Dec. 22, 2014. For better or worse, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is little more than a long, drawn-out action sequence. I think it’s for better. These Peter Jackson “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” movies are notorious for taking forever to have anything interesting happen. This film does still have plenty of filler, but at only 144 minutes, it takes up less time than any other entry in the whole Middle Earth saga. And a lot of that 144 minutes consists of fighting and fire-breathing.
The new film picks up where the last one left off, with deposed dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) getting revenge on his Dwarf conquerors by attacking the nearby village where their human “friends” live. The few humans who helped the Dwarfs are more reluctant partners than friends, but Smaug doesn’t know that and sets out to roast them all anyway. Much burning ensues. Smaug actually leaves the story pretty early, which makes me wonder why the sequence wasn’t at the end of the second film instead of the beginning of this one.
This is followed by the real focus of the film, the conflict between the Dwarves who have taken over Smaug’s castle and the humans who just want a small share of the dragon’s treasure and a place to live after he took out their village. Leading the Dwarves is Thorin (Richard Armitage), who quickly becomes a greedy tyrant after assuming control. By his side is the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who sees a need to save Thorin from himself.
The humans are led by the unlikely hero Bard (Luke Evans) and soon align with an Elf army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his superstar son Legolas (Orlando Bloom). It looks like the three sides are about to go to war, but then they’re all attacked by an army of Orcs who just want to kill everybody. Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that all-powerful wizard Galdalf (Ian McKellen) tries to play peacemaker between the first three armies and introduces an army of his own after the Orcs show up.
The climactic battle is indeed exciting, but I do have some issues with it. First of all, the Orcs are way too easy to kill. For a race of war-ready brutes, most of them offer about as much resistance as a line of dominoes. The heroes could beat them if they fought them with cotton swabs. I’ve got one more, and I say it as an employee of Hershey’s Chocolate World – they have all the durability of one of our Cookies n’ Creme bars.
More troubling is that the special effects in the film are terrible. It’s bad enough that all the Orcs look like (there are two main leaders among them and for most of the film I thought they were the same character), but the use of green screens is really obvious. I half expected one of the actors to accidentally bump into one of them and make the whole background reverberate. It’s a huge fall from grace considering “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won eleven Oscars eleven years ago, and most of them were in technical categories.
My many complains aside, all the action does make “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” go by rather briskly. And I’ll give the film credit for its humor, which works almost every time. As for the storylines, most of them are forgettable, though Thorin’s descent into madness and tough love from his friends is surprisingly engaging. All in all, I’m just glad that the overstuffed “Hobbit” franchise is finally over and that the final installment was relatively painless.
Two stars out of five.