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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Directing: C+
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: C-
Special Effects: B-

How many armies does one movie need, anyway? Granted, some were asking the same question of the stupendous Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), but those three movies a decade ago were sprawling epics of seamless storytelling, each based on a single novel. For The Hobbit, by contrast, Peter Jackson stretches a single novel out over three films, each averaging over two and a half hours. After An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013) having so much filler, The Battle of the Five Armies is no exception.

Indeed, it's the epitome of diminishing returns. That first movie paled in comparison to the Lord of the Rings trilogy but was still fun; last year's installment was just more of the same, but with the tedious addition of a dragon who talked way too much. One of the few upsides to The Battle of the Five Armies is that we get comparatively little of Smaug, who is dispatched in the opening sequence.

But therein also lies one of the many misguided elements of the decision to present this story in three movies that are all far too long (and could have been just one, great movie): The Desolation of Smaug ended with impending doom related to that dragon, who barely plays any part in the broader story this time. At least the cinematography in that opening sequence is something to behold; the vision of Smaug falling out of the sky is close to spectacular.

Would that that kind of visual wonder could have been sustained. There's a curious feeling of unfinished business to the visual effects here, rendering these films far less impressive on that level than Jackson managed for us a full decade ago. There are shots of orcs riding giant canine-type creatures that are oddly jerky, like someone forgot to put the finishing touches (notably a sense of fluidity of movement) on their computer.

Worst of all, far more than the previous two films, The Battle of the Five Armies hardly even feels like it's about Bilbo Baggings (the still wonderful Martin Freeman) -- you know, the Hobbit of the title. As word spreads of the unprotected riches inside the Lonely Mountain in the wake of Smaug's demise, everyone is vying for the spoils -- the dwarves who have barricaded themselves inside the mountain; the cousin-dwarf (played by Billy Connolly) with his own army to aid them; the Elf army with a leader (Lee Pace) intent on getting white jewels he felt are owed to them; and, as always, the orcs. How many armies is that, now? Are we counting the small group of dwarves inside the mountain as an "army"? I guess we are. Oh, and there are two different orc armies. I guess that makes five.

The central moral conflict to the story here is the dwarf king Thorin's (Richard Armitage) greedy guarding of the riches in the mountain, and how it clouds his thinking. The only people unaffected by what they keep calling "dragon sickness" are Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and, of course, Bilbo himself. Bilbo spends most of his time inside the mountain with the dwarves, but also cleverly brokers a potential settlement that can be resolved peacefully.

So much for that -- Peter Jackson wants battles! He clearly thinks we want them too, just like we did in The Lord of the Rings, when far more was at stake. But he and his usual team of writers seem to have lost sight of the fact that The Hobbit is a different kind of story, a much milder one, never quite meant as a sprawling epic. Grafting the "epic" onto this is an uncomfortable fit that long ago outlasted its welcome.

This is our sixth foray into Middle Earth, after all, and what once was new is now overdone. We're back to seeing Legolas (Orlando Bloom) perform ridiculous feats of combat that defy all laws of physics, such as running up falling stones in a collapsing bridge. This happens during the other major subplot comes to its unsatisfying conclusion, the romance between an elf and a dwarf, again distracting us from the character we're supposed to be caring the most about: the Hobbit.

But for nearly this entire movie, Bilbo is reduced to a tactical plot device, and it never quite feels like it's actually his story. An extended epilogue following him back to the Shire does little to change this, and we end this story feeling robbed of what it could have been and should have been.

The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies

Overall: C+
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