WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
With Smaug destroying Lake-Town, Bard is doing his best to save the community single-handedly. If this doesn’t mean much to you, you’re about six hours behind the Jackson/Tolkein fans who’ve been waiting for this moment for years – and there are no reminders or upsums for you.
So if you’re a bit a lost, I’ll help you out. Smaug is a dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who was woken by a group of dwarfs, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) who’d trekked, with the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), to reclaim the gold of their ancestors from the Lonely Mountain.
Once Bard (Luke Evans) dispatches the dragon and saves his town, his fellow humans want their share of the gold, as do the elves.
But Thorin, once an honourable man, has been turned into a selfish and blinkered megalomaniac by the lure of his treasure trove. He’s barricaded his men inside his fortress, uninterested in cutting any kind of a deal.
With the evil and monstrous orcs also determined to get in on the action, the armies of the dwarfs, humans, elves and orcs clash outside the Lonely Mountain, as Bilbo’s unexpected journey nears its climax.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Humans, dwarfs, elves and orcs – hang on – that’s just four. What’s the fifth army of the title? Presumably the huge team of film-makers involved in making this epic fantasy trilogy, after which Sir Peter Jackson will finally be able to leave Middle-Earth in peace.
Visually, this closing film is as eye-popping as you would expect – largely because if you’ve seen the previous two films, you’ll know exactly what to expect – more well-choreographed fight sequences between bipedal Middle-Earth species, featuring thousands of computer-generated extras, monsters or other giant animals. We’ve seen most of these folk fighting one or other group in the previous films and all this one really offers us that’s different is that they’re all involved in the same battle. Even the locations are the same as we saw in Part 2, The Desolation of Smaug. None of this makes the action any less engaging, but the plot is far from that.
The dwarf king Thorin is the only one who truly goes on any kind of a personal journey during the course of the film, but it’s such a familiar journey – honest, generous guy turned selfish by the prospect of wealth and power, who eventually sees the error of his ways – that, like the large-scale fights and effects, we feel like we’ve seen it all before. There are also wild inconsistencies between the sizes of the characters from shot to shot – in one scene, Bilbo reaches the shoulder of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) from one angle, but from another, he looks like he’d fit in his pocket. And entertaining and likable as Martin Freeman’s portrayal is, it seems odd that the Hobbit of the title is almost incidental to the overall trilogy that bears the name of his species – it’s about dwarfs trying to reclaim their birthright from a dragon, with the help of some humans, elves and wizards while evil orcs try to kill anyone they can – you almost don’t need a Hobbit in there at all.
The film is unquestionably thrilling, but mindless – almost insultingly so. This final chapter is called The Battle of The Five Armies. Putting aside the fact that there seem to be only four, pretty much the whole film is that battle. Rather than a typical feature, which offers us arcs for the characters as they go on a journey, as the third in this trilogy, this film starts at the end of the journey, and apart from a quick scene to tie up the one loose end from the previous film and a coda featuring Bilbo’s arrival home after a presumably inexplicably, unexpectedly uneventful journey, the entire film is devoted to the battle and there’s only so much sabre-rattling that most people can take, however spectacular.
Most confusingly, from a narrative point of view, is the fact that while the cameras focus in on a handful of the main characters who take their personal combat away from the main battlefield, by the time these individual fights are over, it seems the rest of the armies have packed up and gone home. The grandest battle the big screen has seen for years ends up being reduced to the hand-to-hand combat between a dwarf and an orc. The Battle of Five Armies might more appropriately be known as The Battle of Two Individuals, because that’s where the drama is.
In a film that’s about 20 minutes shorter than its two predecessors, Sir Peter might perhaps have allowed himself a moment or two to welcome newcomers to his world. Barring strangers from such an epic tale seems a little churlish – the constituent parts of most cinematic trilogies, even if they tell one overall story, will work as a standalone film, but the Hobbit seems to want to remain an exclusive club – even if it has a rather large membership and becomes one of the highest earners of the year. Even if the assumption is that it’s very much aimed at people who are already familiar Middle-Earth, why not welcome in twelve year olds who’d have been too young to see parts 1 and 2? After all, it’s the 12 year olds who’ll be the least fussy about a lazy script – although that might also suggest that they won’t care whether they know why Bard is trying to stop Smaug destroying Lake-Town. They’ll just want to see big battles and monsters – and that’s exactly what they’ll get.