D: Peter Jackson. W: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro. DP: Andrew Lesnie. Starring: Martin Freeman/Ian McKellan/Richard Armitage/Orlando Bloom/Evangeline Lilly/Lee Pace/Luke Evans/John Bell/Billy Connolly and the voice talent of Benedict Cumberbatch. (Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book of the same name)
When I sat down in 2012 for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey having just finished the book, I knew I was in for a long slog. Stretching final YA novels into two films is a challenge (see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1), but turning one book into three films? Ambitious. And a little bit foolish.
The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies literally picks up where its predecessor, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ends. There is not any re-setting of tone or sense of place. Unfortunately, it means the first half an hour or so lacks much dramatic punch and sadly very little of Benedict Cumberbatch’s dragon Smaug. The pace does quicken, with armies a coming! But, there is so much set up to any action the film can feel long with far to many scenes explaining dragon sickness. Specifically, this film also used the slowed down or build up of an action moment far too much. Too many blades or other dangers got a lengthy dramatic delivery.
The trilogy has resoundingly relied on Martin Freeman as Bilbo and the majestic presence of Ian McKellan as Gandalf. Freeman’s earnestness, humor and subtle naivete make for an excellent Bilbo in a three films. McKellan’s memorable turn is equally as fun here. Jackson clearly recognizes his fans by adding in story lines for Legolas (Orlando Bloom), although his romantic thread never really holds true with Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Also, just to nit pick, but not nearly enough Elvish was spoken in this film. This also goes for a mini battle scene with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee. All for the fans.
The best bit of casting is clearly Lee Pace as Legolas’ father, Thranduil. Menacing and spiteful, Pace towers and steals all his scenes, which he did in the last film. I could ask for more of him as an excellent contrast to the peace speaking elves of the other films. A lot can be said of the muteness of the dwarf company, massive presences in the book, but I am hardly able to put names to faces in the book. However, Richard Armitage as Thorin is a testament to good acting in a sea of people and place.
Ultimately, all Hobbit films have lacked a sense of grace. Where The Lord of the Rings trilogy embraced you with its mood and sense of fantasy (in truest form of feeding your imagination), these films feel like one giant brag. Far too long and indulgent, it will be interesting to see if anyone bothers to give them another go in the coming decades. Surely we are all wondering what Guillermo del Toro’s film would have been like.
If you are interested, more on that can be found in Daniel Zalewski’s 2011 piece in The New Yorker: Show the Monster.