Review – The Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle of the Five ArmiesI went to see the Hobbit 3: the Battle of the Five Armies yesterday. I found it to be a fitting ending to the series. Much better than the prequel trilogy we do not speak of. Of course, no matter how good I think a movie is, I always take the story apart and see what works and what doesn’t, because, you know, I don’t have an off switch for that.

This review will contain lots of spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, go do so, then come back here. Seriously, it’s a good movie.

What works

Smaug’s attack on Lake Town, and his death at the hand of Bard were well executed. Bard’s arc was nicely done, although shooting an arrow off his son’s shoulder with a makeshift bow might have been a bit too much.

Tauriel and Kili’s arc is interesting. I wasn’t sure about the addition of this female elven love interest in the second movie, but I have to say, it added something to the movie.

Thorin has quite a heroic death after avenging his grandfather’s death at the hand of Azog the Orc. It was three movies coming, and packs a good emotional punch.

The movie shows a battle of five armies, and it manages to get the chaos of that across well.

What does not work

At times I felt like I was watching a troupe of jugglers performing Shakespeare. The overwhelming number of characters to follow was combined with a protracted battle running for something like half the movie. The battle scenes should enhance the emotional arcs of the characters, and move the plot forward, but in this case, they are mostly distracting. Especially Legolas, who really has no business in this movie. And of course, the Jar-Jar Binks of the movie: Alfrid the cowardly side-kick. He’s not funny, and his character is as flat as a board. Time better spent on other things.

I also feel it would have served the story better if the death of Smaug had been put in the second movie. I already thought that after seeing that one, and now I do even more. The death of Smaug would have made the second movie far stronger. And a simple statement by Thorin at the end of the movie ‘and now the armies will come, to take Erebor’s treasures from the rightful heirs’ would have provided an equally powerful cliffhanger.

Combined with the previous point, it would have allowed the third movie to focus far more on the intrigue and the siege, instead of squeezing everything into an hour-long action sequence.

 

Which leads me to the scene with Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman and Gandalf at Dol Guldur. This was just horrible. Over-acted, and with cheesy special effects. I understand you want tension and conflict, but why does this mean having to physically fight? And why the special-effect-floating-ghost-Galadriel-laser-show? The group simply walking in and shining their light across the place, chasing off Sauron to the east with a Nazgûl-like screech would have worked better. Followed by an argument between Gandalf and Saruman about Gandalf manipulating the Dwarves to take back Erebor.
Further, Kili’s death was not handled well. In the book, Fili and Kili die defending Thorin’s dying body after he is struck down. They chose to abandon that in favour of Tauriel and Kili’s arc, which is fine, I think. However, there are several problems:

  • Kili’s death (like all death scenes) is done in a protracted action sequence. That kind of felt like changing a punch to a series of slaps. The emotional impact was lost in the struggle.
  • I feel it would have been far stronger if Tauriel had also died  by throwing herself and the Orc that killed Kili off a cliff. Instead, she survived. Worse, the Orc did not die either, and was killed in a overlong action sequence with Legolas.
  • The scene with King Thranduil… Oh my. “Why does it hurt so much?”, she wails. “Because it is real.” Too much. A neon sign with a broken heart would have been more subtle.
  • It was done too close to Thorin’s climactic battle, where he also dies. In this case, drawing a parallel between the two deaths cheapens both. At least, that’s how I feel about it.

If Kili had died earlier, and it had been handled better, it would have worked great.

 

The Thranduil-Legolas-whatever arc also fell apart completely. Something about Legolas’s mother? In the second movie, Thranduil was insane with grief and hating the dragon that marred him. That was going somewhere. Now, they just make him into an asshole, who neglects his son and people because his wife died. I say: scratch Legolas, make him less of an asshole, and a little more insane. Would have worked wonders. Instead we got the brilliant statement “Legolas, you should know your mother loved you very much.” to which I mentally added “and I clearly, did not.”

 

Finally, Thorin’s arc. You might have noticed I did not mention his almost fall into madness under the ‘what works’. One can make his character fall from grace and make his death a fitting end, or one can make him into a hero who tragically dies, but not both in one movie. I would have gone the tragic hero route: emphasized that Thranduil had imprisoned him for weeks, and added some personal attachment to the Arkenstone, which makes him not mad, but tragic and stubborn. Instead, he speeds from hero to insane in minutes, broods a lot while the rest of the dwarves apparently play with their beards, then suddenly finds himself again. This undermined him being a hero, then kind of fizzled out halfway through the movie. It felt like something they didn’t want in there, but had to have, because, you know, it was in the book.

 

Conclusion

I loved the movie, but ‘sigh’, it could have been better. Ah well, a flawed diamond is still a diamond.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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