Sunday, December 21, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

When I reviewed Desolation of Smaug last year, I mentioned it felt more like it a prequel to Pirates of the Caribbean than Lord of the Rings. For better or worse, The Battle of the Five Armies continues this trend. It was more or less what I expected from a movie drawn from a small handful of chapters from a book that wasn't all that long to begin with.

To fill the time, Jackson expanded the battle sequences and played out the various subplots invented for this adaptation. Once again, Orlando Bloom spends a great deal of time on screen, though the real star here is the liberally applied make-up trying to create the illusion he's still in his twenties.

Likewise, Tauriel is given quite a lot of time. Unfortunately, they weren't as generous with her dialogue: Evangeline Lilly is saddled with the absolute worst lines used in any of Jackson's six Middle Earth films. Why does it hurt so much?

Ultimately, they could have excised Tauriel, Legolas, Bolg, and all the subplots revolving around them without losing anything of importance. If these movies were really about Bilbo and Thorin's friendship, why are we spending so much time on a completely unrelated and uninteresting story? It's particularly unfortunate given the fact that early opposition to Lilly's inclusion was inspired by sexism. I'd have loved to see Jackson and company humiliate those critics, but instead they almost look prescient.

Speaking of invented characters the movie would have been better without: Alfrid, Laketown's master's self-serving lackey, is given an oddly inflated role in this movie, more or less playing the character Kevin J. O'Connor portrayed in the Mummy. The comedy felt forced, mean-spirited, and even bordered on homophobic at one point. Plus, we never really got a resolution for his character. I don't know if there's a deleted scene showcasing his grisly end or if Jackson envisions him as Wormtogue's ancestor or something.

I suspect we'll see fan-edits of the series cutting these characters or at least reducing their roles. It doesn't seem like it would be that hard to edit them out: they barely interacted with the plot or main story line.

The movie certainly wasn't all bad, though. The White Council got a great scene where Saruman, Elrond, and Galadriel finally got their due. If anything, that sequence felt a little short.

In addition, the fights were fun to watch, even if it often feels like we've seen them before. There's a pulpy energy to them that forgives at least some of the narrative missteps and inflated nature. For all my complaints, you'll note I'm comparing the last two Hobbit movies to Pirates of the Caribbean and not the Star Wars prequels: Jackson absolutely deserves credit for defaulting to a messy comedy/action tone that salvages the experience.

Still, it's unfortunate that we didn't get the trilogy we were hoping for. Looking back, it's hard not to wonder if Guillermo del Toro's movies might have avoided the pitfalls Jackson fell in.

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