First of all, yes, this Hobbit trilogy should have been just two movies. No matter how many extra sources Peter Jackson pulled from (what’s up, The Silmarillion?), each installment has had parts that felt like cinematic fluff to fill in these long running times. The Battle of the Five Armies is no exception, most notably in the meaningless made-up character Alfrid and his unremarkable plot. Wasn’t it awesome when his story ended with him running away in a dress? No, no, it wasn’t.
Looking past the filler, I still enjoyed the spectacle and story closure this film gives us. A little explanation as to why Dwarves and Elves are usually at odds? Check. Tying up all the characters’ stories, while also giving us a bridge to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy? Check. A huge battle that goes on for basically the whole movie? Yep. An opening battle that’s better than the main event? Yes (unfortunately).
The superior action sequence of Smaug attacking Lake Town should have been the second movie’s finale. It’s poor writing to construct a false cliffhanger just by cutting an action scene in half, and then expecting the audience to remember/care about the characters a year later. Also the random, made-up hide and seek segment with the dragon in the Lonely Mountain felt weird and made Smaug look like a burglar from Home Alone. The attack on Lake Town was splendid and eye-catching, but imagine if it was the emotional payoff of a movie instead of a random opening act with two characters most people would have forgotten about. Maybe I’m just sore because I didn’t have enough built-up emotion to tear up.
Besides the misplaced initial fight, the rest of the movie deals entirely with the setup and execution of the Battle of the Five Armies. We do manage to get some character moments however, and as usual the entire cast is stellar. Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) sudden transformation into Scrooge McDuck is a little jarring but necessary to the plot. Seeing Galadriel, Elrond, and an energetic Saruman fight Nazgul was as awesome as it sounds. Martin Freeman‘s final job as Bilbo sealed his perfect portrayal for the trilogy. Also, my crush on Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel) remains intact.
I’ll say it one more time- CGI Orc fights are just a shadow of the earlier stuntmen duels. Think back to The Fellowship of the Ring and the gritty finale with the band of Uruk-Hai. How much better did that look with the stuntmen in full costume, swinging real metal? The heroes actually flinched a little when knives were thrown and blocks were made, because there was an element of actual danger. No matter how good the CGI is, the audience still picks up on elements that look or feel off.
I did find myself feeling emotional during the post-battle scenes, only because I knew these would be the final Lord of the Rings moments on the big screen. The film writers were obviously addressing their longtime fans from Bilbo’s farewell to the Dwarves to the final callback to The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a bittersweet moment for an epic movie saga.