For the sake of brevity, there are a few things I must get out of the way:
I have not read the books. All the information I know is based on the movies and what I learned from other sources.
Runtime will never be an issue. If you complain about the length of a Lord of the Rings (LotR) movie, why are you even here? Do you know how stupid you are?
The budget of each film is equal to that of the entire LotR trilogy. Sure they make the money back, but that does not excuse the utter waste of resources for something that should not have cost that much. This makes the handling of the Spider-Man and “DC Comics” movies look competent.
There is no need for a trilogy based on The Hobbit, but it is understandable when you consider the inclusion of the expanded LotR universe. I say the more, the merrier.
The use of special effects for the orcs is redundant. Keep in mind, the orcs in LotR were all done with practical effects, real actors, and they looked a billion times better than all of the creatures in the Hobbit movies.
Azog, the Defiler would be a better character had he been real. The actor that provides his voice, Manu Bennett, is the scariest looking dude you will ever see. In addition to a constant mad-dog scowl, the guy is a mountain of muscle that makes most Hollywood pretty boys look like twinks. All you have to do is shave his head, apply some facial latex, paint him white, and you have yourself a memorable villain.
With that out of the way, let us get on with the review.
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Like Mockingjay, I find my review of The Battle of the Five Armies unnecessary; everyone is going to see it, no matter what I say. I grew up on LotR and the appeal of those films has lasted to this day. The characters, aesthetic, and scope are so memorable they rival that of Star Wars. Because of that fame and fan devotion, the Hobbit movies will always have an audience yearning for more Middle Earth, and my review is not going to change their minds.
The first two movies were good, but because we were already familiar with the world going in, the sense of discovery was stilted. Those really great moments of note were few and far between. It reminds me of the game Fallout: New Vegas; the world was new, but the mystery of exploring a post-nuclear holocaust world was non-existent because we have been there before in Fallout 3. So has Five Armies pushed for something new, or more of the same?
The story picks up right after the end of Desolation, where Smaug is unleashed to wreak havoc on Lake-town. I would put up a spoiler warning, but I think you already know what happens. After the dragon is felled, word spreads that Mount Erebor and its riches are free for the taking. Armies of men, dwarves, elves, and orcs march on the Lonely Mountain to stake their claim for the purpose of wealth and politics.
When considering the trilogy as a whole, in my opinion, Five Armies is second, with Desolation on top, and Journey below. It was indeed a fun watch, but it felt more like a reluctant continuation, than a step-up from what had been done.
I get the impression some of the events should have been resolved in Desolation, with more time spent on building up to the inevitable battle. The Hobbit movies are very dense, but what the last two did so well was space it all out. All the mythos and tidbits of information were doled out in moderation with good pacing. Here, everything was rushed to get the battle over with. If anything, the movie would have been better had it took its time.
The problem arises in the beginning, where Smaug flies from the mountain and sets Lake-town on fire. The sequence was so short and rushed, it would have been far better had it capped off the end of Desolation. This further cements the fact that actor Benedict Cumberbatch, the voice of Smaug, is too good to be present for only ten minutes. If he were killed off in Desolation, it would have made his departure in Five Armies less disappointing. What a waste of talent.
The strength of the film is definitely the battle. We see the armies of four different races, clad in different suits of armor and weapons, before they fight in ways that make them distinct from each other. It was a delight to see the precision and grace of the elves, the systematically confrontational tactics of the dwarves, and imaginative ways the orcs went about their strategy of sieging a fortified position with unique military assets.
The entire last half of the film is seeing the armies go at it and it is glorious. Multi-racial soldiers combine and fight as a singular, if not disorganized unit to win the day. Tensions rise when moral wanes, innocents die, and the lines of battle collapse in on themselves. Towards the end there are one-on-one battles that mimic the creative set ups of the previous trilogy. If anything, the battle is reason alone to see Five Armies.
The main problem is not only how rushed everything feels, but also the overuse of CGI. I know I mentioned it it in the beginning to get it out of the way, but after seeing this movie, I am compelled to talk about it. The unnecessary CGI cuts more corners than the Star Wars prequels and the paper documents on an episode of the new Battlestar Galactica combined. I was so taken out of the movie because I know for a fact most of the effects could have been done practical and would have looked far better than anything created in a computer. I could not be more disappointed.
All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies is a nice conclusion to the Hobbit movies. It delivers on its promise of an epic battle that fans will enjoy. Best of all, it makes me want to go back to the original trilogy, and I plan to do so right after I post this. Before you see it, I recommend going back to Desolation to refresh your memory of the events leading up to the battle. If you plan on seeing anything this weekend, make sure this is one of them. Take your kids to this instead of Night at the Museum 3 or Annie.