H3: The Last Stand (a Review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post for a review! The semester ended and I gave my last student a vaguely passing grade, so I figured I’d pop out and actually watch a movie to celebrate. In the theaters. (I know, it’s crazy). So, while the next entry of James Bond Overdose will be bumped down a week, enjoy this side trip into Middle Earth!

The whole Hobbit franchise seemed, at first, to be little more than a cash grab, inflating one comparatively short book into a monstrous trilogy of three three-hour films that could somehow approach the magnificence and soaring grandeur of the Lord of the Rings movies. Remember that, combined together, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was nominated for 30 Academy Awards and won 17. Also, The Return of the King tied with Titanic and Ben Hur for most Academy Awards won by a single film.

So far, the Hobbit series has won 1 Academy Award and has been nominated seven times. But, you know what? I love these movies. Why? Because they’re fun. The Hobbit is a children’s book filled with songs and adventures (even in book form, it’s basically a musical. There’s even a song for the Goblins as they chase the Dwarves). This film trilogy does try to add some weight, but it knows that its chief purpose is to be fun. This isn’t about rising from the depths of despair like LotR is. It’s about how awesome Dwarves are and how, no matter how awesome anyone is, no one is immune to greed. It’s deep, but it’s not THAT deep.

But anyways, on to the actual review.

Good Movie Rating: 6/10
Fun Movie Rating: 8/10

This movie sort of reminds me of the last Harry Potter movie. You love it because you’ve become invested in the characters, and there’s plenty of fan service, but as a standalone movie, it would never hold up on its own (counter examples would be The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part II, phenomenal movies that hold their own weight, despite being follow ups to other films).

But that’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable. Its best moments are when beloved characters get their moment in the sun. We’ve got Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) kicking ass. We see Legolas (Orlando Bloom) defying all the known laws of physics (as he is wont to do). We see Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) being awesome and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) being awesome and Thorin (Richard Armitage) being awesome, and, well, you get the idea. You love it for the characters, not the plot, which is pretty simple.

Having taken the Lonely Mountain from Smaug (who, as you remember, was pretty mad at the end of the last movie) the Dwarves and the folks of Laketown are now faced with a very big problem. They must first find a way to defeat a dragon, and then defend the mountain from those who would take the treasure away from them. Thorin isn’t acting like himself, Bilbo has a secret, and Gandalf is dealing with the news that Sauron has returned. Will anyone else believe him? The rest of the movie is taken up by the eponymous war, which involves Men, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Deus ex Machinas…er I mean Eagles, all mad about something and not willing to listen to reason.

It’s perhaps not as big as the battle of the Pelennor Fields in Return of the King in which Minas Tirith held off pretty much ALL of the enemy forces, but it’s still a pretty good battle, rivaling the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.

It’s paced beautifully, and juggles a lot of character stuff well, though the Gandalf/Sauron subplot could have been a little less subplot-y. I suppose it would have overtaken the movie and distracted from the main conflict too much, but still, I wished there was a bit more. It was really engaging while it lasted.

But I was impressed at how much time was given to character growth instead of just action. Elf King Thranduil (Lee Pace) is by far one of my favorite characters in the series, see-sawing from insane villain to uneasy ally multiple times. I love him so much. Martin Freeman is just magnificent as Bilbo, as he has been consistently throughout the series. He handles the comedy and drama with equal skill, and really adds a lot of heart to many of the movie’s most emotional scenes. I also want to give a nod to a subplot involving the slimy Alfrid (Ryan Gage), assistant to the Master of Lake-Town (Stephen Fry). He’s a new character who doesn’t appear in the original novel, but I really liked how his story was woven into the overall narrative. He offers up some great comedy relief, and is a nice counterpoint to the boatloads of virtuous, heroic characters elsewhere.

Visually, the movie is lovely. It doesn’t feel quite as BIG as the LotR movies, but the sets and backdrops are still well done. There were a few moments of shaky CGI and obvious green-screening, but it still felt like Middle Earth. I like how Jackson didn’t try to outdo LotR visually. The Hobbit is called the prelude to the Lord of the Rings books, and this movie knows its place as a prequel and keeps it, allowing the scope to expand as the stakes get higher in the second trilogy. It works well.

I also like how this movie maintained the lighter tone it had established in the previous films. The Hobbit is a fun story, and even though the final chapters offer up some rather hard-hitting criticisms of war and greed, it remains an uplifting tale. I was worried this movie would be all death and destruction and violence, but it managed to remain true to the previous films, balancing slapstick comedy and moments that make you go, “Hell yeah!!” with moments of, well, death and destruction and violence. But it works. The flimsy plot, at times, becomes hopelessly transparent, but as the conclusion to a fun trilogy about Dwarves kicking ass, it was a satisfying entry.

As I wrap this up, I should give a last-minute shout out to Billy Boyd’s beautiful end credits song, “The Last Goodbye.” Everyone in the theater shuffled out immediately, leaving me to sit there and enjoy this gorgeous song all by myself. I know the song was released a while back, but I wanted to wait to hear it with the movie. It’s worth the wait. Billy Boyd’s voice is angelic, and I really really hope he gets an Oscar nomination for it. I don’t know how the Best Original Song category works, but this one definitely deserves it.

I may have to do a series of reviews of the extended versions of all six Middle Earth films in the future once I get the extended version of this one. We’ll see.

But anyways, that’s all, folks! Join me next week for the next entry in the James Bond Overdose series!

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