The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (USA: 2014):  A bunch of powerful ghastly things attack and a jumbled mess of exposition hopes to explain it

The Hobbit trilogy is finally over. There is not much I am going to write about this series that probably hasn’t been noted in other reviews. As a whole, the series hasn’t moved me. While I’m not the biggest fan of the book, I felt that the focus of the movies has been a bit off in ways that made each film less compelling than it could be. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit as a light children’s novel about the development of Bilbo’s heroism. That story has always seemed lost under extraneous subplots and characters from the Lord of the Rings which set up those films awkwardly, but do little to help tell the story that we’ve paid to see.

Five Armies specifically suffers under the spell of a sub-plot of a love triangle between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Kili (Aidan Turner) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom). None of these characters belongs here and there seems to be an undue amount of time showing that Legolas still would do anything to protect Tauriel even if her heart belongs to a dwarf. As in all romances where battle is the setting, the triangle seems inappropriate under the circumstances. Battle probably isn’t the best time to work out these kind of personal issues.

There is also a battle involving Gandalf, Elrond, Saurumon and Galadriel and something related to the Necromancer/Sauron which means something or other, but honestly, I couldn’t remember what. Since the attackers are ugly things, those must represent a great evil, but in the year since the Desolation of Smaug I had forgotten that loose end altogether and what it was supposed to be about. It probably makes more sense if one has studied Tolkien and taken notes. Since Smaug and his horde of gold are the villain of he story and more interesting than anything going on in Gandalf’s life, I was never certain why his side trip made it into the previous film; in Five Armies, Smaug is still more interesting even though he’s killed off 10 minutes into the film. Tolkien never thought that Gandalf’s trip to Dol-Guldur was important enough to the story of Bilbo to include details of it in his book and I tend to agree with that original decision.

I do understand the impulse to reach out and try to expand the battle of the five armies into another chapter in the overall struggle of good versus evil for power that underlies the LoTR saga. But I think doing so has made the Hobbit needlessly complicated and has not added anything to the suspense or drama to the series. The motivation for the Battle of the Five Armies is what to do about Smaug’s horde and gold is sufficient to explain why all of the armies descend upon the Misty Mountain. Orcs and goblins like the stuff, too, so there really isn’t a need for all of the gobbledygook prophesy and and pseudo-history jumble to explain what attracts armies and makes them fight. Evil and love do not always automatically raise the stakes, especially when the tale is essentially about honor, commitment, and friendship undermined by greed. What these additions accomplish is to shift focus away from the moral lesson Tolkien was trying to teach children in the book to make it o.k. to spend an hour killing off Orcs.

Jackson tries hard to sum up the series in this film with some kind of message. We are left with “We know that love is true when we lose a lover and it hurts” and “Too much focus on gold makes one a bit of an asshole” or “Even Dwarfs  and Hobbits can be friends” as potential messages, none of which children couldn’t get elsewhere without having to watch the slaughter of so many Orcs. The friendship between Thorin and Bilbo would have been more poignant if Jackson would have spent more time on its development and less time figuring out ways to drop references to Aragorn into conversations.

** of five.

IMDB: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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