And the Dwarf King: The Battle for Himself.
Here it is, at last: the end of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. It hasn’t arrived without it’s challenges. Originally, the series was supposed to be directed by Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro before he dropped out and let Peter Jackson hop back in the director’s chair. Then, Jackson decided to turn it from two movies into three because he wanted to “expand the story.” Then in April, he decided to retitle the third film from There and Back Again to The Battle of the Five Armies. Every indication from the production of this film has shown that the movie was going to be either the weakest entry or the most unnecessary film out of the series. Jackson, however, has overcome every obstacle in his path and made a film that is just as exciting, enduring, and memorable as any other film in the series. Jackson’s persistence is something to be admired.
Picking up after that horrible cliffhanger of an ending we got from The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies opens with Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to the village of Laketown shortly after he was set free by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). After setting the village on fire and killing many of the villagers, Bard the bowman (Luke Evans) escapes from prison, climbs the highest tower he can find, and kills the dragon with the black arrow he inherited from his father.
With Smaug dead, the dwarves have taken possession of the Lonely Mountain. However, something strange is happening to Thorin. He has become more greedy, violent, and eager to find the Arkenstone in the chamber and become the next king of the mountain. Bilbo has noticed his new attitude, and finds it disturbingly similar to that of Smaug’s personality. As tensions grow inside the mountains, things heat up with elven, eagle, orc, and human armies assembling outside of the mountains as well. Now with the four armies gathering to take the mountain from the dwarves, Thorin gathers his own dwarf (and hobbit) army to protect their inheritance and keep it from unworthy hands.
The third movie in any trilogy is always the most crucial. It either makes or breaks the series, making it just as memorable as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or as half-baked as the Matrix trilogy. Part of me wonders why they even had to make a third movie at all, and why they couldn’t just combine this with The Desolation of Smaug. That was originally the plan, after all, but I guess if they did that, they would run the risk of shoehorning two plots into one film.
Honestly though, I don’t know if it would have been that big of an issue. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies offers exactly what the title suggests: a battle which is bigger and bolder than any other fight in the Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, that includes the final siege on Sauron in Return of the King and the fight against Smaug in Desolation of Smaug. The scale and scope is bigger here than any other Lord of the Rings movie, with elves, dwarves, eagles, orcs, villagers, trolls, wizards, spirits, and a hobbit crashing, slashing, and colliding into each other like nobody’s business. This is the most action-packed Lord of the Rings movie yet, with it’s final lengthy action sequence clocking in at about over an hour.
Some of the action runs rampant and gets repetitive now and then. In one scene, for instance, Legolas the elf fights against an orc on a tumbling castle. The scene ran for well over 20 minutes, with them clashing swords and fists against each other, and I sat there wondering to myself “Why couldn’t he just trip him off and be done with it?”
But here’s the interesting thing: no matter how long the action ran, it kept me engaged. If this were a Michael Bay or a John Woo picture, the action would have ran wild and I would have gotten bored about 10 minutes into it. But Jackson is more talented than most filmmakers. He understands that in order for your audience to be invested in the action, they need to be invested in the characters first, because what’s the point of having characters go through these epic fights if you don’t care about them?
With this movie, I noticed that the character I cared most for was not Bilbo Baggins, but Thorin Oakenshield. He has the most interesting arc out of any other character in the movie, spending one half of the film fighting orcs, and the other half fighting himself. His character in the film reminds me a lot of Gollum: his conflict isn’t so much with others trying to take the things precious to him, but with himself in how the things he values most changes him. He especially serves a crucial part in the film’s final climatic battle scene, which is so nerve-wrecking and heart-pounding that it brought me just as much excitement as the climax in Return of the King did. The impressive part? Return of the King’s climax featured an entire armada of warriors, while The Battle of the Five Armies’ climax only needed two.
All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies did to The Hobbit what The Return of the King did to The Lord of the Rings: it wrapped it up nicely into a tight, satisfying conclusion, bringing excitement, emotion, and resolution to these characters that we’ve cared so much for so long now. Granted, it didn’t do as well as The Return of the King did with this, and I personally would have wished that Jackson would have made it less messy and cluttered than it already was. Does that ultimately matter, though, if I had fun watching it? Let’s just be glad that Bilbo made it there and back again in one piece.