DVD Release Date: March 24, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: December 17, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images)
Run Time: 144 min.
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Aidan Turner, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, James Nesbitt, Graham McTavish
Of course, supersizing the whole experience has paid serious dividends (last year's Desolation of Smaug grossed more than $258 million domestically) and kept the geek contingent satisfied (or, at the very least, engaged in lively debate). While not being total stinkers, all three Hobbit films have nonetheless served as a vivid reminder of how much better the Lord of the Rings trilogy was in every possible way.
For starters, the Hobbit films have a decidedly muddy palette and a distanced-from-reality videogame vibe. So from pure aesthetics to a noticeable downgrade in characterization and the storytelling itself, it's nearly impossible not to feel slightly disappointed to have reached our final tale of Middle-earth on such a note.
That's not to say that The Battle of the Five Armies, the series finale, is without merit. It doesn't meander nearly as much as An Unexpected Journey or feel as blatantly action-heavy as The Desolation of Smaug. In terms of quality, it's somewhere in the middle, and thanks to a few well-executed moments of comic relief to balance the oh-so-serious tone, The Battle of the Five Armies has a handful of charming moments.
Once again, the brilliant casting of Martin Freeman (The World's End) as Bilbo Baggins makes the movie. In stark contrast to so many of the actors, he's a delight in every scene he's in, and you find yourself wishing that Bilbo wasn’t overshadowed by so many other players.
Picking up from Smaug's rather abrupt ending, The Battle of the Five Armies begins with an intriguing sense of menace as the dragon (expertly voiced by Freeman's Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch) makes quite a dramatic entrance into Laketown, attempting to take out everyone in his wake. But it turns out that Smaug is no match for a very brave man named Bard (Luke Evans, The Raven). After defeating the fire-breather, Bard leads the surviving townspeople to a city nestled in the mountains.
Smaug's significant stash of gold is in demand now that he's dead, and dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage, Into the Storm), back on the throne, finds himself consumed with the greed that plagued his grandfather. Not surprisingly, Thorin loses a good chunk of his soul in the process of re-acquiring wealth, and before long, he's welching on his promise to Bard and finding himself at odds with elf leader Thranduil (Lee Pace, Guardians of the Galaxy).
Unable to accept who Thorin has become, Thranduil assembles an army of his people to fight him. Meanwhile, Bilbo is playing peacemaker and hoping to convince Thorin of his lapsed priorities, while Gandalf (Ian McKellen, X-Men: Days of Future Past) has learned that two factions of orcs have their own bone to pick with Thorin.
With five armies eventually making their way into the story, The Battle feels more than a little overstuffed. You've got preparation for battle and interpersonal dilemmas jockeying for your attention, and director Peter Jackson seems unsure of how to fit the pieces together. As a result, there's some awkward splicing from scene to scene and a whole lot of drama competing for - but never completely absorbing - our attention. Meanwhile, Bilbo's central story, the real heart of Tolkien’s novel, is buried in the process, which may be the biggest shame of all.
With its particularly clunky feel, The Battle of the Five Armies also tests the audience's patience with major pacing problems. Monotonous battle sequences drag on for what feels like eternity. Certain characters show up, only to disappear for significant stretches of time. And manufactured romances between characters fall incredibly flat with soap opera-esque declarations that necessitate a few are-you-kidding-me eye rolls.
As behemoth blockbusters go, there are definitely worse cinematic diversions than The Battle of the Five Armies. The most recent installment of The Hunger Games, for example, was a total bore. But if you want to experience Tolkien's storytelling in a far more memorable way, revisiting The Lord of the Rings is an absolute must because Jackson's Hobbit trilogy lags, lumbers, and quite often, misses the point entirely.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Drugs/Alcohol: True to form, Gandalf smokes his pipe in one scene.
- Language/Profanity: He-- is used in a non-expletive context. Bas---- is used once.
- Sex/Nudity: A male character sports women's clothes and rather buxom breasts in a scene played for laughs.
- Violence: On par with previous Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films. Of all the Hobbit movies, it's probably the darkest feeling. There's some intense-ish battle violence with numerous fatalities. There's also some significant swordplay, and a main character is stabbed in the leg. The orcs, A always, are a fearsome and ugly presence.
Publication date: December 16, 2014