With Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving. Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Peter Jackson. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. 144 minutes.
And so it finally comes to an end. Well, not quite. Peter Jackson bloated the slim novel “The Hobbit” into three epic-length films (this one is nearly two-and-a-half hours) and you just know that eventually, there will be an “extended edition” out on DVD with numerous “extras.” However, the Tolkien estate has made clear its displeasure with the films (and, apparently, the accounting of the profits) and will be licensing no more of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books to Hollywood.
In the previous installment, “The Desolation of Smaug,” things finally got interesting due to the appearance of the impressive dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) and the addition of female warrior elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who does not appear in the book. Originally set to be only two films, the second movie combined the intended end of the first film with the intended beginning of the concluding film with additional material thrown in. Now we’re back to what passes for the main story, and the best that can be said is that it provided a lot of work for artists and technicians to do the CGI special effects.
The film opens with the climactic battle against Smaug. It’s all downhill from there. The bulk of the movie is set at the castle Smaug had been guarding filled with countless treasure belonging to the dwarves who are led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Unfortunately, the wealth has bewitched Thorin who is now ready to kill anyone he suspects of trying to take even a portion of the gold, such as the humans of Laketown, which has been largely destroyed by Smaug. Instead he sets up to do battle.
Thus we have battles between dwarves, and humans, and elves (who look down on everyone else), and the orcs. The orcs–the chief baddies of the film–are led by Azog (voice of Manu Bennett). There are also wizards involved, chief among them Gandalf (Ian McKellan). The movie makes attempts to spotlight individual moments of heroism and cowardice, bravery, and cruelty.
However, most of the time is given over to the armies fighting across large-scale battles. Nearly all of this is done with CGI, and so what you’re seeing is a lot of computer animation fighting with other computer animation. No attempt is made–as with Smaug–to make us accept the animation as involving living creatures, so it comes across like a very impressive video game, one in which you’re watching Peter Jackson doing the playing. It’s hard to get worked up about any of it.
Martin Freeman has very little to do, which is somewhat ironic since he’s the one playing Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit whose involvement in the adventure gives the original book and the three films it’s title. However, none of the cast gets to do much more than give voice to their characters whether they’re speaking for animated effects or are on screen themselves. Armitage comes closest to being allowed a full-bodied performance since he’s the only character who undergoes any sort of change in the film. Everyone else either remains the same or gets to die.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is of a piece with the rest of the series, which means that those who have enjoyed the other films–and they are legion–will probably like this one too. However, too much of a good thing can wear thin and perhaps even the fans will have tired of Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien. That is, until next year, when they can watch a Middle Earth marathon of the extended editions of all six “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies. As Samuel Goldwyn said in another context, “Include me out.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.