By: Kevin Jordan
Ever had a root canal and a colonoscopy on the same day?
Before I get into The Battle of the Five Armies, I need to apologize for a grievous error on my part. In my review of The Desolation of Smaug, I told you not to ask for any money back even though the movie featured one of the dumbest scenes ever put to film – the dwarves riding barrels down a river while being attacked by orcs. Not only that, I failed to even mention that scene’s existence. I should have ripped that scene to shreds for its idiocy, forced action, bad CGI, and absurdity and I should have told you to ask for half your money for that scene alone. For that, I’m sorry. I’m also sorry that the barrel scene isn’t the worst scene in the entire trilogy. In fact, it’s better than almost everything in The Battle of the Five Armies. And that makes me really sad.
The Battle of the Five Armies was like sitting though a bad high school play. A lot of people might accuse me of being a stuffy critic that hates fantasy, but nothing could be further from the truth. I love fantasy and this movie was a disgrace to the genre, to its fans, and even to the machinery projecting it onto theater screens. With the exception of Martin Freeman and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), I take back everything good I might have said about the entire trilogy because, as a whole, it’s a bloated, rotting carcass masquerading as worthwhile cinema. The sad thing is that, based on the first two parts, my expectations for the final installment were set firmly at blah or meh. I never would have guessed that this movie would rival The Phantom Menace for shittiest disappointment, even with such mediocre expectations to begin with.
(As I said in my review of An Unexpected Journey, I don’t know who this SPOILER alert is for, but here you go. If you honestly haven’t found time to read a wildly popular, well known, short novel published in 1937 by now, I really can’t help you.)
I had honestly forgotten that The Desolation of Smaug had ended with Smaug getting ready to torch Laketown, so when The Battle of the Five Armies began with Smaug torching Laketown, I was a little disoriented. The disorientation might also have been from spending the first two minutes of the film taking my 3-D glasses on and off; realizing that the film was not, in fact, in 3-D. Good one, theater. Anyway, the best scene of the film happens in the first ten minutes with Smaug slowly crawling through the burning Laketown, taunting Bard (Luke Evans) just before Bard kills him. The visuals are stunning, Smaug is delightfully evil, and Cumberbatch has easily joined my list of actors who will get me to watch a movie just because they are in it. I realized that this should have been the conclusion of the previous film, ending with a shot of Thorin staring obsessively at the treasure in the Lonely Mountain. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Peter Jackson (writer/director/producer) decided to end the second movie where did, but I don’t think he could have picked a worse place.
After Smaug dies, the movie falls off the proverbial cliff. The last we saw of Thorin (Richard Armitage), Bilbo, and most of the dwarves, they had just finished fighting off Smaug and were watching him soar toward Laketown. When we see them again in this film, they are still standing there, watching Smaug burn everything, but with one notable exception – Thorin is staring, trancelike, at the entrance to the mountain. Later on, we’ll get some babble about dragon sickness (i.e. obsessive greed), but the problem is there is no transition time for Thorin basically going insane. It’s like a switch is flipped and the viewer simply isn’t prepared for it. On top of that, the sickness is another invention of the writers that didn’t need to exist. In the book, Thorin is just greedy and selfish (he also never promised the people of Laketown anything – another divergence from the book), which is perfectly fine. The only reason to invent a sickness is to make him seem more sympathetic because, then, it’s not really his fault. While not as overt as other recent films (Dracula Untold, Maleficent), this hits on the current asinine trend of devillainizing villains by blaming something other than the person for that person being a dick. But I digress.
The only non-battle time of the film occurs after Smaug dies, but doesn’t wait very long to pick up again. The dwarves wall up the entrance to the mountain, the people of Laketown take shelter in the ruins of Dale (a town at the foot of the mountain), and armies march toward the mountain. Meanwhile, Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) launch a rescue mission to retrieve Gandalf (Ian McKellan) from the Necromancer. In a wildly stupid fight scene, Saruman and Elrond fight with the ghosts of the nine kings of men (those guys that become the Nazgul in LOTR) while Galadriel helps that brown wizard (who is still covered in bird shit for some reason) whisk Gandalf to safety. I say it’s stupid for a couple of reasons. (1) Saruman will actually say to the ghosts “you should have stayed dead” (aren’t ghosts dead?), (2) Saruman uses exactly no magic during the fight; instead choosing to just swing his wizard’s staff around, (3) the CGI is pretty substandard here (to be fair, it’s substandard in almost the entire movie), and (4) after a few minutes, Galadriel uses her magic to just blow the ghosts – and the necromancer – into the horizon. I’m not much of a strategist, but why didn’t she lead with that? Was she as confused as we were that Saruman forgot he was a wizard and thought he was Donatello from the Ninja Turtles?
If you think that’s where the unintentional comedy stopped, you’re in for a treat because the big battle scene hadn’t even started yet. There’s no more plot at that point, so let me just share some of the other parts of the movie that had the audience laughing (seriously, we laughed a lot) in a movie that included exactly zero jokes.
- The elvenking (Lee Pace) rides a stag with the biggest rack of antlers you’ve ever seen and at one point during the battle, the stag slams into several orcs, lifting them all of the ground by his antlers and appearing to become a galloping clothes rack.
- Dain, Thorin’s cousin, shows up leading an army of dwarves. After getting knocked of his steed (a giant pig; which isn’t that much funnier than the stag) and losing his helmet, he proceeds to head-butt full armored orcs and send them flying. Jar-Jar Binks’ antics during the battle of Naboo were less embarrassing.
- Legolas grabs the legs of a giant bat flying by and proceeds to steer it to where he wants to go.
- Not to be outdone, Legolas later runs up the falling stones of a bridge and uses WWE-style moves to take down the orc he is fighting. Incidentally, the bat and falling stones scenes are the worst bits of CGI I’ve seen since the local weatherman on the news forgot what happens when he wears green.
- At one point, the orcs break into Dale and are fighting the humans who had retreated there. When Thorin finally breaks out of his “sickness” and joins the fight, the humans get a second wind, but the orcs are nowhere to be found. Was it halftime or something?
- Taking a cue from the Ewoks ability to fell stormtroopers by dropping rocks on their helmeted heads, Bilbo is able to fell orcs by throwing small rocks at their heads. It’s as preposterous as the head-butting dwarf.
- Thorin decides to kill the pale orc (Azog) and four giant mountain goats conveniently appear to take him and three other dwarves up a small peak. Seriously, where the hell did the goats come from?
- At the top of the peak, after Thorin and those three dwarves kill what have to be the most inept twenty-five or so orcs ever created, Bilbo shows up to warn them that a whole new army is on its way. As if to punctuate this, one hundred goblins (that number is specifically stated) start pouring over the walls to attack them. Thorin tells two of the dwarves to look for Azog and that he and the fourth dwarf will handle the goblins. This elicited the biggest laugh out of the audience, who I’m assuming had the same thought I did – “no, you aren’t winning in 100 vs. 2.”
- That whole new army of orcs that’s supposed to show up ends up being a few dozen that show up sporadically and attack the dwarves one at a time to make sure the dwarves win.
- Thorin and Azog end up fighting on a floating sheet of ice, and Thorin wins by throwing Azog’s own boulder (which we was swinging around by a chain) into Azog’s arm, thus tipping him into the water. Then, Azog floats just under the surface of the ice, appearing to be dead, when his eyes (not surprisingly) fly open, he stabs Thorin through the foot, and flies (yes – flies) out of the water as if he had jumped from a trampoline.
I guess these are the kinds of things that happen when you stage a 90+ minute battle scene designed at entertaining eight-year olds. In addition to that nonsense, other aspects of the film are just as terrible. The dialogue was as clichéd and soapy as you can possibly get. The attempts at humor – as few as there were – all centered around Alfrid (the Wormtongue-y creep from Laketown) being a coward and weasel and ended with a cross-dressing scene (plus, they didn’t even have the decency to kill this annoying character). The music was poorly timed and amateurish, sounding as if Peter Jackson outsourced the music editing to a kindergarten music class. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) serve no purpose whatsoever to the movie, but to sell more toys at Christmas and also challenge Edward, Jacob, and Bella for weirdest love triangle in film (the third being Killi the dwarf).
I think you’ve got the point now, but it is worth repeating that if it weren’t for Freeman and Cumberbatch, this film would have zero redeeming qualities. And you can watch them together in three seasons of Sherlock, which is infinitely better – even when watching for the third or fourth time.
As fantastic as the LOTR trilogy was, The Hobbit trilogy is incongruously bad. I’m sure I’ve missed other examples of putridity, but there were so many that this was the first movie that ever made me wish I had a notepad to write them all down. I’m glad that this disaster is finally over and I sincerely hope that someone remakes The Hobbit. Like, tomorrow. Middle Earth deserves better than to go out like that.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back for all three films. This last installment truly was that bad.