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Though somewhat overwhelmed by its own spectacle, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ends Peter Jackson's second Middle-earth trilogy on a reasonably satisfying note.
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This is comfortably straightforward hokum -- which is to say that Jackson, for all his delusions of grandeur, remains a bit of a hobbit at heart.
Untold manpower, pixels, and money culminate in the gangbusters final installment. It can't redeem the useless tedium of the first two, which exist for gargantuan profits and structural necessity.
Well, at least there won't be another one for a while.
It's adequately visionary, it's routinely spectacular, it breathes fire and yet somehow feels room-temperature.
It plays out as if someone chucked a whole bunch of carefully detailed Warhammer figurines into a centrifuge -- goblins, goats, dwarfs, wizards and wolves bouncing off one another in waves of alternating tedium and punishment.
It's a big, bold, schizophrenic pageant that still manages to work on a surprising number of levels -- creative liberties and indulgences be damned.
The film is massive in cast, battle and scale. I think it loses itself in all of that, but it's still full of heart.
La batalla de los cinco ejércitos complacerá a las audiencias con algunas de sus espectaculares secuencias de acción, pero es la idea de que es el cierre de un capítulo lo que termina por darle un elemento nostálgico a la película.
I'm particularly charmed by the dark twist on Disney on Ice, aka Thorin Fights Azog to the Death on Ice.
[W]hile the film has its (...) dazzling moments, it does prove what many fans had bemoaned from the very start of this enterprise: it should have been two films, not three.
Jackson and Co. have taken a small bit of story and made it into something worthy of feature-length life, and that's as magical as anything within the film itself.
Taken together, the filmic Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies combine to provide a perfect six-movie cycle with a clean beginning, middle and end, allowing us to fully appreciate this mammoth undertaking for what it has accomplished.
It's a cast iron rule of film reviewing that one should always judge a film on its own merits rather than the circumstances under which it was made. Of course the context in which a film was created, from the attitudes to the time period to the relationships on the set, should be taken into account when trying to assess a film. But these alone cannot determine whether something is good or bad: arguments and constant pressure can produce great creativity, while bonhomie and relaxation can lead to disaster.
In an article in The Guardian, Peter Jackson admitted that he "did not know what he was doing" when he was filming The Hobbit trilogy. Since this utterance hit the internet, it has been seized upon by critics of the series, either as final proof of Jackson losing the plot (in more ways than one), or as a perfect, all-encompassing explanation as to why this trilogy is inferior to The Lord of the Rings. Jackson's comments are pertinent in helping us understand how these films turned out the way they did. But even - or perhaps especially - in light of what has been said, The Battle of the Five Armies remains a reasonably satisfying way to round things off.
For those who haven't read The Guardian article or watched the YouTube video that accompanied it, here are the basic facts. When Guillermo del Toro left The Hobbit in 2010, Jackson stepped into the breach and had to effectively work from scratch to redesign every aspect since, understandably, his creative vision was rather different. With the release date looming and no leeway from New Line Cinema, Jackson had no time to prepare or storyboard the films; in the words of Weta Workshop's Richard Taylor, he was "laying the tracks directly in front of the train", Gromit-style, all the way up the final battle. When confronted with this part of the film, Jackson sent the crew home early so that he had time to map it out in his mind and give the audience something that did not look like it had been totally improvised from shot to shot.
Considering that he was "winging it" (in his own words), it is testament to Jackson's ability that the film got finished at all, let alone that it is this watchable. No-one could argue with any weight that this is as well-constructed as The Return of the King, but it is not the total disaster than many would have perceived. The battle scenes may never come close to the Pellanor Fields in that film, or even Helm's Deep in The Two Towers, but they still have a narrative progression to them which you don't get with, for instance, the Battle of Hogwarts in the final Harry Potter film.
Tempting though it is, it's ultimately cheap to dismiss The Battle of the Five Armies as one long action sequence. If you compare this to the so-called climatic battles in either Heaven's Gate or Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it doesn't take long to recognise that Jackson has acquitted himself pretty well as a storyteller. Both Michael Cimino and Michael Bay give us more than an hour of set-pieces, the individual elements of which could be shown in any order without altering the story. Jackson's battles may not justify 144 minutes on their own, but you always get the sense of things going somewhere, even if exactly where remains open to question.
Whether through the pressures he was facing at the time or a deeper desire to move the plot along, The Battle of the Five Armies does feel more consciously pacey. It has none of the meandering opening act of An Unexpected Journey, plunging us straight into the action with the attack on Laketown and the death of Smaug. Even without the sheer number of bodies on the battlefield, Jackson has a knack for capturing impending dread; there is an operatic quality to proceedings which puts us in a state of fear and desperation for the characters.
The film also sees the themes of greed and temptation that were explored in The Desolation of Smaug come to a head, as the dragon which guarded the dwarves' treasure is replaced with something equally monstrous. While Jackson could be accused of blowing his load by opening with Smaug's death, he does work hard to make us understand Thorin's inner conflict; he disappears into himself as the world outside burns, and his final redemption fittingly and pyrrhically completes his character arc. Richard Armitage has had little competition from among the cast for the title of most distinctive dwarf, but he has always avoided disappearing into his costume and acquits himself here very well.
In amongst all the smashing and bashing, Jackson also finds time to drop in links with the original trilogy, something which he began in An Unexpected Journey. Here, as there, the touches are very candid for those who know the stories, but Jackson avoids the trap that befell George Lucas in Attack of the Clones, namely using references and links with the old to unflinchingly justify the new. Besides, given that the final Hobbit film was originally envisioned as a bridge between Jackson's and del Toro's visions for Middle Earth, it's fitting that such a venture has survived at least in part.
Make no mistake, however: The Battle of the Five Armies still has a lot of problems. One of these problems is its effects, namely the obvious use of CGI which blighted the climax of Desolation. Granted, there's nothing quite as offensive here as the liquid gold with which the dwarves attempted to drown Smaug - that was as laughable as Pierce Brosnan surfing the wave in Die Another Day. But the fight at Dol Goldur would have been infinitely improved if the Nazgûl had more physicality, and didn't disintegrate like villains in old video games. The best effects in that battle are old-fashioned ones, especially the Ringu-esque make-up on the possessed Cate Blanchett.
Then there is the question of repetition. Lucas is said to have mapped the Star Wars prequels out with the same beats as the original trilogy, with the lightsaber battle in Revenge of the Sith trying (and failing) to follow the same pattern as Return of the Jedi. By drawing on The Lord of the Rings appendices so freely to fill out the action, Jackson provides us with spectacle which, while grand in its own right, smacks of retreading old ground. The arrival of the eagles is the most obvious point, and some of the movements (and jokes) within the battle feel cribbed from the Pelannor Fields.
Finally, there is the matter of unresolved character arcs. It's a common enough problem with war films that character development is set in place before a battle starts and is then abandoned as the misplaced logic of spectacle takes over. The relationship between Kili and Tauriel was already going nowhere, and so it's little surprise that the ending of their arc feels surplus to requirement. But many of the other characters get marginalised, with even Bilbo himself having to play second fiddle in a lot of scenes. Being caught up in a conflict that is bigger than you is fair enough, but when you're the title character we expect you to have a little more screen time.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a fun and reasonable way to wrap up an overly long franchise. It is riddled with problems every bit as much as its two predecessors, but benefits from fast pacing and battle sequences which, while owing much to The Return of the King, will keep most people entertained. The trilogy as a whole is enormously flawed, and it is perhaps for the best that Jackson is now going to leave Middle Earth. But even as a poor relation, there is just about enough good stuff in here to make it worthwhile.
Here we are, the final chapter in this blatantly over-milked adaptation of the Tolkien Hobbit book. If you've been following this franchise up to this point (stupid thing to say really) then you'll know this movie completes the story arc for Smaug the dragon, Bard and Thorin. Sauron himself pops up along with Saruman to hint at what is to come in the follow up trilogy, after freeing Gandalf, but as the title suggests the main crux of this movie centres around the battle at Lonely Mountain for the treasures deep within.
The most impressive part of this entire movie is right at the start, the destruction of Laketown by Smaug. Whether or not you agree that this sequence should have been at the end of the second movie is no longer of importance really, we all know it should have been. Nevertheless this sequence is mightily impressive with full-on dragon kickassery as Smaug swoops down, back n forth, carpet-bombing the town with a tsunami of fiery death. Even though we have witnessed much death and destruction in these movies up to this point, there is something quite brutal and genuinely terrifying about this slaughter.
Alas its all brought to a stupid conclusion with the way Smaug is brought down, one black arrow hitting one small chink in the dragons armour. I believe this is in the original book but the way it plays out on the big screen just feels totally unachievable, even for a fantasy film. What's more, this entire sequence is the climax of the original book, yet here its all done and dusted before the opening credits.
From this point onwards its merely a case of Jackson moving the various chess pieces into position for the long drawn out CGI battle at Lonely Mountain. Unfortunately that is exactly what makes up the rest of this movie, an elf army turns up to help the people of Laketown and retrieve a precious elven item from the mountain. There is already an army of men led by Bard, there are a couple of orc armies marching to the mountain, and a dwarf army arrives on the scene too. There is virtually no plot here, its quite simply...everybody wants the gold...fight!! What little else you see is basically padding and invented for the purpose of the movie.
Lets get gritty, the battles, that's what its all about, how good are these battle sequences. Well first off we've all seen the LoTR's trilogy and the previous two Hobbit movies, so basically we've all seen this before. No I'm not being harsh, this movie actually feels like a rehash with the same CGI battles over and over, nothing new, its been done to death by Jackson and co now, battle fatigue much! The CGI in question looks pretty bad too, I kid you not, its like the quality is basically about on par with the original trilogy or worse! (LoTR's trilogy finished in 2003). Seriously there was very little here that actually jumped out at me, accept for the Smaug devastation at the start, everything else just felt like watching solid videogame sequences (again). To make matters worse the greenscreen was horribly obvious throughout, obvious and everywhere.
In general, I think watching masses and masses of CGI men, elves, orcs and a variety of beasties, clash in a clinically sterile CGI arena or environment, has just become tiresome. Yes I know everything does have an aged, weather-beaten appearance but it still doesn't detract from the shiny plastic looking visuals and rag doll effects we get with CGI. What really amazes me though is how this movie franchise never seems to grow up, the amount of deus ex-machina bullshit that still goes on is mind numbing. Time and time again various characters could and should be killed outright but the enemy pauses, or uses a non-lethal blow, or falls over, or gets shot with an arrow by someone else at the last second etc...It really becomes a joke, the entire climax for the this movie is one big deus ex-machina, everything that Legolas does is a continuous deus ex-machina moment...with gravity defining skills.
During the main overly long battle sequence Azog and some of his orcs appear to be watching the battle from the peak of a mountain or cliff, what mountain/cliff is this?? The battle ground is quite flat and expansive, so where on earth is Azog standing because from his viewpoint its right over the top of the battlefield. Oh and how do orcs control Were-worms?? During the battle the elves and dwarfs suddenly appear with these battle rams? like...where the fuck did they come from??! Oh and the way they run up the steep mountain pass with riders on their backs is inane. One other thing that made me laugh, the orcs are winning at one point, the dwarfs were staring defeat in their hairy faces. Luckily Thorin and his tiny band of fellow dwarfs decide to join the fight and run headlong into the battle, and this somehow rallies all the dwarfs to fight? eh?
I also love how predictable Jackson is with his battles. I think in every one of these movies he's had a moment where one army, or group of people, is saved at the last minute when another army, or group of people, decide to attack and save the day in a stirring heroic manner. Then at the end of all that, after all that fighting and bloodshed, the battle just ends. Bilbo and Thorin have done what they needed to do elsewhere and that's all we need to know, so apparently the hundreds of thousands of elves, men, orcs, goblins, dwarfs etc...all just finished the battle and went home.
Bilbo is a secondary character in his own story (its more about Thorin), we don't actually see what happens to most of the characters at the very end after the battle (Dain?), the battle itself was an anti-climax. Billy Connolly was dreadful as Dain the dwarf, I hated how Legolas is told to go find Aragorn at the end (this makes no sense if you do your homework), I hated how Legolas is at the forefront of this movie, and the Grima Wormtongue rip-off character Alfrid, was a cringeworthy rehash. What's so utterly ridiculous (and kinda insulting) about including Legolas so much is the fact there is zero tension in whatever he does. He keeps getting into these tight situations of certain death, but its all for nothing because we know damn well he isn't gonna die (facepalm!!).
I'm not really an expert on the Hobbit book and its content but I do get the impression Jackson and co really really wanted to make these movies identical to the previous LoTR's trilogy. I think we all know now how much was stuffed into these films which wasn't suppose to be there, and I think its obvious that it was done to ride on the coattails of the previous trilogy. Its funny that Jackson is actually trying to leech off the success of his own movies...and can't manage it. The fact he clearly tried to cash in on the franchise by making this adaptation into a trilogy was probably his downfall. This final chapter really feels very anti-climatic, the main criticism being its badly over stretched and padded out (obviously so). I mean come on, virtually the whole movie is that one battle between the five armies, and its not even that good! (thank God for those eagles huh).
A deeply exhilarating thrill ride but if not a little exhausted! Nothing new brought to the cinema.
The film is essentially a 2 hour and 30 min action sequence with the best production values money can buy. Forget having a narrative, lets just throw as many action sequences together and loosely string them together with a premise that we'll call a plot.
The pacing isn't even good either, Smaug's death was underwhelming and completely overshadowed by later events. Rather than "The Battle of Five Armies" why not call it "A Dragon dies and Legolas beats everyone up."?
The Hobbit trilogy started out as a decent set of films but has whole heartedly embraced the fact that it's nothing more than fanservice for the LOTR franchise. Some may love it for that fact but as a film critic I simply can't be so forgiving.
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