The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies reviews – Watch

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies reviews - Watch

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Counting the Lord of the Rings series, the New Zealand director has spent over a decade bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision of Middle Earth to life. Finally, we have reached the long-awaited, climactic moment of Bilbo Baggins and the battle.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the best of the three “Hobbit” installments, in that it’s not horrible. Yet even it suffers from the same disease as the first two entries. It takes a slender story — just a third of Tolkien’s average-sized book — and stretches it beyond sense. The climactic battle scene, for example, seems to go on for almost an hour. Do you know how many dead Orcs you can pile up in an hour?

Who hates Orcs so much as to find that interesting? I think even if an Orc said something bad about my mother, 15 minutes of killing Orcs would be quite enough.

Yet despite the excess, which drags the movie down and can’t be ignored, there are good things in “Five Armies” that distract from the ordeal and even, occasionally, provide actual pleasure. First of all, the story is finally out of the dragon’s cave, so it’s no longer mired in darkness. It is more visually rich than the second film. Martin Freeman, the title character and the movie’s chief asset, gets more screen time. And the story is actually heading somewhere, toward a genuine conclusion. That makes for more urgent encounters.

Much of what’s good and bad about “Five Armies” is contained in the opening sequence. It begins with a town in a state of siege. Unless you just saw Part 2 (and loved it), you’ll have no idea what’s going on. But after a minute or so, it becomes apparent that Smaug, the dragon, is making life unpleasant for everybody. Soon, the focus narrows to the effort of one man to kill the dragon, and things get exciting — for a little while.

“Five Armies” sleeps, but then wakes up. At one point, poor Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is half dead — something bad must have happened to him in Part 2; who remembers? — and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is trying to revive him. All at once, horrible half-visible specters attack, and the elves fight them off. If there’s anything duller than a sword fight with Orcs (already high on the dull list), it’s a sword fight with a specter.

Yet just when things couldn’t get less involving, when the movie just seems like an uninspired director going through the CGI motions, Galadriel holds up her hand and holds off a full-on specter attack, and it’s a strong moment. Yes, the scene calls for yet more gadgetry and effects, but this time they’re in the service of an actress, who makes you believe that she is putting on her scary face and facing down hell — and that the effort is costing her. A CGI moment becomes a human moment. That doesn’t happen often enough in “Five Armies,” but it barely happened, if at all, in the first two installments.

Much of the new film concerns the moral journey of Thorin, the dwarf leader, played by Richard Armitage. It’s one example of many why director Peter Jackson’s splitting of one novel into three books was a bad idea (except financially). The movie expects the audience to track that Thorin started off a good guy in the first two parts. But here we see him only as a menacing figure, driven half-mad by greed and the pursuit of treasure.

It really does take awhile to figure out that the movie wants us to see him, not as a villain, but as a decent fellow in the grip of some mental affliction. And then, because the film absolutely must be stretched to epic length, we get a long scene in which he tries to think his way back to his old self. The scene plays like what it should have been, a cut scene in the DVD’s special features.

As Bilbo, Freeman is a pleasure to watch to the extent we get to watch him. His timing is brilliant — he gets the movie’s only laughs. He has tremendous sensitivity and an ability to seem like he’s about to say something — and then convey it without saying it. He could have made a great Bilbo. Instead he’s the one thing that has made this trilogy bearable.