With Peter Jackson’s final instalment of the overstretched Hobbit films, the question remains was it all justified? I feel the Hobbit films come out well as a trilogy because of the real pace in the second and tons of action in this one. The problem with assessing the Battle of the Five Armies is it will play out differently for audiences that have seen the prior entries in the series (or read the book) and those who approach it as a first-time proposition.

Thanks to heat brought on by our erratic power situation, I woke up quite early, unable to sleep soundly, and watched the Desolation of Smaug. I imagine if I hadn’t I would have struggled as BOTFA labours to be its own film and first timers to the series will find it difficult to garner any coherence and depth from the story telling. The film offers little by way of character development or depth and series goes out with a whimper relative to Jackson’s uber high standards set by the Lord of the Rings films.

The characters are largely put in the backdrop as the action and spectacle take centre stage with a few personal scores developed and settled in-between. I reckon the only one that gets proper treatment is Thorin (Richard Armitage) but even he has to be appreciated in the context of the other films which again brings me back to the fact that film will not work for most audiences on its own. Martin Freeman brings the same quirky interjectory demeanour that thrives on reaction shots as Bilbo. The wannabe love triangle between Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauiel (Evangeline Lily) and Kili (Aidan Turner) continues but the film isn’t bold enough to take a punt on it and I winced at the realization that Gandalf, who was made colossal cinematic figure by Ian McKellen more than a decade ago, is indeed just an old man with a pointy hat here.

The film picks up from the previous setup as Smaug bears down on the small village of Lake town ready to wreak havoc and devastation. We watch as he razes the penurious town to the ground with his hell fire until he is inevitably slayed and someone hailed the dragon slayer. That honor goes to Bard (Luke Evans).  All this happens early in the film then attention turns to Thorin at the Lonely Mountain and his bout of Dragon sickness. He has been driven to the edge by the gold and his search for the Arkenstone. He has his men looking intently for it as he looks to reclaim his birthright but he doesn’t even trust them and questions their loyalty. Some moments surrounding this part of the film provided what I felt was some quasi-catch 22 for the filmmakers. Run on neglecting those who have not seen the previous films or bore folk like me who have with stuff we already know. It opts for the latter and drops reminders of what the Lonely Mountain means to his kin and what not. They can’t find the Arkenstone of course because Bilbo has it, the film is kind enough to remind us of that in a flashback to scene in the earlier film– it doesn’t even trust us to remember that detail. Meanwhile, news of the slaying of the dragon and the now unguarded Lonely Mountain and its riches spread and that sets the stage for the battle of the five armies.

The armies battle, they battle hard and its all pretty unremarkable partly because we’ve seen it all done before and better and also it goes on and on and maybe the law of diminishing returns has struck on these epic battles lacking in any visceral qualities and reek of CGI. The one novelty it offers is more intimate battles as the film draws an end to the bad blood between characters like Thorin and Azog the defiler (I love that name).  Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee make appearances here solely to add to the action as they come to kick some evil butt and then retreat back into our memories. If I had approached this film as an action film I’m sure I would have been fine with it but I didn’t but I hope most of you do because that’s the only way you may derive some satisfaction.

Amidst and at the end of all the action, the film offers hasty resolutions to key story points like Sauromon and Bilbo and the ring and ties a bow over such points sometimes with a wink. I have a lot of complaints and I could go on about how it lacks in visual splendor mainly due to the fast paced action and the large amounts of time spent at the single battle area or how it’s just a 2 hour plus third act but it is engaging and enjoyable and a decent end to the trilogy. It’s just that expectations and standards play a massive part for me and when you have delivered the Lord of the Rings trilogy, especially The Return of the King, I can’t be faulted for expecting a bit more in this finale. The best film of that trilogy was the last one and all those films stand on their own but BOTFA is limp without the other movies and that fact just kept on running through my mind as I watched it.

Evaluating it as a trilogy though, it is an enthralling precursor to Lord of the Rings films. Leaving the cinema, I had the Fellowship of the Rings on my mind and I do hope those who see it are compelled to devote some 7 hours of their life to re-watching or watching for the first time Jackson’s monumental trio of films. In answer to the question asked at the top of my review, if for that reason alone, Battle of the Five Armies and the other 2 films are justified.

By: By: Delali Adogla-Bessa/

Published by Delali Adogla-Bessa

Lover of the bleaker pleasures of cinema... and some good trash.

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