Review of The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies (BIG post)

I quite enjoyed this film. I’m a fan of the books – Tolkien’s universe is one of my favourite fandoms (along with many others, which I’ll get to eventually). The way I look at things is that the “canon” universe revolves around what came first, as well as sanctioned author-posts/ productions. Everything else are “adaptations”, and non-canon. For instance, in Harry Potter, the seven books are canon, as are the three charity books, and the posts on Pottermore/ elsewhere on the internet; and the yet-to-be-released, JKR-directed, FB&WTFT movie(s). The rest of the movies are adaptations. In contrast, Star Wars (for instance) has movies as canon and books as adaptations.

Now, I’m not saying that adaptations are bad or anything; done well, they can be quite good. Of course, there are good adaptations and bad ones; some (many) can be both. At the end of the day (or at the beginning, before you go in) it just pays to remember they’re adaptations.

Some can give a broader scope to interpret something, so you are able to understand it better. The Revenge of the Sith novelisation certainly did that. And this movie (as well as its prequels) – Battle of Five Armies – did too. But that doesn’t mean it was all good news…

I accidentally went slightly overboard in analysing this – a common problem with me and words – so I’ve broken it up into parts.

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Summary:

Good points: overall characterisation of most characters; changing point-of-views providing many viewpoints of events; showing the passage of time well; showing how bad war and battle (the aftermath etc.) is – at least in the early parts of the film; some good individual/ small group fight scenes; the aftermath scenes as Bilbo had sad (Thorin) and bittersweet (living dwarves) farewells; Bilbo reclaiming Bag End from the auctioneer and his neighbours; and finally, the way it ended back where it began at the start of An Unexpected Journey – the day of a certain hobbit’s eleventy-one birthday party, with a knock at the door from an old friend.

Bad points: time-lapse/ scene- or POV-change clunkiness; an important line from Bilbo changing position; and the potential of Tauriel being wasted.

Overall, I give the movie 7.5/10. I enjoyed watching it, and the positives outweigh the negatives – though I’m itching to search for some fanfic that treats Tauriel better.
One of the things that I enjoyed about the whole trilogy of Hobbit films was that they’ve made me appreciate the book more. That’s always a good thing.

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Detailed Synopsis:

(SPOILERS)

The prologue, I thought, was good. Even if, as the person next to me commented after the film ended, have the feeling of an epilogue to Desolation of Smaug. Perhaps, for maximum enjoyment, it is best viewed as the “bridge” between the two movies. After all, they’re all one book. And it was pretty epic. The way it was set up, my goodness!
But after such an opening, it’s a bit jarring in some ways – the “scene change” does not feel exactly smooth. You almost expect there to be a continuation of battle – but of course, that doesn’t occur; rather, the town must regroup and go forward. That makes sense, but doesn’t feel quite right after the explosive start. The scene-change problem is a relatively minor quibble, but one that keeps occurring during the movie unfortunately.

Much of the movie involves switching point-of-views to allow us to see the many sides. This is great for exploring the motives and circumstances of several different characters, which I think is something Mr. Jackson has done well. For the most part, Jackson showed multifaceted characters (more about that below). For instance, Bilbo’s mental battles in deciding what to do, and Thorin’s descent into madness; we can see how unreasonable Thorin is becoming, and how Bilbo struggles to do the right thing and be a good friend (flashback with the dragon, Bilbo’s conversations with various people, etc.). The film is also reasonably good at showing time passing (another strength of Jackson’s); in Middle-Earth, travel is by foot or animal, cross-country, so it takes days, not hours, to get from point A to B. This is illustrated well – for instance, showing the townspeople actually having to travel some distance reach safety. Good marks for showing that.
Both of these points are almost too well-executed, however, resulting in a clunky feel at times (i.e. “when is it going to get to x?”).

In a similar vein, the film does a good job of showing how bad war and battle is, at least in the early scenes. By the time of the actual battles, though, this execution, again, fades a bit, resulting in mixed reactions. Some of the climatic scenes are affected by the time-lapse/ POV-change clunkiness that I mentioned earlier, and others had a distinctly video-game feel to them.
The ones that mostly avoided that, though, were good. The teamwork fight scenes (between two or three individuals) are one example; especially between Legolas and Thorin, how they exchanged weapons and help with each other – great symbolism and character development, a fitting conclusion to the antagonistic tit-for-tat that flowed throughout the three Hobbit movies. Thorin’s fight scenes overall were another example of well-constructed action. Especially how in the Thorin-Azgog fight, the killing blows were struck – each killing the other. You could almost sense what was about to occur, and so the suspense heightened, then – bam.

I’m not sure if the scenes at “Dol Goldur” really worked for me. The teamwork/ “you are not alone” theme within the scene, the revelation of Sauron (that glimpse of the Eye!) and the hints of Saruman’s beginning descent from grace were good. However, the bit with Lady Galadriel seemingly turning into some sort of zombie/ ghoul/ thing in order to banish Sauron was flat-out weird. I sat through that entire bit thinking, “what the heck?” Yeah, not a good impression.

The way things ended up occurring with Tauriel was a big fail for me – even though I partly expected it due to the set-up in DoS. Seriously, if you’re going to court controversy by inserting an OFC (original female character) at least give her depthdon’t play up the “lovelorn maiden” angle to the expense of the “bad-arse warrior” angle. Sigh.

The end scenes were well done. Bilbo’s farewell to Thorin was well acted, as everything was between these two. The solemn honour paid to Thorin by the townspeople was, also. I loved the bittersweetness of Bilbo’s leave-taking of the dwarves. “If ever you’re passing through…tea is at four, and don’t bother to knock.” It shows how close they’ve become – true friends.

I liked the scene between Legolas and his father at the end – the foreshadowing of what is to come in the “go find Strider” and message about finding Aragorn’s true (elfish) name for himself is an interesting link. The scenes between Gandalf and Bilbo regarding the Ring (more foreshadowing!) and such are well-acted, too. I’m sure Gandalf knew Bilbo was lying about dropping It.

Then, the final scenes with Bilbo declaring himself alive by means of the contract, before going inside to stand before his parents’ portraits I enjoyed, particularly how it pauses for a minute there as he reflects.

Finally, to end it where the first Hobbit film began was necessary but nicely done – especially with the knock at the door from an old friend.

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Characterisation:

As previously stated, I loved the character development of Thorin and Bilbo. Thorin’s realisation of his own madness is brilliant; I have a bit of a thing for use of flashbacks/ inner voice(s) in fiction, and this scene… The actor playing Thorin, Richard Armitage, has, all through the three movies, done justice to this multifaceted character, showing his struggles and passions, loyalty and love clearly. And Martin Freeman as Bilbo – ah, goodness. Who else could play him the way he did, a hobbit bringing the common sense, humour, loyalty and pride of home with him on the adventure of a lifetime? Great job, especially how he’s able to bounce off the other actors (Ian McKellen and Armitage especially, as well as other actors of dwarves, etc.) beautifully.

The scene where Bilbo wakes up only to see Thorin fall is so well-acted… They are, without a doubt, my two favourite characters. Legolas comes a close second, with stiff competition in Bard the Bowman.

Bard is shown to be a somewhat reluctant leader who leads because someone has to, at least at first, and not because he necessarily wants to. This is something of a trope in fiction, the idea that “the greatest leaders have greatness thrust upon them”, they don’t do it for themselves. It’s a good idea, trope or not, and it does work here. Bard leads and fights for his community, and more importantly his children; the universal heartstrings that exist for all (well, most) of us. Oh, on this note – the setting/ characterisation of the women deciding – before even sitting down, practically – that they’re going to fight alongside the men, thank-you-very-much, is great, and in my opinion realistic and needed. If only that had continued (see below).

The characters of the Master (Stephen Fry, of course) and his lackey Alfred are well-fleshed out as the secondary villains of the story (the real villains of course theoretically being Azgog and the orcs – with an overarching higher villain in the power of greed, prejudice and mistrust). Alfred is a weak slimeball of a villain, almost comedic in his villainy except when he’s not. Well played.

Now, Legolas. I was already biased towards him from previous movies – his humour, intellect, passion and loyalty I love. This is shown clearly in this film; what’s more, they were able to mix these qualities with a touch of one-sided romance – which in my eyes gave his character more depth, not less. And – when he wasn’t seemingly fighting in a Mario brothers-style setting – his fight scenes were pretty good (No arrows? Use the sword. No sword? Use the daggers. Can’t get to a place on foot? Use deadly bats and orcs.) – I like the elfish acrobatic fighting style, and I’ve already mentioned how I liked his exchanges mid-fight with Thorin. On a character level, the film displays clearly that he’s intelligent, with centuries of knowledge, and a quick wit; it also shows his loyalty – he loves Tauriel enough to cross swords with his father, yet still remain only her friend when she falls for Fili. Which leads me to Tauriel.

Tauriel’s treatment just frustrates me completely. Jackson caused great controversy when he cast an OFC. Tauriel as a character had so much potential, which they seemingly tried to show. But in reality, the bad-arse warrior image was just gloss, window-dressing, for her being a love-interest to the dwarf Fili. And I’m not even sure if that was well executed; it felt a bit flat, though I might just be grumpy. I mean, really… She starts off as a bad-arse warrior maiden, a good friend to Legolas; but while some of her scenes were good, they devolve throughout the film.

She comes off as very young – obviously younger than Legolas, given he has to tell her about Gundarbad (I think that’s what the name was?). Behind the bad-arse warrior-gloss she seems young and naïve. Her fight scenes – alone and with Fili and Legolas – are well done, except: her battle participation ended with her trying and failing to kill the orc (pretty nice moves but hmph), then being knocked out and down for the count, needing to be rescued by Legolas. He gets to do some pretty awesome moves to do so, but really – why couldn’t Tauriel have to, to rescue Legolas or something. And then, her last scenes involves her being a lovelorn maiden, having “real” love explained to her. The “real love” idea is a good one, but in my opinion rather ruined by the fact that it all just feels completely wrong for the character to break down like that. Especially given she had to be rescued. Yes, I’m repeating myself. I’m cross. Thumbs down, Jackson – bringing in a female character and reducing her to a love-interest only is not on, no matter how much roughening and toughening you do to her.

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4 thoughts on “Review of The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies (BIG post)

  1. I saw the film as well, and while I enjoyed it due to being a longtime fan of the novel, I had a lot more quibbles with it than you did. Maybe enough to do my own critique. But I just want to say that you nailed the problems with Tauriel. To make the (dubiously) bold move of inserting a new character, to fill that character with truckloads of potential to thwart expectation, and then to have her pratfall into the same old stereotypes is a big old kick in the donker from the writers.

    She fights off hordes — literally — of bloodthirsty orcs, but then, because she’s distracted by her womanly love, she is suddenly unable to dispatch a single baddie? Okay, yeah, he was a bigger-than-average baddie, but… ugh. And then she has to be rescued by Legolas, of course. And who gets the killing blow against said baddie? Do we give Tauriel some redemption by allowing her to slay the one who got the best of her? Nope. Legolas might as well be wearing a red cape and smashing tights, because ONLY GUYS CAN SAVE THE DAY.

    Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Terrible Reviews: The Hobbit: It’s Over (Rest In Peace) | Pavorisms

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