Thursday, December 18, 2014


Peter Jackson’s final loving adaptation of the many writings of famed author JRR Tolkien is a film which serves many purposes. It serves as the capstone to THE HOBBIT trilogy, and with its events taking place before THE LORD OF THE RINGS, also serves as a set-up piece. But first and foremost, it has to take care of its own business as a movie. 

After unleashing the wrath of the evil dragon Smaug on the people of Laketown, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), finds himself in the middle of a large-scale dispute over the riches of the mountain; a dispute which leads to war between five different races in Middle-Earth. 

The third and final chapter of this fantasy trilogy of films gets down to business in a hurry. After all, when last we left our heroes, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) was held captive by a rising evil, the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) was on his way to deep-fry the city of Laketown, and the dwarven leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) was slowly becoming obsessed with the hordes of treasure under the Lonely Mountain…all of this with the homely hobbit, Bilbo, trying to make sense of it all. Director Peter Jackson takes every one of these plotlines, and many others, and weaves a seamless tale which is always on the move and marches towards an endgame at all times.

THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is clearly a finale piece, but still has time to be its own film. Jackson eventually lets his film evolve into a morality tale about the pitfalls of greed. As Thorin delves deeply into an intoxicating madness over his treasure, Bilbo is given his biggest burden of his cinematic career; to act as intervention to Thorin who would sacrifice the lives of all to protect his wealth. The dynamic between Bilbo and Thorin runs deep; two tough friends who have great respect for each other but stand firmly on the opposite side of greed and want for riches, and this gives ARMIES a personality that had not been seen in Jackson’s five previous Middle-Earth films.

ARMIES is ultimately a war film as the races of Middle-Earth stake a claim to Thorin’s treasure. Jackson spends a lot of time maneuvering the pieces on the chess board while working towards the eventual final battle, and this gives him the opportunity to explore characters and generate some good emotional moments. Once the battle does begin, Jackson again stakes a claim as the master of the war-film genre. The large-scale battles, seamlessly generated with a combination of CGI and practical model-making, are thrilling, fun, and easy to follow as flesh and blood meets iron and hurtled stone. Some excellent stunt-work is done on the ground with the non-CGI characters, and the fine attention to detail on the weaponry is on full display.

Jackson however can’t help himself in some places. A few action sequences come off as cartoony and would feel more at home in a Bugs Bunny adventure. Fun to watch, sure…but cinematically silly. Howard Shore’s score is a disappointment for the second straight film, and the goddamn 3D has its moments but overall dulls the vibrancy of the picture.

Middle-Earth or Tolkien himself couldn’t ask for a finer collection of actors. Martin Freeman is fantastic again as Bilbo, meeting the tough physical and emotional challenges head-on. His gentleness is an excellent contrast to the thunder of Richard Armitage’s Thorin, who basically owns the movie. Ian McKellen is brilliant again as Gandalf, even though his character seems to only provide exposition for the audience. The rest of the cast is brilliant and effective throughout.

The many plotlines Jackson had been playing with across three films, which felt like extra padding, do come to a full resolution and justify their existence. At a brisk 144 minutes, ARMIES is the shortest out of all the Middle-Earth movies, and even though Jackson does an excellent job setting up events for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, a few loose threads established in this film remain untied. It’s likely this will get resolved in the eventual Extended Edition, but in the meantime it’s a minor annoyance. The last 20 minutes makes it all worthwhile as the film offers a strong wrap to its own business of Bilbo and acts as a perfect seamless transition to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. ARMIES then goes for a touching emotional sendoff to Middle-Earth, and is much in the spirit of JRR Tolkien…who always wrote with sweet melancholy concerning all the good things which must eventually pass from this world. THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is the perfect bittersweet good-bye to Middle-Earth.


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