There was a young gentleman sitting in front of me during The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies who was apparently very excited for the film. Upon entering the theater, he was heard to mutter, "Battle of the Five Armies, here we go" to himself, he made audible comments of excitement and surprise during many periods of the film's protracted action set piece and a friend attending the screening with me swears she saw him wipe tears away from his eyes after the death of a fan favorite character near the film's climax.
At first, I was amused by this young man's exuberance, giggling at his comical declarations that came with the frequency and insight of a juvenile DVD commentary track. But as the film progressed with the escalating runtime keeping track of my growing boredom, my amusement turned into envy – I was jealous of this man and how, despite having already slogged through 330 previous minutes of unbridled excess, he was still excited and enthralled with the conclusion of the exploits of Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and co. My ambivalence towards the 144 minutes I had witnessed were no match for his excitement and I knew immediately upon the credits rolling that that man was going to have a much better day than I was because, while both our expectations were met, his were by far more fulfilling.
If you've been eagerly anticipating the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, then there's nothing I or anyone else can say that will dissuade you from plunking down your hard-earned money to take in the titular battle between dwarves, elves, men, orcs, eagles and, on occasion, giant bats and ridiculous things called "wereworms." For you, the aspect of a gigantic, climactic on-screen battle from the man who thought up The Battle of Helms Deep and The Siege of Gondor is Christmas come early (or right on time depending on when you see it). If you pitch your tent in this group, close this review, open Amazon and pre-order the imminent Extended Editions since nothing I write will diminish your excitement.
However, if anyone reading this is on the fence about the film or is skeptical as to the claims that it's the best of the new trilogy, I'll say this – yes, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the best and most exciting of Peter Jackson's latest movie trilogy, whichs is very faint praise for a series of films that has managed to be tear-inducingly boring despite an almost admirable overshoot of ambition. If Five Armies is worth talking about at all, it's because Jackson excels at spectacle and this film delivers that in spades. More an extended third act than a complete film, Five Armies' short(er) runtime seems to signify that Jackson and co., by all accounts, are thoroughly miserable from this unnecessarily gaudy undertaking, just want to wrap things up and no longer bother us with details like plot and character arcs that have already been stretched dangerously thin across the previous two installments.
Five Armies finds the desolation of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) brought to an end thanks to Bard (Luke Evans) in an effort so rushed and incongruous that you'd think it would've occurred during the previous film that included both the words "desolation" and "Smaug" in its title. Nevertheless, with Lake Town destroyed, the people head to nearby Dale for dwelling, the city that sits just outside of the dwarven stronghold where gold hungry Thorin (Richard Armitage) has secluded himself and his clan while he slips further into madness over his missing birthright, the Arkenstone, slyly in the possession of the tiny man with hairy feet. The Arkenstone is handed over to an alliance of men and elves as a bargaining chip in an exchange for divvying up the treasure amongst Thorin's new home, but the King Under the Mountain's stubbornness leads to a bloodless standoff that quickly turns bloody once the orcs of Gundabad show up in an effort to eliminate all their enemies in one fell swoop.
What results is a remarkable spectacle, but a lacking narrative. Everything about Five Armies, from the dialogue, to the obnoxious use of slow motion, to the constant twists and turns of the battle tide, feels tired or rehashed, pale imitations of far better writing and directing from the vastly superior Lord of the Rings films. A reliance on CGI can do very little to mask the fact that stories of love, redemption and death all hinge on caring something about the characters involved and that stakes cannot be attributed to such themes if their development has been delayed by spreading their thin manufacturing across three films over just as many years. The film's biggest crime, perhaps, is relegating its titular character, the aforementioned Hobbit by whom we entered into the world of Middle-Earth in the first place, to a largely useless supporting cheerleader. As a modest character not fit for battle, what is a Hobbit to do in a film primarily focused on just that? It's perhaps the greatest flaw in a film series marked with great flaws that has mercifully come to an end.