It seemed to suffer the Lord of the Rings hangover a bit too much and it wasn’t convincing enough. The Battle of the Five Armies opens where the previous film ends, with the dragon Smaug losing his fiery marbles over Lake Town.
Bard manages to escape from Lake Town and fatally fells Smaug. Meanwhile, we see that the overriding greed for the Arkenstone and realisation of uncontrollable power that the wealth brings has made Thorin go crazy.
Between the last film and the opening half of this one, Gandalf the Grey has been imprisoned in Dol Guldur and is later saved by Galadriel. He sets out on a journey to warn Bilbo Baggins and the rest about the impending attack of the orcs. The Elves have rescued the terrorised residents of Lake Town, but their tacit understanding with the Dwarves over the gold is shaken, threatening to ruin their combined force against the orcs. Somewhere in all of this, fake elf Tauriel (fake because she’s not in the original book) is in love with Kili the Hobbit and our focus suddenly shifts from a raging war to raging hormones.
Whatever distractions aside, the film must be watched for Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin. He is the star even if he isn’t the title character. Under a ton of hair and masked by layers of makeup, Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin’s conflict does justice to Tolkein’s writing. I never thought I’d say that. He isn’t Aragorn but my God, he holds his own. For a man without much height, he rises in stature and towers over the multitude of characters. Left to Bilbo to break his delirious spell, Freeman is the titular hero (pun intended). He grows as a character but not half as much as the shades Thorin does, but that is hardly Bilbo’s fault. His role was written like that. Yet, since Jackson decided to use so much experimentation in the screenplay, it wouldn’t have hurt to make Bilbo a more meaty role.
The other roles are not worth much mention given that the star cast is massive and the screen time not all that much. Special mention must be made about Ian McKellen who emotes with his eyes — that might partly have to do with the fact that his hair is mighty distracting, so we get to a lot less of his visage. The Knighted star aces his scenes and remains a pleasure to watch. Lilly as Tauriel is actually quite refreshing. But I’ve found her a needless addition to the plot, so I must admit the potential for being biased against her.
In all, The Battle of the Five Armies is more engaging than I expected it to be. The fight sequences and Jackson’s mastery over the cinematography department has meant that we’ve gotten to see a fair bit of New Zealand but obviously in a made up way. It is a good finale film of a trilogy, but there a lot better ones. However, it seems like the director has tried to pack in so much into this one last attempt that it is needlessly crowded and exhaustive. Watch it because you wouldn’t want The Desolation of Smaug to be your last Hobbit memory. It has some really good moments but the film is not better as a sum of its parts. By that logic, the third outing is the weakest one.