Film review – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – One last trip to Middle Earth!

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So, we have finally reached the end of our magical journey in to the world of Middle Earth as imagined by Peter Jackson. I was very excited to see this Hobbit finale – The Battle of the Five Armies, but this was also mixed with a feeling of sadness that this will be the last December when I can look forward to a new Peter Jackson/Tolkien film. After adoring all three Lord of the Rings films, An Unexpected Journey had felt a little underwhelming two years ago but I’d loved The Desolation of Smaug and so had high hopes that this final hurrah would be the pinnacle of a truly incredible filmic achievement that began over a decade ago.

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Smaug descends on Lake-town

The Battle of the Five Armies wastes no time in picking up where the last film ended, as Smaug sweeps in to Lake-town to wreak death and vengeance on the townsfolk. The sequences of the destruction of the town are incredibly impressive as the full power of the dragon is witnessed. There are also some wonderful human moments, as Stephen Fry’s horrid Master’s cowardly escape is contrasted with the bravery of Bard as he races to try and honour his ancestors in destroying Smaug. I admit I was a little surprised just how quickly this part of the story is tied up (don’t expect lots of dragon in the film) and I would’ve quite liked a bit more of Smaug than we get here. Benedict Cumberbatch is great again and the visual effects and artists involved in creating such a real and frightening creation should be very proud indeed.

Dragon dispensed with, the main thrust of this final film begins, as Thorin begins to be consumed by the “dragon sickness”, becoming more and more distrusting, dark and twisted by greed, as all forces in Middle Earth set their sights on the wealth of the mountain (both monetary and geographically). What is referred to in just a few pages in the third from last chapter of the book by Tolkien, the battle between the armies of elves, dwarves, men, orcs and eagles, becomes a hugely spectacular visual feast in the style we have grown accustomed to in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films.

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The forces of evil march on the Lonely Mountain

We see huge swathes of land covered in marching orcs and evil creatures and the graceful, fluid army of Thranduil, who seem to move as if one entity, as everything comes together at the base of the Lonely Mountain. It’s incredible to watch and an impressive combination of visual effects, live action and sound as we see the biggest battle of all six films unfold. However, for me, although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I did find myself missing some of the awe I had in 2002 and 2003 on seeing the Battle of Helms Deep and the Battle of Pelennor Fields for the first time. Perhaps I have become so used to Jackson’s spectacle and the high quality he achieves that it cannot quite stun me the way it used to. However I cannot imagine anyone else bringing such sequences to the screen.

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One of my favourite scenes – the fight at Dol Guldur

The vast amount of the film is based on the action sequences and battles and I felt there was a less emotional core than there had been in Desolation of Smaug. However there are some wonderful character moments throughout. Martin Freeman has grown in to the role of Bilbo as the films have gone along and his performance is a lovely one, as Bilbo witnesses Thorin’s dramatic change, feels the conflict of what best to do and steps up to show more bravery than he (or anyone else) ever thought him capable of and his last few scenes in the film are wonderful to see. Luke Evans is also fantastic as Bard, who becomes the inadvertent leader of the Lake-town survivors, showing bravery, honour and true leadership. He also has some brilliant stunts in the film (that made me think of both Aragorn and Legolas in the original trilogy).

Orlando Bloom’s Legolas feels a bit lacking for me. I loved him in Desolation, but a few of his fight scenes here felt a bit too ridiculous for me and can’t live up to those of a decade ago. Personally, I hadn’t really invested much in the love story between Tauriel and Kili, which still lacks something for me, but the actors play their scenes well and it’s fantastic to see Evangiline Lily fiercely taking on the orcs. Ian McKellen is, as usual, super as Gandalf the Grey and one of my favourite scenes of the whole film is at Dol Guldur, as we see Radagast, Elrond, Saruman and Galadriel come to his aid against the growing darkness of Sauron. I wish this thread of the story had been longer, as the scenes were exciting, impressive visually and incredibly dark and creepy, with superb performances, setting up what we know is to come in The Lord of the Rings.

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)

Then there is Richard Armitage as Thorin, around whom the film is weaved, as we see him lose himself completely to greed and selfishness in the early part of the tale, which reminded me very much of Bernard Hill’s Theoden when under Sauron’s spell in The Two Towers. The scene in which Bard attempts a negotiation with him is beautifully framed through the hole in the gates of Erebor and Armitage gives a very theatrical performance throughout, particularly as Thorin disappears in to his mind, before regaining his sense of who he is and his honour and the character certainly needs an actor of his calibre to make him believable.

Throughout, the other character of Middle Earth is as glorious as ever and that’s Howard Shore’s iconic musical scoring, which perfectly captures all the moments of the film and add to the scale and emotion. It’s hard to imagine this world with any different soundtrack.

Overall, this film is a wonderful farewell to an adventure in Middle Earth that began for me, like many others, in December 2001. I’ll never forget how awestruck I was by the opening prologue to the Fellowship and the incredible cinematic moments that followed in the original trilogy. For me, The Hobbit, although a gorgeous piece of film, can’t quite match the mastery of The Lord of the Rings. However, The Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end to Peter Jackson’s team’s work, in bringing more of Tolkien’s world to life. It has incredible battle sequences, while still hitting the emotional beats that make you care about the characters you have grown to know so well. Plus the ending is a perfect way to bring the films full circle and it made me want nothing more than to go home and watch The Fellowship of the Ring! Decembers certainly won’t be the same without these magical films and I’m very jealous of anyone who is yet to experience them for the first time!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is now on general release in the UK and opens in the United States on 17 December and you can watch the trailer here.

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