I’m jealous of people who liked The Desolation of Smaug. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get over what a disappointment it was. I couldn’t ignore the over-polished visual style, the pointless fanservice, the stupid action scenes, or the blatant padding that showed no concern for pacing. It’s especially saddening to hear that Evangeline Lilly, who plays Tauriel, a character invented solely for the Hobbit film franchise, accepted her role on the condition that she doesn’t have to be put in a pointless love triangle. So, not only was the last film stupid and messy – now it’s outright insulting.
And now we have The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (no, not There And Back Again), giving us a more reasonable runtime and occassionally better action than last time, but still not feeling especially similar to those other three films that Peter Jackson made one time. I can’t remember what they’re called.
Martin Freeman is back as Bilbo, the brave little hobbit who was supposed to help an awesome band of dwarfs led by one Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) break into their stolen mine inside Lonely Mountain and steal a valuable piece of treasure from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Instead, he and the dwarfs have screwed up big-time and made Smaug leave the mountain and fly towards a local village called Lake Town. All is not lost, though, as Bard the bowman (Luke Evans) shoots the monster dead and saves the town. However, conflict arises over the treasure and especially the Arkenstone, a diamond once guarded by Smaug that belongs in the hands of the Mountain’s true ruler. Things get ugly quick and I’m not talking about the frame-rate.
The dwarves and Lake-men, ruled by Bard after poor Stephen Fry‘s death, are pitted against each other, but it gets even more chaotic when an army of orcs, led by Thorin’s arch-enemy Azog (Manu Bennett), ominously makes their way towards the Lonely Mountain. Eventually, our trusty wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) joins the battle and Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) has his own faction. He’s not happy when he learns of the drama between his son Legolas (Orlando Bloom), badass archer Tauriel, and a generic pretty-boy dwarf (thanks fangirl culture), because he’s still not exactly mates with dwarfs, least of all the increasingly power-mad Thorin. Bilbo is there the whole time and he still carries the evil ring of Sauron with him. He gets more to do in this battle than in the book version but, well, that’s not saying too much.
Also in on the fun are Elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), that crazy hippie Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), Elf lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and even Gandalf’s old wizard pal Saruman (Christopher Lee). And of course, Cumberbatch has a second role as the ghost-like Necromancer, Azog’s master who reveals himself to be none other than Sauron. Yeah, apparently Gandalf fought with Sauron 50 years prior to the events of Fellowship but was still utterly shocked to hear that he was coming back in that same film. Being as Sauron’s never mentioned again after Saruman vows to deal with him, I’m left to assume that Gandalf is simply senile. Or that Jackson is.
I’ve pointed out before that the Hobbit trilogy’s tendency of randomly inserting Lord of The Rings characters here and there, sensibly or not, has made Jackson the new George Lucas. A man who went from great trilogy with great production design and great acting, to clunky prequel trilogy with excessive and obvious CGI, embarrassingly sappy romance, and forced references to the original masterpieces that, as it turns out, only got made because crewmembers back then still had the guts to let him know when he had dumb ideas.
But did Jackson even want to make this needlessly dragged-out excuse of a Hobbit adaptation? No. Turns out that, for years after The Return of The King‘s release, he was actively fighting against it when producers kept begging him to do The Hobbit next. So it’s really more of a Douglas Adams scenario, where the creator didn’t want to continue his, to him, finished franchise but eventually gave in and decided to make it bad and phoned-in on purpose. After all, that’s the thing about nostalgia and geekdom, isn’t it? That people are so blinded by it that using it to harvest their ticket cash is far too easy to actually warrant making a competent film? Why try to make art when it takes less effort to make money, right? Right.
But let’s talk about 3D and high frame-rate. I went to see this movie in just that format and as I’d hoped, it looks better here, but still maintains some of the same problems it had in the first film: it occasionally looks sped up, the slo-mo shots are more jarring than usual, and the cuts become more distracting because you feel too close to the action. Then of course there’s the fact that the picture becomes so clear that you can more easily tell what’s fake, in terms of not only make-up and matte paintings, but also the performances. The extra frames let you notice imperfections in the acting and the smooth movements make the sword strikes and other attacks look even less authentic, not that this video game of a film looked that real to begin with.
The visual effects in general are, however, somewhat more convincing than in the last movie. Sure there was that one CGI dwarf played by Billy Connolly and a moment where Galadriel uses her powers on Sauron, the coolness of which is significantly weighed down by the garish effect they put on poor Cate Blanchett. Oh and did I mention that the sand worms from Dune are in this? No? Then I’ll just gloss over it just like the movie does.
This isn’t an awful film, though. Not in the manner of, say, Transformers 4 or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But this is much more upsetting to watch because, whereas I knew that Transformers was gonna be as terrible as always, I actually hoped that these movies would be good. Not as good as Lord of the Rings maybe, but still good. Something that once again sucked me into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien and actually made me believe that I was really there amongst its creatures; not this obvious cash-in that seems to take place primarily in green screen land. Disappointment can hurt more than seeing drivel you’re used to, especially if you expect too much.
The good stuff in The Battle of the Five Armies includes a slightly more fluent pace, a cute final scene with Bilbo in Hobbiton, good music, and great acting from Freeman, McKellen, Blanchett and good old Christopher Lee (whose new Christmas-themed metal album you simply must check out). Also, Ryan Gage was pretty funny. I hope he’s in something better some day.
Otherwise it’s just more of the same. Overly retouched scenes that look like they’re from a mediocre Fantasy game, boringly long and over-the-top action sequences, clunky balancing of epic Fantasy and silly comedy, cringeworthy attempts at being dramatic, monotonous battle scenes, and of course, an obligatory onslaught of digital effects, mainly in places where practical ones would have looked a million times better. It also resolves the trilogy’s subplots either unsatisfactorily or not at all, possibly as a way to fully emphasize how meaningless this has all been. I was going to regretfully state that I’m kind of glad that it’s over, but since Jackson has officially sold himself to Satan, a Silmarillion film series has just recently been announced. Unlike Bilbo Baggins, I don’t know if I’m ready for “another adventure”.