You have but one question to answer: How shall this day end?

You have but one question to answer: How shall this day end?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a splendid tale of adventure. It involves songs, riddles, derring-do, mountains, dragons, riches untold, and the settling of old scores. It is a perfect piece of source material to adapt into a film, especially in this age where what we can see come to life on the big screen is seemingly limitless. For all of these reasons and more, it would likely make for an amazing film.

Film. Not so much trilogy of films.

THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES begins exactly where THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG left off. The angry and interrupted dragon is making a beeline for the port village of Laketown, looking to take some vengeance for the failed attempt on his life by thirteen dwarves and one hobbit. It only takes a few flyovers to ignite the entire village and leave its population taking to boats and rowing for their lives. Mercifully, before every soul in the town is killed, an archer named Bard (Luke Evans) fires a well-aimed arrow at Smaug’s only weakspot.

The villagers are saved, the dragon is dead, the dwarves and hobbit claim the dragon’s keep.

However, certain victory is only the beginning of the story as all the years Smaug spent in the keep infected the treasure amassed there. That infection claims the leader of the dwarves, Thorin (Richard Armitage), who proclaims himself king and reneges on a deal to square-up and protect the people of Laketown. Thorin informs the other twelve dwarves and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), that they are reclaiming what was once there’s regardless of promises made, and are putting all effort into finding their birthright: a powerful gem known as the Arkenstone.

Unbeknownst to the thirteen dwarves, Bilbo already found it, but isn’t handing it over out of a sense of distrust and disgust.

Outside the keep however, the masses are gathering. Two different Orc armies are bent on taking the fortress, seeing it as a staging ground for further advances and attacks into Middle Earth. The Elves are trying to engage the dwarves, looking to reclaim specific precious relics from their kingdom now that the pesky dragon is out-of-the-way. Finally, the army of men from Laketown is outside the gate as well – fortuitously aligned with the elven army – looking for the newly self-proclaimed king to make good on his deal, and likewise provide shelter to the hordes of refugees Smaug has created is his assault on the village.

No matter how many souls gather outside, Thorin is having none of it. He fortifies the Lonely Mountain and waits for the hordes to have it out. And have it out they do…
Richard Armitage as Thorin

There is an immense amount of craft and beauty on display in THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, and even a few sequences that rank up amongst the best scenes of the six Middle Earth films.

I feel like making my appreciation for the film’s craft and beauty clear because I can’t seem to get a bitter taste out of my mouth when I reflect on this film specifically, and this trilogy on a whole. That taste comes from swallowing a concluding chapter from the previous trilogy that felt overlong and overhyped. That taste also comes from eight years of following a production that entailed a studio going bankrupt, a director quitting, and a three-hundred page book being adapted into first two, then ultimate three films clocking in close to eight hours.

You’d think that all of that baggage would have been checked at the door when I walked into AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY two years ago, and I assure you I gave them my suitcase and took the little white ticket. However, I found myself wondering about my luggage when events in these films were drawn-out, which happened early and often.

In thinking about the trilogy on the whole, and this film specifically, the first word that comes to mind is “bloat”. Too many lines of dialogue are spoken as if they are harbingers of end of days. Too many characters are left to stew for too many moments just in case their sullen selfishness is ever unclear. Too many battles are fought between too many different creatures who come representing too many different agendas. Too many CGI creations interact with too many other CGI creations leaving us caring for the fate of too few. It’s overindulgence to the point of selfishness, which is actually fitting for this film since its titular battle is really a skirmish that is waged over the selfishness of two different races of creatures.

When Peter Jackson capped off his last trilogy, it was an entire world fighting for its survival; this time it’s all about which club gets to take over the clubhouse. Granted, this is a reflection of the original text, but I have to believe that a deft hand at adaptation could have helped matters.

The wild thing is that in this instalment of the trilogy, the titular character almost feels like an afterthought. Bilbo Baggins really doesn’t have much to do this time except plead with Thorin, plead with Thranduil, then start the loop again. The pity of this is that Freeman’s warmth and soulfulness really has been the beating heart of this series. He began as an unwilling accomplice, eventually becoming exasperated co-conspirator. He then inspired us as an unexpected hero, and finally gains our sympathy as he sees what was sold as adventure is really just greed. Like the greatest vacations we take in our own lives, Bilbo’s adventures eventually stretch him far too thin and he deeply wishes to finally go home.

It’s no wonder then that despite the hours spent watch dwarves, elves, orcs, and “other orcs” kick the crap out of one-another, it’s the simple image of a wizard and a hobbit sitting on a sunset-soaked parapet that finally moved me.

A lot of characters in THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES are trying to do a lot of things for a lot of different reasons. Yet it’s Bilbo’s desire to close the book and go home that feels most palpable. More than any want for treasure, more than any quest for justice. There is a weariness visible on Bilbo’s face – a clear understanding that the wants and whims of warriors and kings are far beyond his interest. Sadly, it’s emblematic of the feeling in our hearts as a cinematic voyage finally steers back into port, a shabby weathered shell of its once stately self.

All these years later, two things are clear: Peter Jackson is deeply in love with the stories of Middle Earth, and he is immensely powerful. So in love with these stories is he, that he feels as though every last battle, beat, tryst, and theme need to be explored and illustrated. So powerful is he, that nobody had the stones to tell him that exploring and illustrating every last battle, beat, tryst, and theme was ultimately a bad idea.

Matineescore: ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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