The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
If there is one thing that Peter Jackson has become known to (at least to mainstream artists) while making his movies based on J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth it is epic battles. Highly detailed battles; in fact, so highly detailed that most people, even on a big screen, can't see the details, such as specific markings and armor that denote ranks in Orc hierarchy. To be honest, that was one of the main challenges in properly making movies based on The Lord of the Rings: the battles of Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields, as well as the final skirmish before the gates of Mordor, are major portions of the books.
By comparison, the Battle of the Five Armies, though it sounds grand, is largely a skirmish based on racial tensions, greed and Goblins and Orcs just largely being what they are. It's a way to tie various plot lines together and the end and for Tolkien, who had a much more grand series in the waiting, to introduce some of the underlying tensions of the world he had designed. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is meant to show us a world and make it familiar to us rather than set up the scene for a long, drawn-out fight.
A good portion of what happend with the Hobbit movies was not Peter Jackson's fault. It was originally supposed to be one movie, then became two, and then three as New Line Pictures drooled over the money that would be rolling in. Since movie audiences were introduced to the world through the three Lord of the Rings films, the building that Tolkien did in The Hobbit would seem redundant. Instead, we got fan service, an unnecessary antagonist in Azog the Defiler and an entire diversionary plot in which Gandalf discovers that Sauron is alive and kicking and gathering his forces at the fortress of Gundabad. Not to mention we get a bunch of Elf-Dwarf slash fiction with the romance between Kíli and Tauriel - the latter who was made up of whole cloth just to have some sort of romantic triangle involving Legolas who, again, never appears (by name at leasrt) until we get to the main trilogy.
It gets so bad that, even though I had read the book a while back, I had to briefly reacquaint myself with the general plot so I could remember what was and was not part of it. I knew Radagast, interesting character as he is in the films, was nowhere in The Hobbit, but the Eagles and Beorn showing up out of nowhere was - in fact, they were one of the five armies, although they are not in this movie. Go figure.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies begins where The Desolation of Smaug ends, with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) heading toward Lake Town to get revenge for Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the Dwarves invading Erebor. Bard (Luke Evans) manages to bring the dragon down, but not before Lake Town is destroyed. Bard reluctantly assumes the leadership position and leads the population to the ruins of Dale, within sight of the gates of Erebor. Meanwhile, Thorin (Richard Armitage) succombs to "Dragon Sickness", becoming obsessed with protecting the gold the mountain holds, as well as finding the Arkenstone, no matter what the consequences may be for him and his party.
The fact is that a war is revving up just outside his door, with the arrival of Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his Wood Elves, who form an uneasy alliance with the Lake Town refugees, and Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) leading his own army of Orcs, backed up by a second army led by his son Bolg (John Tui). And, although Thorin's party may seem outnumbered, he has an ace up his sleeve: his cousin Dain (Billy Connoly), the leader of the Iron Hills Dwarves, who is more than happy to come to the aid of his kin. There are various plots tied up throughout, a number of characters set up for their roles in the main trilogy, and enough battle scenes to satisfy anyone who wants to see this sort of thing.
Of course, if you yourself want to engage in something similar, go back and have a whack at 2012's Diablo III. It's a great game, and large portions of it seem to be lifted wholesale for this movie, only it's Orcs instead demons, monsters and undead. I swear some of the scenes of trolls breaching the walls of Dale look exactly the same as some of the creatures attacking the castle walls when you reach Diablo III's third chapter. I have no problem with movies being just a giant battle or a chase throughout; Mad Max: Fury Road and the original Gone in 60 Seconds are prime examples. The difference is they look like what they are supposed to be, not like an E3 advertisement for a next generation console.
I personally thought that, despite the shoehorned love story and Azog, The Desolation of Smaug was a good continuation of An Unexpected Journey. They both had flaws, neither ever approached even The Fellowship of the Ring in quality, but occasionally it looked like Peter Jackson still cared about what he was doing on even days. The Battle of the Five Armies simply has the vibe of "let's get this over with." Jackson had obviously had his fill of epic films by this point, as evidenced by pulling back and doing a smaller film like The Lovely Bones. Since then he has concentrated on documentaries. It is obvious this third movie was forced upon him by the studio, as the entire movie could have been trimmed to 45 minutes and been the ending of the second. Just drop the fan service and extraneous garbage.
Surprisingly, though, on this watching I didn't hate it as much as I previously did. I think it is because I know the truly disappointing parts, such as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) suddenly becoming Super Mario toward the end I was ready for. It may be because, particularly in that scene, it appears some of the effects were touched up for the extended version. It still looks like video game, but not as bad as it did in the theater. There are great parts to it - the arrival of Dain on the battlefield, riding a boar, and the goat-drawn chariots of the Dwarves, as well as Thorin's breaking free from the sickness while standing on the gold-covered causeway in Erebor. Too bad Bilbo has little to do (he's unconscious a good portion of the battle in the book as well), although Gandalf (Ian McKellan) is given some action. Some of the more questionable parts - the Eagles showing up again and Beorn's (Mikael Persbrandt) sudden appearance - are actually parts of the book, but end up being laughable because at this point most audiences had enough.
While not an awful movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is definitely an unnecessary one. By the end the audience, like Jackson, just can't wait to be done with it and on to something else.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Time: 164 minutes
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Luke Evans, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Manu Bennett, Evangeline Lilly
Director: Peter Jackson