Friday, February 27, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - an unexceptional journey

movie review

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Peter Jackson
Tagline: The defining chapter.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a remarkable little book that evokes fond childhood memories for many readers who first experienced its magic when they were young. But it is plain to see that this tale of unexpected courage and destructive greed does not hold the same level of epic scope as its mammoth counterpart The Lord of the Rings did. That is why turning the slender tome into a trilogy did not seem like the best idea to anyone; anyone, that is, except Peter Jackson, the very person in charge of bringing the story to the big screen. Now that the third and final film has been released, it is painfully clear that the project hasn’t benefited from being expanded, stretched, and bloated into a three part slogfest.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (abruptly) picks up where The Desolation of Smaug left off, as the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashes his wrath on Laketown. Meanwhile, a battle brews over the Lonely Mountain treasures. Stricken with dragon sickness, Dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) obsesses over finding the Arkenstone and refuses to share even a fraction of the fortune with the Elves (led by Thranduil (Lee Pace)) and Men (who have chosen archer Bard (Luke Evans) as their reluctant representative). Meanwhile, an Orc army approaches the Mountain, and the titular battle looms ominously.

There is nothing surprising or exceptional about how events unfold, both visually and story-wise. After spending over a dozen hours in Middle-earth already, we are well familiar with its inhabitants as well as its epic combats fuelled by Peter Jackson’s tendency to douse his action in over-the-top chaos. If you enjoy those sequences, then Five Armies will be right up your alley; there is plenty of CGI-overloaded action in this installment, so much so that it almost feels like watching someone play a video game (while Orlando Bloom is stuck in an entirely different video game altogether). But if you think the heart of the series lies in the quieter, craftier moments (like An Unexpected Journey’s 'Riddles in the Dark'), which in turn elevate the action into something more meaningful, then you will be disappointed to see that there isn’t anything clever on offer here.

The scant plot and lack of depth make it hard to be engaged in the proceedings and empathize with the characters. It’s a pity that the individual we are meant to have the strongest emotional connection to has been further sidelined in his own franchise. As with the previous installment, there isn’t enough hobbit in The Hobbit. Martin Freeman does make a delightful Bilbo (and the ever-dependable Ian McKellen is also characteristically terrific as Gandalf) but very often he seems more like a bystander than the protagonist of this fantasy adventure. When he does get a chance to be a part of the proceedings, the film comes to life and we start to care about the events and consequences, but that doesn’t happen often enough. Instead, Jackson uses empty excuses to transport extraneous LOTR characters into The Hobbit, possibly in an attempt to establish continuity, but the side plots don’t offer the kind of compelling payoff that would justify their inclusion.

Five Armies does not play like a self-contained chapter of a larger arc. If there were any motives other than financial to turn the story into a trilogy, then they haven’t been conveyed in these films, and the story’s “greed is a curse” lessons have been lost to irony along the way. No one can deny that there is talent both behind the camera and in front of it, and The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t a terrible film, but it isn’t the suspenseful, riveting, touching outing that one would have wanted it to be. The movie never quite succeeds in finding the right balance between moments of drama and levity, and as a fan of both Tolkien’s work and Jackson’s LOTR films, we expected (and deserved) better.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 27th February, 2015 *

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