TR Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Is as Unnecessary as You Expected

Gandalf and Bilbo exclusively reveal the new movie’s running time

I am getting older, and the Hobbit movies are becoming more tedious. I don’t know if there’s a cause and effect relationship, but I do know that those are both truths, from where I sit.

Watching The Hobbit: The Bafflement That It’s Five Hours, I felt the same sentiments often expressed by older, crankier critics about any movie containing special effects: it’s all digital crap clashing against digital crap with no weight, no reality and no stakes. Based on this film, it seems the entire point of everybody wielding weapons and running at each other is the right to live inside a large, empty room filled with money, and hold a stone that arbitrarily confers relevance upon its wielder. Yes, I know there’s more to it in the books, but if Peter Jackson can’t make me feel it in all 19 hours of footage or whatever it actually is, I’m not going to go plowing through Tolkien again just to figure out what the director didn’t include.

For completists, obviously The Hobbit 3 is a must. For the casual viewer who’s happy to see any kind of relatively chaste orc-on-elf-on-dwarf-on-animal-on-human action, you could just play the trailer on a two-hour loop and get a similar effect for free. And for the people like me who grew up loving The Hobbit book but never having the patience for the full Lord of the Rings, you’ll be gobsmacked that they basically made an entire movie out of maybe five pages. (I’m using weasel-words only because I don’t currently own the book to check the exact number, and I know there will be Tolkien nerds dying to correct me if it’s six pages rather than five.)

Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this film is the way it amplifies the poor choices of the last one. After ending part 2 with the cliffhanger of Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) leaving the mountain to lay waste to Lake-town, movie three dispenses with him in its opening sequence. This could and should have been the climax of movie two, rather than the shoehorned-in, artificially added bit where the dwarves are surfing on molten gold. The other major cliffhanger, that of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) being in a cage, is similarly taken care of rather easily, albeit somewhat inexplicably, with Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) Hulk-ing out like she did when Frodo offered her the ring.

“I got a fever! And the only prescription…is more flashbacks!”

Thorin (Richard Armitage) has meanwhile gone delusional, thanks to a “dragon fever” that may or may not be purely mental, but can definitely be cured with a flashback montage that concludes with expensive hallucinations. Because this movie wasn’t already long enough that we needed to see older scenes from it again. Seriously, if that alone doesn’t tell you how gratuitously Peter Jackson has padded out the picture, nothing will. Meanwhile, because Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is finally completing his Hero’s Journey and has risen to the challenges of the scenario, he’s no longer interesting; the appeal from the beginning was that he was complaining and reluctant, offering a welcome injection of humor into a landscape that takes its pointy-eared elves and bumbling dwarves so god-damned seriously. Billy Connolly does show up as a new dwarf, but not nearly enough.


And then there’s that battle of five armies, though it should be noted that all five don’t seem to interact at one time. It should also be noted that despite the hordes who clash, the action basically boils down to two one-on-one fights, with Thorin facing Azog (the giant Kratos lookalike dude who has been the principal new antagonist of this series) and Legolas challenging Bolg (the big bad guy who isn’t Azog). The latter battle in particular gets particular Super Smash Brothers-like in execution, with Legolas parkouring upwards on falling chunks of stone bridge, but as silly as that sounds (and is), it is at least a creative choice in a movie otherwise bereft of them.

When the end credits finally roll, after the de rigeur multiple endings, and offer up a roll call of everyone who worked on this entire “prequel” series, they resound with the sense of an unearned victory lap, like that of a victor who rigged the competition in advance. Chopped down to about 15 minutes, The Battle of the Five Armies would have made a decent enough coda. As is, it’s as lazy as Bilbo was at the beginning of the story.