A final trip to Middle Earth: The Battle of the Five Armies

Happy 2015! I hope the first five days of the year have been treating you well. I’ve spent them refusing to pack away Christmas decorations and dreaming about where we’re going on holiday this year (I’ll give you a clue, it’s a bit highlandy), as well as sitting at the back of a cinema, watching the last trip to Middle Earth.

Major spoiler alerts!

 

By the end of The Desolation of Smaug, we left the dwarven (and one hobbit) company with most of the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage – he what married the Vicar of Dibley), and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in Erebor, the glorious Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) having flown out of the mountain. The remaining dwarves were in nearby Laketown, where Kili (Aiden Turner – the original vamp in Being Human) had just been healed by newly made up character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly – it’s not her fault). Legolas (Orlando Bloom) had chased away some orcs, Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) was caught by the shadow of Sauron (also Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bard (Luke Evans) had been imprisoned in Laketown, cut off from his children with a dragon on the way.

Smaug

Smaug

And that’s where we start The Battle of the Five Armies. This is the end, the final of the trilogy. Unlike the Lord of the Rings movies, it doesn’t start in a clever way that allows you a small recap, you’re simply thrown into it.

The film starts with Smaug. That incredible, wonderful beast of a dragon that has been woken from his slumber by a small hobbit. He truly is an incredible sight and beautifully done, but sadly his role is over far too quickly and we’re onto the real plot of this film – the battle.
The five armies; the men, elves, dwarves, orcs and err…eagles (better late than never), fight to lay claim over the Lonely Mountain and the gold it contains.

If I sound a little blasé about the whole thing, it’s because the whole thing was blasé. I enjoyed the book, but the thing that little novel was missing was some true character development. This was Peter Jackson’s chance to give each dwarf a little more personality, to really bring every aspect to life rather than just tell a story, especially if you’re going to turn a thin novel into three long films. Unfortunately, those 13 dwarves have gone from having potential in the first film, to barely registering by the third film. With the exception of Thorin, because he’s the king, and Fili and Kili, because…well…

Battle of the Five Armies does something that the Desolation of Smaug doesn’t do very well; it sticks to the book. Almost. Sort of. At least, the people who are supposed to die, die. Fili’s passing happens in the blink of an eye with only Kili’s angry reaction to let you know it really happened. Kili’s death is more notable, mainly because there’s a female elf crying over him and blathering on about love.

Dear Mr Jackson. Sir. It’s not enough to simply create a female character so that the film isn’t a sausage fest. And you can’t just make her ‘strong’ by making her the leader of an army. Especially if she’s going to go all Twilight and exist purely to inadvertently kill and then cry over the man/dwarf she loves.
Saying that, Lilly did a great job, despite her character being utterly pointless. And for the comic book geeks among us, she will be returning later this year in Marvel’s Antman.

Thorin

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)

What was done well was Thorin’s death. His journey through the suffering of dragon sickness, to regaining his mind and then losing his life was portrayed brilliantly by Armitage, and yes I cried. With Thorin there came a smidge of characterisation and some hope for the rest of the dwarves that sadly never came to fruition.

The portrayal of Thranduil (Lee Pace), king of the Wood Elves, was subtle and enjoyable. And, shock, he had some character. More of him and less of his wayward son and Tauriel would have made a much better film. Because Tolkien had handed Jackson all the right characters and exactly the right plot for a beautiful, epic film that was just different enough from Lord of the Rings. What a shame that Jackson didn’t grasp it with both hands.

Tranduil

King Thranduil (Lee Pace)

In fact, it felt that Jackson lost interest half way through. The CGI became lack lustre, the story was hurriedly finished and what a shame that Billy Connelly’s CGIed face was so poor on an otherwise rousing and comedic performance. The film, especially the end, felt rather rushed. As with the second film, blink and you’ll miss one of the best Hobbit characters, Beorn.

I go on and on about wishing that Jackson had just stuck to the book and developed the characters, but there is one scene in this film that Jackson created and got just right. As the most powerful elves and Saruman the White come to the rescue of Gandalf, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) shows what it means to be a strong female character. There is a hint of love, a breath of feeling, weakness and one hell of a lot of power.

Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Gandalf (Ian Mckellen)

Galadriel and Gandalf

The Battle of the Five Armies is not a bad film, but neither is it great. It’ll do. The bare bones of what makes the book great are there, but so are the book’s weaknesses, mixed along with some poor decision making on the writers’ parts. The music is stirring and finished beautifully with a rendition from Billy Boyd (Pippin in Lord of the Rings) and the acting is faultless. There is action, beautiful scenery and comedy moments.
It’s the structure of the storytelling that becomes problematic. The basic story of the greed and stubbornness of dwarves just wanting to go home with the help of a humble hobbit, and the dragon is a perfect one. What a shame the movie decision makers didn’t agree.

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4 responses to “A final trip to Middle Earth: The Battle of the Five Armies

  1. I haven’t yet seen the film, and really appreciated your thoughtful, intelligent review… And am now DETERMINED to get to see it before it stops running!

      • Saw the film this afternoon – have to say I LOVED it… I’m aware that there were some liberties with the story arc, but it is so cinematically beautiful and I thought Thorin’s story was particularly well handled. And I thoroughly enjoyed the battle scenes – even though my husband told me that strategically they didn’t make sense!

      • I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thorin’s story was done well, definitely one of the best characters 🙂
        Hadn’t even thought about the battles being strategic, your husband’s got a good point!

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