I write this review as someone who has the works of Tolkien in her blood and bones, as someone who loves Peter Jackson’s films, the original books and the many spin offs and worlds that have been inspired by it. But even given my undying love for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy I still had ambivalent feelings for The Hobbit film series. I approached the opening day of The Hobbit out of affection for Tolkien as opposed to the preceding films. The films beforehand have been up and down for me, the most previous instalment being exciting whilst not as riveting as its Lord of the Rings equivalent. I feel this trilogy has almost been hampered by its sequel predecessors. The long extending of The Hobbit films are obviously an attempt at making an epic on par with Lord of the Rings, even though the source material is not similar.
I am sure the changes made from the books will be dissected for many years to come and I will touch upon that during my review. Having not loved the previous Hobbit films as much as I thought I would, I feel that this last instalment rounds things off well, tying up loose ends that would have seemed too far fetched and out of sync with the book. The Hobbit book the trilogy is not, but as an overall trilogy the sincerity of what Peter Jackson is trying to do with bringing Middle Earth to life is felt in no greater an instance than this last book.
The film really does what it says on the tin: a battle we expect and boy, what a battle we get. At the beginning of the film we are thrown straight into the battle with Smaug and it’s thanks to Luke Evans’ fine acting in this segment (and throughout) that we are brought to the edge of our seats even though we know what will occur. The main battle itself is as well choreographed and spectacularly presented as its counterpart in Return of the King: the ideas which have come to life from Tolkien’s source material are stupendous and add another dimension to the film.
There are many threads in this film overall, and I think that each character has just about the right amount of time to shine. Each line is as well juggled as expected for a film already almost two and a half hours long. There are moments of dissatisfaction for sure: what happened in the end to the people of Lake-town, what about Tauriel and Thranduil, where do they stand? At least it will make for good extended edition material which I will lap up greedily like many others.
Some moments in the film appear quite obviously to be scene setting for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and to be able to showcase ever beloved characters. Seeing Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving kick ass as well as any young’un seemed like an indulgent moment in that sense, that could be considered a little disconnected story wise but executed with enough sincerity to just about pull it off.
Storylines changed that might have been contentious in the previous installments are given a chance to shine in this film. Namely, the hyping of the Azog rivalry and the roles of Kili and Tauriel. As someone on the fence about what could be considered a Aragorn/Arwen replacement, both Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly are spot on in their roles not just in general, but against one another, making the ending truly moving even though it might not be Tolkein canon. Manu Bennett too conveys more depth (as much as an Orc can have, anyway) as Azog this time around than came across before.
All of the actors this time around pulled out the stops, and for once Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is not the show stealer. Both Lee Pace and Richard Armitage practically chew the scenery in their scenes, providing not only effective foils of each other but also as commanders and leaders of their respective races. The humour of the previous few Hobbit films also remain, retaining some of the childhood essence of the original Hobbit book. Yet as before and always has been with the Middle Earth films, the hobbit still retains the heart of the film, grounding us not only with a character but providing us with development we can understand and believe. I cannot imagine anyone but Martin Freeman providing us with such a true Bilbo.
Throughout the film and particularly at the end, are we provided with clues and hints as to what will come in Middle Earth’s future. This begins most obviously in Galadriel’s face off with Sauron and continues with varying amounts of subtlety. Thranduil’s closing conversation with Legolas was a very obvious hit in the face with it, but by the time it came to the very last scene with Ian Holm’s Bilbo and the map of the Misty Mountain I had been put through the emotional ringer so much than I was ready to burst. If anything, I would be curious to see the reactions from people completely unfamiliar with Tolkein’s works.
I’m very aware that as a die hard Tolkien fan, for once my review will not be as without predisposition as I would like it to be. As a standalone film all on it’s one, I think The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies does not stand so strong as any of The Lord of the Rings films, though I would attest that it is the strongest of The Hobbit films. Peter Jackson always makes it very clear that these films are a labour of love and it is clear to see from beginning to end. This final instalment confirms that for all his changes, he has had a longer game plan, a bigger arc that finally culminates nicely in one little package whilst leaving us with perhaps more of a bittersweet taste in our mouths than we would like.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is mind boggling Academy Award fodder like some of its predecessors, but it is some of the best fantasy we can ever see on the silver screen (and that’s no small thanks to both WETA and beautiful New Zealand). For all of the copycats out there, Peter Jackson is still the master of bringing fantasy to life in a way that does not seem comical or juvenile. Even with a rocky start, he can still end his whopping great trilogy on a magnificent soaring high. The eagles are here! Go see it (and perhaps weep over the end credits)!