As someone who’s an admitted neophyte to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga, I’m forced to rely on the perspectives on the stories told in the films themselves instead of being able to call back to their source material. On that basis alone, looking at The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as the finale — at least, for now — of director Peter Jackson’s six film story, its a bit of a disappointment. Not necessarily because I think that this film or its two predecessors are bad films, far from it. There’s just not a lot in this latest work to label it a true culmination piece when taken as the cumulative effect of the previous five films released before this one.
In truth, though, that’s the problem with any prequel, especially a prequel that tries to follow one of cinema’s most celebrated film trilogies. Even though, as a teenager when the original Lord of the Rings films were released, I never “got” them, I always respected them. Revisiting them recently makes perfectly clear why they’re held in the stature that they are, because in addition to adapting the timeless work of Tolkien, they’re also impeccably made films. Not sure how hardcore LOTR fans will take this, but I think the same statement can be applied to The Hobbit films as well: they’re very well made, they’re relatively well written considering the obvious amount of padding that goes into stretching a single book into a film trilogy, and there’s obviously a lot of public interest in seeing them.
I can’t help but make similar comparisons to the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Those three films released between 1999-2005 follow a similar path and intent that The Hobbit films have, in that they’re following up on a trilogy that many consider to consist of three classic films, and to do so substantively. While both the Star Wars prequels and The Hobbit films have a lot of similar narrative and production problems — namely too many “winks” at what’s come before, and too much CGI — I think that The Hobbit movies are generally better constructed than the Star Wars prequels. Sure, there are a few surprisingly similar missteps (like the romantic subplots of both, to name the sore thumb that’s sticking out), but when it comes to prequels we could’ve gotten something much worse than what we now know to be The Hobbit trilogy.
As a finale, the biggest mistake that The Battle of the Five Armies makes is its somewhat unceremonious end. Sure, it syncs up nicely with the opening moments of The Fellowship of the Ring, but the culmination of this experience that Bilbo has gone on feels less substantive than it should. This is definitely an ending that’s far more befitting of a single film than an entire trilogy, and much of that can likely be blamed on the fact that The Hobbit was one book that was then stretched out into three pretty substantial films. Calling it a failure is hyperbolic nonsense, but saying that it’s a disappointment seems perfectly fair. The cast, particularly Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, and Lee Pace as Thranduil all turn in solid performances, since they are certainly instilled with a belief in the material they’re working with. Stalwarts like Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Sarumon also turn in fantastic turns, but that’s hardly surprising.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is good, but it does little to make itself stand out in The Hobbit trilogy, nor does it feel like as grand a finale as these six films have deserved. At the end of the day it’s perfectly valid to say that it could’ve been worse, but that’s hardly something you want to be feeling when walking out of a movie that’s being marketed as a “defining chapter.”
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