Battle of the Five Armies Review | More of the Same

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Picking up from where the cliffhanger of the last movie left off, this action-oriented installment opens with protagonist Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf pals fretting over having unwittingly awakened Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). If you can’t remember, last year’s The Desolation of Smaug ended with the dragon leaving his mountain lair and heading to Lake-town to do some old school fire damage on the town.

The Battle of the Five Armies, the conclusion to The Desolation of Smaug also starts so abruptly, you’ll be checking to make sure you haven’t arrived after the movie had started. It’s been a year since the second installment ended, but Jackson treats it like yesterday, cranking up the film just frames after the last movie stopped dead in its dragon tracks. Even the good-natured Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) doesn’t have enough screen time to bring his tender, journeyman touch to the tale. Freeman, who is a great actor, can’t make a role work when he’s reduced to a footnote in the story.

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There was a time when fields covered with thousands of warriors would have been impressive enough. But audiences are too savvy to filmmaking to be blinded by quantity over quality. The battles aren’t as crisp as they should be in the 3-D version. The process always darkens the image and this movie’s inherently lack of lighting suffers more because of the gimmicky film process.

Jackson’s skill as a storyteller — that was so well displayed in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy — has been once again replaced by a mishmash of action with recycled characters. The most annoying example is Ryan Cage’s role of Lake-town flunky Alfrid, which has been expanded from a meaningless player to a painfully unfunny comic relief. Appearances by Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Christopher Lee as Saruman feel forced, as if Jackson was more interested in giving loyal fans a treat than keeping to the story structure. Just because this is the “end” doesn’t mean everyone needs to take a curtain bow. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is also back and has become a video game character; at one point he literally jumps up falling blocks (Weta Digital just needed to include that sound that Mario makes when he jumps in the air).

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The two main problems with The Battle of the Five Armies is the abrupt leap into the story coupled with an over indulgence in computer-generated military chaos. In a film series that has pressed the importance of even the simplest person, the last film replaces the oneness of a touching story with the blinding fury of the action sequences.

It’s not a bad ending to the Hobbit’s unexpected journey, but it does not reach the standard set by the other films. Aside from Bilbo, the final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy is a sad shell of the franchise filled with dull set pieces and action sequences we care little about. Jackson earned his emotions and “perseverance and true bravery” themes in The Lord of the Rings. By comparison, The Battle of the Five Armies says “greed is bad”, which is pretty lame given this trilogy is based on one book, and cost ~$750 million to make, while also bringing in ~$2 billion to date.

Grade: C

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