‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Review: Lynchpin Movie Hits the Accelerator

I remember back in 2001 sitting in a movie theatre to watch the first “Lord of the Rings” film, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” I really didn’t think it could be done, this telling of Tolkien’s grand vision on screen. Sure, Peter Jackson had done cool things with genre (“The Frighteners,” for example), and I’m a big fan of his “Heavenly Creatures,” but this whole thing seemed too big, too dense, too brash to do.

About 10 minutes in, as the prologue slams to a close and we’re thrust from the ancient battlefields right into the wondrous vision of the woods surrounding Hobbiton, it all felt so right. There were changes to the source material, but what was clear was the translation to the big screen was being done by a bunch of truly savvy filmmakers. This, after all, was no less a transmogrification than was done by Tolkien when he rejigged Norse myths and Beowulfian dramas to tell the tale of a hairy-footed Halfling. The connection between film and book is closer, of course, but the change in form has resulted in a kind of reinvention that sees its culmination in this lynchpin film.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” isn’t the sixth film of the Middle-earth series, it’s the crux for the whole endeavour, the last puzzle piece that allows the narrative to be screened as one, back to front.

Whoa, whoa, whoa … easy there, nerd. I just want to know if it’s better than the last two films, which were boring and stupid.
Well, first of all, it’s not nice to call me names, even if the epithet is accurate. Secondly, I think the last two “Hobbit” films have been given short shrift. In fact, I’ll go one better — I think that this final film will help those who re-watch the early Hobbitses and see that the shift in tonality is actually exceptional, and the dive into darkness and violence well-earned.

Then again, many who don’t like this second trilogy are always going to find them redundant however they’re executed. I think some moviegoers remember elements from “LOTR” more favourably than they should, making these more recent films attempt to live up to even more impossible expectations. Sure, we can quibble about it all, and always wonder what the Guillermo Del Toro vision for the series would have looked like, but for my money PJ and Co. have done a terrific job at weaving all these films into one coherent whole.

As a guy not afraid to marathon movies for most of a day, I look forward to the six-pack filmstravaganza, and believe “Battle of the Five Armies” will make a pretty killer middle bit.

OK, fine, I’ll give it a shot … but is this one at least a bit more fast-paced?
I think it’s fair to say that this movie is weighted highly on the “getting s**t done” side of the spectrum. From the first seconds we’re thrust into a terrific pre-title sequence where we see Lake Town get obliterated by Smaug, that last of the fire drakes who we last saw leaving Erebor after being roused by Bilbo and his Dwarven friends.

If this last bit doesn’t make any sense, well, you might want to re-watch the last one again, because from that point on the film hits the accelerator, tying up the majority of the stories set by the last two films while also coyly setting up bits that will crop up later in the timeline (aka, “LOTR”).

Does the big battle look like a mass of mushy CGI?
Well, first of all, forget the hate — go see this film in 3D high frame rate if you can, as it truly is a thing to behold. But having seen it in several formats, including 24P, I can attest that the film and the massive concluding battle looks pretty damn good. Jackson does well to pace things out, with the action taking place in and around the war ebbing and flowing, allowing for truly humongous moments to be buttressed against tinier, more intimate confrontations.

Plus, there’s some great moments of silliness, where it’s clear that Jackson and his animators are having fun, upping the ante once more and giving it all they’ve got to give.

Oh, what the hell, might as well see it.
That’s the spirit! No, wait, I think this film deserves more than that. We’ve gone from not believing this type of film was possible to make, to taking for granted that another iteration is here for our enjoyment. After the flourish around the last trilogy (culminating in a slew of Oscars, no less) there’s a sense of jadedness around this entire trilogy that I think is unfounded. In many ways “The Hobbit” series is the equal to what came before, at times superior, at other times less so. Still, its capacity to amaze, enthrall, and entertain is easily on par with the films that it has built upon, and for which they now serve as a de facto introduction.

This entire saga has been a hell of a journey, and this seems to be an entirely satisfying ending to what’s come before. Little of what I have to say will sway those convinced that the whole thing is silly and “LOTR” should have been left alone. I, for one, never felt those films to be so, um, “precious” that a bit more of Tolkien’s prose and Jackson’s magic would be anything less than a welcome thing.

“Battle of the Five Armies” doesn’t work even a tiny bit as a standalone piece, but few final chapters ever do. It’s in some ways a reward for sticking it out, a series of super-fun action scenes and moments that are both moving and memorable. It’s as if we’ve filled a chest with memories, just like the one that Bilbo carries under his arm to Bag End. It’s a lovely little chest of memories, dented in places, smelling of goblin perhaps, but nonetheless filled with rare treasures indeed.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is now playing in theatres.

'The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies': IMAX Featurette

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