Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014) - Movie Review

Peter Jackson may serve as one of the greatest cinematic success stories in recent memory: From his humble beginnings with bat-shit insane cult films like Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles and Braindead, he went on to craft himself as a directing legend through his adaptation of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, making himself one of the most critically and financially successful filmmakers of all time. Not only that, Weta Digital, a special effects company co-founded by Jackson himself, has also become a powerhouse in Hollywood due to their work on the LOTR films and have gone on to do SFX work for films like Avatar, The Avengers and the Planet Of The Apes reboot series. Today’s film marks the end of an era, as after 13 years and over a thousand minutes of screen time, this is the (supposed) final film Peter Jackson will make based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The plot: Not long after Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves drive Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) out of their ancestral home of Erebor, armies of men, elves and Orcs seek to lay claim to the riches within the mountain. As Thorin’s isolation grows deeper, and Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) desperation to keep the peace increases, the Five Armies rally at the Lonely Mountain for the final battle that will decide not only the victor of the mountain, but also the fate of Middle-Earth.

We’re talking about Peter Jackson here, so it goes without saying: This. Is. Beautiful. Jackson’s perfectionism and attention to detail is all on display here with the same gorgeous landscapes, world-building and grand scale as all of his previous Tolkienian efforts. Weta Digital continues to build their near-immaculate portfolio with great creature design and animation, proving why they are the top dogs of the industry far as I’m concerned. The cast all bring their A-game to this film, with even the minor cameos giving good performances in this: Freeman and McKellen are great as always in their roles, Armitage gets a chance to flex some dramatic muscle with how his character develops in this film, Cumberbatch is still intimidating as both Smaug and the Necromancer, Luke Evans does a great job as Bard and a surprise Billy Connolly as the dwarf Dáin is engaging in his role.

However, this film has got a couple of rather large issues; the biggest of them all would have to be the content of the film itself. Imagine, if you will, that The Two Towers solely consisted of the battle of Helm’s Deep and nothing else. That is this movie: The titular Battle Of The Five Armies makes up for about 90-95% of the overall running time, and while having a battle this big in your movie may seem good on paper, it doesn’t work nearly as well in practice. Say what you will about the previous Hobbit films, at least they had the good sense to vary the action on screen: The first film had scenes like Bilbo’s encounter with the trolls and the dwarves fighting the goblins in the Misty Mountains; the second film had the trippy sequence in Mirkwood and the company confronting Smaug in Erebor. By comparison, the majority of the action takes place in the plains and mountains outside of Erebor and rarely if ever leave them.

Don’t get me wrong: The action itself is well-directed, acted and animated, with Howard Shore’s amazing score to back it. It’s just that, regardless of how good it is, it gets more than a little monotonous before too long. Every so often, we get intercuts of the characters reacting to said action and the consequences of it, which admittedly is done well, but the majority of the film is one very long action set piece. This is exactly what many other critics feared it would be and it pains me to say that they called it.

Admittedly, this film does try its hand at dramatic story-telling alongside the action, but even that doesn’t feel like it was handled well: Thorin’s character arc of suffering from dragon sickness (or gold fever, in layman’s terms) feels like it was rushed, an impressive feat for a movie that reaches nearly 2 and a half hours; both Bilbo and Smaug are poorly handled here, with the former being pushed to the side for a lot of it and the latter *SPOILERS* being killed off rather unceremoniously before the opening credits even start; plot points about certain parties’ reasons for wanting to claim the Lonely Mountain aren’t given resolution (although I highly suspect this being a case of ‘Buy the extended edition’ syndrome); and the ending… anyone out there who was annoyed by how the first movie and even Return Of The King were resolved will be equally annoyed by this because they pull the exact same Deus Ex Aquilla crap here as well. Bear in mind that I actually didn’t take as much issue with this when it happened the first two times, but this time, it seriously got to me.

Honestly, the best part of the film is the brief epilogue with Bilbo returning to the Shire, which leads into an ending that perfectly syncs with the Fellowship Of The Ring and links the two trilogies together; it makes for the funniest and most thematically strong part of the film.

All in all, this is still Jackson-grade production work with great acting, direction and effects work. However, the story feels very thin and just serves as the framework for the big climatic battle that cap off this trilogy of films, and knowing that this epic saga ends with what is undoubtedly the weakest of all six films is very disheartening. After how much I loved The Desolation Of Smaug from last year, this is extremely disappointing.

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