The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies picks up where the last movie left off. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and dwarven king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) have managed to free the mountain kingdom of Erebor from the clutches of the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), who now turns his wrath to the people of Lake-town. Bard (Luke Evans) is left to defend his people from the dragon. Meanwhile, various armies march towards Erebor, as a great darkness reemerges in Middle Earth. And back in Erebor, Thorin is starting to show signs of the same madness that caused the fall of his grandfather.
The movie basically functions as a 144-minute climax to this movie trilogy, starting off with a dragon attack and barely letting off the gas before heading into an hour-long full on war sequence between the titular five armies. And while a lot of this is exciting, it is also rather exhausting. The film, while filled with grand spectacle, doesn’t really stand on its own as a piece of cinema. It is part of an overlong whole, a trilogy that might have been better served with just two parts. Still, the movie can be awe-inspiring at points, and that might be enough to properly bring this story to a close.
This edition takes the focus away from the eponymous hero. Bilbo, the emotional center of this trilogy thus far, is mostly shoved off to the sides while the movie constructs its grand battles. And the hobbit’s absence is indicative of where the film goes wrong. It just loses sight of the story’s emotional content. It’s all still there, with the arcs still playing out on screen. But in contrast to the lengthy battles, all of the emotional journeys of the characters feel rushed. Big changes in heart are explained away in single lines of dialogue. Subplots built specifically for the film don’t really get a satisfying payoff.
There’s just a general lack of breathing room in this film, despite it already being 144 minutes. As glorious as these battles are, the shortage of emotional beats causes them to feel exhausting after a point. And it doesn’t always feel like the movie is doing the best job of telling the story of the battle. It’s often hard to tell which side is winning. Its moments of awesomeness sometimes feel isolated from the bigger battle, making their impact to the greater narrative feel fuzzy at best.
But taken purely as a technical achievement, the film is still worth anyone’s time. This is an often-astounding visual spectacle. There are so many component parts to the titular battle, and the movie is able to make all of it look amazing. The production design is mind-blowing, and the fights are beautifully choreographed. And once again, this incredible cast of actors just brings the thunder. Martin Freeman does so much with so little. Even with his character having much less screen time, the actor shines as the real heart of the entire trilogy.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is still a pretty satisfying end to the series. The previous two movies have at times lacked for big action sequences. One can’t really say the same about this film, and its commitment to delivering the largest battles feel like a remedy to those previous foibles. But it really must be seen in context with those other films. Taken alone, the film doesn’t quite have the heft that it ought to. One must still marvel at what is accomplished in this picture, but the dichotomy between action and emotion leaves a nagging sense that this could have been handled with just two movies instead of three.