There’s no way anybody can look at The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and agree that taking Tolkien’s poor novel and stretching it into three long movies was a good idea. It’s so obvious that the filmmakers have run out of material that it’s pathetic. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is an action scene. It’s not a movie. It’s a giant action scene. Nothing more, nothing less.
Taking place about four seconds after The Desolation of Smaug, Smaug is on his way to destroy Laketown. After a night of death and destruction, Laketown is in ruins and Thorin and his merry crew of dwarves sit in an equally destroyed Erebor. The orcs are on their way to Erebor to finish what they started, the Elves are on their way to regain treasure that belongs to them, the citizens of Laketown are looking for a new home, and the dwarves want none of this. Clashing opinions leads to one of the largest battles in movie history.
Whoops, didn’t mean to say “largest” back there, meant to say “longest”. Out of the 144 minute runtime, 143 of those FEELS like an action scene. Is it literally? No, but god damn this movie doesn’t know when to stop and breathe. There’s an opening action scene, a decent amount of time with mostly dialogue, and then the finale. That opening goes on for maybe 10 minutes and then about 30-40 minutes of dialogue. Chopping off a generous 10 minutes for credits, that finale takes up 84 minutes.
The odds of those numbers being 100% accurate are slim, but none of that is exaggerated. 84 minutes of action might sound great to some, but does anybody go to Middle-earth for the action? Those that do will get their dream Middle-earth movie. Those that go to Middle-earth for an enriching story with great character moments will be disappointed.
There is some great material in “Five Armies” but it’s few and far between. Martin Freeman gets to shine as Bilbo with his 30 minutes of screen time (again, probably not 100% accurate but the Hobbit is without a doubt a supporting player in a movie called “The Hobbit”) and surprisingly Luke Evans as Bard stands out. His character is made much more interesting this time around, an improvement over Desolation of Smaug’s treating of him.
The positives for the screenplay end there. Gandalf is underused, Ryan Gage’s forgettable Alfrid character from Desolation of Smaug was expanded with horrible annoying results, Thorin’s descent into madness felt undercooked, the hint of Bilbo going crazy from the ring in Desolation of Smaug is nonexistent here, etc.
On top of that, there is some unintentionally goofy moments in Five Armies. Unlike An Unexpected Journey where the goofy moments were supposed to get a laugh from the five-year olds in the crowd, it’s meant to be serious in Five Armies. That makes it even more painful to watch.
What both is and isn’t painful to watch is the final action scene. What’s great about it is what comes expected from a Peter Jackson Middle-earth movie. The visual effects are simply outstanding and the action scenes are wonderfully shot. That goes for the whole movie by the way. The environments and character designs are stunning and Andrew Lesnie once again does a great job as cinematographer.
But no matter how visually impressive the finale is, it’s exhausting. Something is wrong when an action scene becomes boring. Something is wrong when an action scene becomes boring AN HOUR before it’s over. Something is wrong when an action scene is over an hour long to begin with.
Breaking up that finale and spreading it out would be perfectly fine. Most of that final action scene is good! But because it’s so long that it’s a majority of an already “too long for its own good” movie, it’s sickening.
As somebody who defended An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, it’s painful to type the following sentence. The Battle of the Five Armies, despite having some great character moments and outstanding visuals, is a prime example of what happens when a movie studio puts $ before quality.