Studio: New Line (Warner Bros.) Run Time: 144 Minutes
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Aidan Turner, Hugo Weaving, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice), Stephen Fry, James Nesbitt, Graham McTavish, Ian Holm
Review: “The Hobbit” series was never really a trilogy, nor was it intended to be. Originally planned as two movies, the 300 page children’s novel is a lighter, smaller scale story, with fewer characters, and lower stakes than its “Lord of the Rings” counterpart. In adapting the same release strategy as those films, the material has been stretched thin (like butter scraped over too much bread), to bloated running times and an obnoxious shoehorned plot connecting the six films in a way that was politely already assumed. The third and final installment of the Hobbit franchise is affected the most by this release strategy with mercifully, the shortest running time in the series while being set up as the defining chapter. Yet in closing it decides to defines nothing for itself.
The script written by the four franchise stalwarts Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro is serviceable, but the style brought down by the trilogy weaknesses finally catching up with them. There is a long load of exposition, new characters introduced that matter too little to the plot and are given too much screen time. The romance between Tauriel and Kili is nice but adds little. Do we really need a go-nowhere subplot repeatedly showing what a coward Alfrid is? Often the newly original material written for the film feels too much like fan-fiction, adds little and resolves too easily.
The main problem with this film and the ‘Hobbit’ movies in general is that they coast on “Lord of the Rings” when they could stand on their own. In copying the previous series to diminishing returns the filmmakers seem to have left out ambition. There are tons of unnecessary and distracting CGI shots here that not only make the film look dated, but feel lazy in general. The musical score is even the same. One key non-orc character is eerily CGI-rendered, and feels out-of-place talking with the rest of our heroes.
I don’t want all of you diehards out there reading this review to completely worry, there are some variable adjustments that are made. Richard Armitage does not completely pull off Thorin’s ‘greedy’ arc, but is effectively brought out best by his scenes with Martin Freeman as Bilbo, in what seems a natural nuanced performance. Peter Jackson has learned not to do the four different endings from ‘Return of the King’ doesn’t blow it on the finale or overstay his extended welcome, thank you, good-bye. The 45 minute battle sequence that caps off the film trilogy and saga, and though it’s not as masterfully done as the ‘Battle of Helm’s Deep’ in ‘The Two Towers’ it’s still fun to watch. In particular, two climactic one-on-one fights land as the best in the franchise.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” fell short of my high expectations. For a series that was improving with each installment and the third in a semi-planned trilogy, some of the best material felt needlessly saved. The first 20 minutes for example could have easily and more naturally fit into ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. This is only a slight comedown from that film, which never elevates itself beyond passable entertainment to the heights of the previous trilogy. If you were a fan of the ‘Hobbit’ films from the beginning, you’ll be pleased what you find here, resting in the shadow of something much greater.