The dwarves’ reclamation of Lonely Mountain sets off a violent chain of events as the denizens of Middle Earth fight over their claims to its various treasures.
Peter Jackson, 2014
After Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and company entered Erebor, or Lonely Mountain, at the end of the previous film, they accidentally set the dragon Smaug loose upon the people of Laketown. This is where “The Battle of Five Armies” picks up, with a fight against the infamous dragon who had taken the mountain and its treasures all those years ago. It comes down to Bard (Luke Evans) to earn his title of “the Bowman” and take the dragon on. With that battle soon over and the people of Laketown left homeless, a new struggle begins. Overcome with dragon sickness and greed, Thorin becomes jealous and malignant. He refuses to honour his agreements or converse with the men and Elves about their claims to the mountain’s treasures. Thranduil (Lee Pace) becomes determined to fight the small company of dwarves for the elves’ share of the treasure, but there is a larger threat on the horizon; under the guidance of Sauron, the Orcs are amassing an enormous army to try to take the strategically valuable mountain and give Sauron a foothold in Middle Earth.
It’s a little-known fact that just beside Lonely Mountain there lies Cliche Mountain; a rocky outcrop upon which fierce warrior elves become damsels in distress, otherwise intelligent characters fall into easy traps, and lines from better movies are recycled in melodramatic moments. This is where most of the film’s climactic moments take place. Legolas gets his Legolas on in gravity-defying fights, Bilbo is largely ineffectual (being under 4 feet tall and not well trained in the art of fighting), and one of the slowest and strangest fights of the series takes place. While Manu Bennett tries, his CGI-enabled Azog is no match for Sauron. Speaking of CGI-enabled, Billy Connolly appears in this film with a pasted-on computer graphic-enhanced face for no reason I could think of, and it’s bizarre. The Hobbit trilogy’s excessive reliance on special effects has always made it feel less real than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is a real pity. We’ve never been asked to care about the majority of the dwarves, who are absent for most of the film’s action anyway. Bard the Bowman mostly takes his best shot at being another Aragorn (it doesn’t work), leaving Gandalf and the elves to carry a lot of the movie. The love triangle (ugh ugh ugh) leaves Evangeline Lilly out in the cold in the invented role of Tauriel. Lee Pace does his best as the always-wonderful, superior and snobby Thranduil, and his scenes are fun.
The Hobbit trilogy is defined by its sneaky conversations in caves: first Bilbo and Gollum’s riddles in the dark, where the fate of the ring was decided; then Bilbo and Smaug’s confrontation, filled with fear, flattery, and fibs. That “The Battle of the Five Armies” has no such dramatic centrepiece is to its detriment. Instead, this film is bookended by visually impressive but emotionally empty battles and punctuated by interesting concepts that are later dropped and never referenced again. The battles have some terrific moments, but they’re long and heavy. The movie fails to take advantage of Martin Freeman’s pitch perfect performance as reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins. Richard Armitage gets to stretch his acting muscles more in this film, and his character’s journey is one of the more effective ones, particularly as it’s reflected in his relationship with Bilbo (although there are two bizarre scenes, one in a sea of gold and one in slow motion for some reason I couldn’t fathom). Of course, Middle Earth is still one of my favourite places to spend time, and while the film’s run time is barely filled, there’s still that twinge of sadness when it’s over. Peter Jackson stresses The Hobbit’s connection to the better, more emotionally resonant Lord of the Rings films, and while it’s clearly a ploy for our sentimentality, and it works. It’s still fun to watch and visually spectacular. But most of the story of The Hobbit is finished before this film even starts, and that doesn’t leave much for The Battle of the Five Armies to do except make us want to rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy.