I saw BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES about 5 weeks after it came out and finished this review a couple weeks later, so you can see I had higher movie-going-and-discussing priorities than the thrilling conclusion to the prequel to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. But honestly I did go to it of my own accord. After somewhat enjoying part 2 as a dumb spectacle with some good sequences I was kind of in the mood for that again and wanted to be sure to catch it before it left 3D.
(technical notes: I avoided high frame rate so it wouldn’t look like somebody’s home wedding video. I ended up with digital 3D “Imax,” which is on the giant screen but noticeably lower resolution than standard digital projection. So it’s got pluses and minuses)
If you’re like me you have almost no memory of what happened in the other two installments or what the names of any of the characters are, but you do remember the setup for part 3: Smowg, the greedy capitalistic dragon of Desolation Mountain, was awoken from his treasure-slumber and raging toward the man-village, puking deadly flame breath every which way, getting ready to roast some fuckin humans and Godzilla some buildings. Just step on some guys and bite off their heads and all that kind of dragon shit. This is the big screen dragon attack we’ve been waiting for ever since Guillermo Del Toro signed onto THE HOBBIT six years ago, and especially since the cliffhanger ending of part 2 one year ago.
I mean I am shitting myself you guys because THIS IS GONNA BE FUCKIN CRAZY! The Baggin’ and Toe-taggin’ of the Dragon. The Shakedown in Laketown. The motherfuckin climax of the greatest most epicest trilogy of all time, “THE END OF AN ERA” according to the ads and posters.
That’s the pre-credits sequence. The archery guy from FURIOUS 6 and his kid kill the dragon pretty easily at the very beginning of the movie. The end.
Except not so fast smart guy, I got two addendums to that. #1, the animation of the life going out of the dragon is very impressive. #2, he didn’t leave a will. Not to be racist, but you know how dragons are, they’re teenagers at heart, they think they’re invincible, and don’t prepare for these kind of eventualities. So the rest of the movie is about everybody fighting over his estate. The dwarves. The elves. The men. The one hobbit that is there. The giant birds. The guy that is half man half bear. The guy that talks to animals. The orcs. The goblins. The Baseball Furies. To their credit, the talking trees and the elephant guys stay out of it. Good for them.
Although it’s called The Hobbit he’s not the main character for most of it. In fact it takes so long for him to be in the story I thought when he showed up it was gonna be a passing of the torch kind of thing like Channing Tatum in STEP UP 2 THE STREETS or Vin Diesel in TOKYO DRIFT.
The Hobbit is really kind of more like the host than the star, like Snoop Dogg in SNOOP DOGG’S HOOD OF HORROR. Alot of the movie is fighting, which is not really Bilbo’s thing, so he either disappears backstage like an Oscar host or we check in with him occasionally to see that he is watching or commenting on the actual story and characters of the movie.
Storywise I believe this is easily the worst of however many movies are in the Hobbit trilogy. In the other ones at least there was a journey, so there was a specific goal in mind: go to the mountain, steal the treasure from the dragon or whatever. You remember how there was that one dwarf called Thorin Oakenshield, he was supposed to be the badass leader guy? Well he got some kind of dragon disease (I don’t think it means he fucked the dragon, let’s not get carried away there fellas although I haven’t seen the extended cut but considering the shorter one to be canon I would say he most likely did not fuck the dragon, but got it from kissing arguably) that makes him be a greedy asshole with a boner for treasure. So he wants to go to war to avoid sharing it with anybody. The Hobbit tries to tell him not to go to war and his most active thing in the movie is that he sneaks away from him and tries to conspire to stop the war.
But then some other armies show up so they have a war anyway. That’s the problem, we’re supposed to be against them fighting a war, but clearly the most interesting thing in the movie is that they are fighting a war. But then since we (or at least me) don’t really like most of the characters very much or care about any of their motivations, there’s nothing to root for.
But don’t worry, all your favorites from the trilogy come back. Gandalf Grey, the inventor of wizard gloves, is in a bunch of it. Christopher Lee’s character Sorcerer Dooku shows up and says some one-liner like “You needed assistance?” or “Did you miss me?” or “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?” or something like that. Then his stunt double spins around and does a bunch of shit like he would’ve done when he was young if he did that kind of stuff, which he didn’t. Hugo Weaving is in that scene too to model what he looks like in armor. Cate Blanchett turns into black magic elf lady and talks in a deep voice. Smowg has a brief blink and you missed it cameo as the dragon. The bear guy shows up to battle which was pretty exciting and then was never shown or mentioned again. And you’ll all be delighted to know that the greatest character Tolkien ever created, the Wizard of Bird Shit, rides in on his bunny sled and then must be in the crowd there or something but I’m not sure I saw him more than once or twice after that or what he was doing there.
Uh, you know you got some, uh, something on your cheek there. Some white stuff. You might wanna get a… No, wait! Don’t lick your finger to– well, too late. Yeah, it’s right there, you’re getting it. Well, no, now you’re just smearing it around. Well, anyway. I guess that’s a little better. I don’t know.
Legolas T. Elf (Orlando Bloom) was a favorite in the original trilogy. In the Hobbits though he fills the role of the douchebag possessive boyfriend bad guy in a romance movie. Dreamy Dwarf is trying to get it on with Evangeline Lily and Legolas is the uptight prick who keeps trying to stop it from happening. Weirdly, though, he’s also the guy who does all the coolest stuff in battle. In this one he flies by grabbing onto a giant bat, seems to sort of control it by yanking on its legs, then shoots an arrow straight through its head at just the right time to drop and land on top of a tower. In another scene he jumps on a troll’s back, stabs him in the brain, rides him into a tower knocking it over exactly in the right place to become wedged across a chasm like a stone bridge, then he duels an orc on top of the bridge until it gets smashed, at which point he defies gravity and parkours across the falling individual stones like he’s Super Mario. Eventually he beats that orc and we watch him plummet, smash against the ground, then get hit by more falling stones.
It’s that type of shit that redeemed this movie for me. I can’t completely dismiss a movie that puts so much work into creating a fight like that, something we haven’t seen in fantasy movies before, but should’ve. I guess before computers got this good it was kind of a pain in the ass to film a guy riding around on a troll, so nobody bothered.
It’s a good movie for mounts in general, by the way. There’s the sled pulled by giant rabbits, there’s the giant eagles, the rams with giant horns, the moose thing with giant antlers, a big fat boar that a dwarf rides on and the trolls they ride on have catapults and shit attached to their backs. Pimped out trolls, I guess you could say.
I have to say again, I really like the animated characters they’ve created for these movies. Alot of people complain about the series expanding on the technology that was so groundbreaking with Gollum instead of just staying in the real world. I strongly disagree. They’ve done a great job of painting detailed fantasy imagery that we’ve never seen in motion before. These orcs are great. Some day maybe they’ll make a better movie with characters like this.
Another good scene is Thorin fighting the Orc guy on a frozen lake. This orc’s weapon is a big rock on the end of a chain, which he swings around. Thorin figures out how to use it against him.
Once the movie just turns into endless battle it gets alot more tolerable. Usually it’s the other way around. At its best this feels almost like a fantasy version of RED CLIFF. But it doesn’t reach those heights often enough.
As much as I liked the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy at the time, and I suspect they probly still hold up, they don’t really occupy an important space in my heart or nothin like that. So I don’t take the flaws of the epic HOBBIT mega-saga too personally. I just think the whole thing is kinda funny.
Of course the director who turns a short children’s story into a 9 hour movie trilogy event is also the creator of the most hilariously drawn out prequel nudge-nudge of all time. The Elf King tells Legolas as he’s leaving that he should go to some place to look for a certain ranger. Of course the audience is supposed to know what he’s referring to and cheer or whatever. But then he continues that this guy is the son of Arathorn. Yeah, we get it. Then Legolas asks “What is his name?” Then he says that they call him Strider, but he’ll have to find out the real name for himself. If the scene had continued a couple seconds longer I’m positive he would’ve muttered “You get who I’m talking about, right? Viggo Mortensen.”
But most of the problems with these movies are not sympomatic of prequelitis. They’re not too eager to set up what happens later. It seems more like mythology pocks. They’re trying to cram in every last Tolkien thing they can while they still have a chance. That overstuffed quality might’ve been fulfilling in one movie but after three you gotta either puke or take a big shit.
I enjoyed watching this one okay. But if there is a happy ending for this chapter, and maybe this whole trilogy, I think it’s as a cable TV staple. As a movie that you sit and watch from beginning to end it’s kind of a bust, but as a world full of detail and little things that happen it is very rich. Unlike JUPITER ASCENDING it really is a world where I’m interested in what the different guys are and what they’re up to, and it seems like they have some kind of sense to them. So I bet if it becomes a thing that kids watch random parts of repeatedly it will work pretty well. Hey, there is a giant troll guy, he head butted a rock and died. Oh there’s another troll guy, this guy has metal peglegs. Oh there are bats. etc.
Put that on the poster.
P.S. I have heard some debate about who the five armies are. My guess is 1. Dwarves 2. the other dwarves led by his uncle or whatever 3. Humans 4. Orcs and Goblins 5. Giant birds
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.