We’ve had a bit of a love-hate affair with Peter Jackson’s latest trip to Middle-earth over the course of the first two films in The Hobbit trilogy – finding An Unexpected Journey a little dull and over-worked and The Desolation of Smaug a rip-roaring thrill ride culminating in an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger of epic proportions.
The Battle of the Five Armies picks up at exactly the point Desolation left off, with Smaug heading to Lake Town, the Dwarves having reclaimed The Lonely Mountain and everyone’s favourite not-quite-White-Wizard-just-yet Gandalf locked up in the fortress of Dol Guldor at the mercy of the not-quite-Dark-Lord-Sauron-just-yet Necromancer. From there, the action picks up on all fronts, culminating in, as the title suggests, a last skirmish between – you guessed it – five armies.
Whilst there’s plenty to enjoy here – from Howard Shore’s consistently impressive musical score to the epic landscapes and CGI which never fail to make our jaws drop – we have to admit that we were less than impressed with the film itself. Whilst the battle was certainly epic, we couldn’t help thinking that it was all a bit much; by the time the credits rolled, we really felt like we’d been pulled through the wringer and back more than once.
It was always a risky business, pumping so much action and blood into a nearly two-and-a-half hour movie, but it seems that the plot really does suffer from it, offering very little for audiences from the halfway point onwards – the characters get a bit thin and, we have to say it, uninteresting. For us, we haven’t found anything particularly endearing about any of the new characters which made us overly care about them, other than the ever-consistent Martin Freeman as Bilbo, which is in stark contrast to Jackson’s original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when we were absolutely hooked on the relationship between Frodo and Sam, as well as Arwen and Aragon, amongst others. This lack of empathy (possibly just on our part), really made the final scenes fall flat, something which we can say categorically didn’t happen during The Return of the King.
Speaking of LotR, there’s no shortage of nods to the original trilogy, which were unsurprising, yet welcome, and whilst we won’t say right now which was our favourite, there’s one in particular which occurs towards the end of the film which made us smile.
To conclude, whilst we can say that, overall, we have very much enjoyed returning to Middle-earth ‘one last time’ – as the film’s promotional push reminds us – we do feel that the extension of what was originally a two-film series to a trilogy was misguided. If it were us, we’d have replaced some of the events in the first film with some of those in the second and had a shorter, more focussed battle at the end of Desolation to tie everything up nicely.
Return to Middle-earth, but don’t expect the pathos and edge-of-your-seat moments found in The Return of the King.