'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' review: Ending on a mediocre note
The unnecessarily bloated "Hobbit" trilogy comes to a merciful - if mildly entertaining - conclusion with "The Battle of the Five Armies" (opening in theaters nationwide Dec. 17).
In short: After Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the band of dwarves reclaim their mountainside castle, their leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) becomes increasingly paranoid and isolated from his allies. But several armies lay claim to Oakenshield's gold-filled castle - prompting a war for the kingdom of treasure. (Watch the trailer)
The best that can be said of "The Battle of the Five Armies" is "at least the 'Hobbit' trilogy is finally over." This final installment in the journey of Bilbo Baggins adventure to the Misty Mountain is the most entertaining entry in the series -- but it's still a long way from being considered "good."
The two previous "Hobbit" movies were meandering borefests that abruptly ended at some arbitrary and unsatisfying plot point. "Five Armies" at least benefits from its place as the final installment in the series - because it's the last, it's forced to be more focused and clearly defined than either previous movie. That said, "Five Armies" takes far too long -- nearly two and a half hours -- to tell a meager story that can be summed up as "Smaug! Petty negotiations! War!"
"Five Armies" is at its best when focuses on Oakenshield, who is undeniably the most interesting character of the film. Armitage excellently fleshes out Oakenshield, who descends into crippling paranoia, while obsessively searching for a jewel that crown him a king. Armitage deftly blends Oakenshield's increasing distrust along with glimpses of camaraderie and honor. He is a good man at heart driven mad by paranoia and power, surrounded by literal armies threatening to take away what he fought so long and hard to acquire.
Any time the film pulls farther away from Oakenshield's kingdom under seige, the film becomes less interesting. There's a forced b-plot involving Sauron -- the main antagonist from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy -- that goes no where, except to give some fleeting and pointless fan service to the hardcore Tolkien fan base. Any screen time involving "LotR" alum Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and a fellow female elf (Evangeline Lilly) falls into one of two buckets: useless or just an excuse for CGI elves to fight CGI orcs in completely silly CGI throwdowns. And basically everything involving Gandalf is just a forced prequel to Sauron's return to power.
A significant chunk of the third act is a massive CGI cartoon where hordes of faceless elves/dwarves/humans/orcs run at each other and swing weapons wildly. This same trick was impressive in 2003 ("Return of the King") due to its then-unprecedented scale and detail -- but now, these detached scrums just feel like a tired exercise in cartoon-on-cartoon character violence en masse. One particular overly CGI'd sequence - obviously designed to impress audiences - received audible laughs at the ludicrous audacity of watching an elf run up falling stones as if they were stairs. This film will date poorly due to its over reliance on silly CGI sequences.
"Five Armies" is, without a doubt, the most enjoyable "Hobbit" film in the series ... but that's more of a complisult to this plodding trilogy than a compliment to the mediocrity of this particular movie. And it's still not one-tenth as good any movie in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Final verdict: At least "Battle of the Five Armies" puts a definitive period at the end of this long and winding run-on sentence. It gets a passing grade simply for not being as insufferably silly as the previous "Hobbit" movies, no dwarf singing breaks, for being (at times) mildly exciting and for finally putting a nail in the coffin of this Middle Earth trilogy.
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 17 and is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.