The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Directed by Peter Jackson
Opens December 17
After two interminable films of garish animation, overlit 3D compensation and endless padding, the final Hobbit movie attains some degree of beauty at the beginning of its overdue end. Dispatching Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) before the title credit appears, the film redirects focus onto the ghastly toll the dragon took on the inhabitants of Laketown, as well as the legacy of his accursed treasure as it swiftly corrupts newly triumphant dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). For a brief moment, Peter Jackson seems to remember the point of Tolkien’s literature.
Then, he loses it again. Of all the battles in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the eponymous free-for-all of this film best reflected his experiences in WWI, a conflict spurned by the arrogance and lack of diplomacy between rivals and nominal allies that ultimately forced boots on the ground into a slaughter just to stay alive. For Jackson, though, it’s an excuse to wage more than an hour of extended carnage, kept “family friendly” thanks to the distancing effect of CGI. Nothing Sauron ever did to corrupt beings into orcs compares to the defiling of flesh that Jackson’s animation crews do to save on costuming and extra costs, producing blubber-smooth goblins and a dwarven lord (Billy Connolly) who stuns enemies with the sheer strength of his uncanny valley.
Martin Freeman’s exasperated, sure-hearted Bilbo continues to be the only consistent pleasure in this scattered trilogy, though at this point he more closely resembles a special guest than the title protagonist. Freeman spends most of the film looking concerned and fed up, though that may be as much the actor’s frustration with the limited part than Bilbo’s revulsion with the insane miser that Thorin becomes. Nonetheless, it is in the hobbit’s dealings with the corrupted dwarf king that the film finds its surest footing, edging closest to the melancholy and trauma buried in Tolkien’s writing. In particular, an exchange regarding an acorn Bilbo carries with him with the intention of planting back home marks the only moment of unforced beauty in this trilogy’s nearly eight-hour telling of a 300-page book.