The Hobbit trilogy finally succumbs to its unfathomably bloated running time to prove that three films was at least one – possibly two – films too far. The original The Hobbit short story has been added to considerably to act as a full prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy to the point this film wraps up nicely for another viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring with even greater purpose, but getting there wasn’t worth Peter Jackson going back to the director’s chair for three installments.
We pick up The Battle of the Five Armies with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) awakened from the Lonely Mountain and set on pillaging Laketown. This makes for a spectacular opening sequence, though it ends quite suddenly with Smaug’s downfall and the film then falls into much talk of darkness descending on Middle Earth. Thorin (Richard Armitage) has caught the gold sickness that affected Smaug, making him unwilling to share the bounty in the mountain so will give none to the Laketown people who helped his group, nor Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) who seeks Elvish treasure within. Meanwhile, twin orc armies are also approaching the mounting for a colossal battle which becomes the film’s focus for much of its near two-and-a-half hour runtime.
We already know that Jackson can do action with aplomb and he brings us all manner of orcs, goblins and even bats to provide the peril. What’s lacking from The Hobbit trilogy less enthralling is The Lord of the Rings trilogy’s brooding sense of evil prevailing with catastrophic results if the good are defeated. Although The Lonely Mountain is full of gold and a clear vantage point for whoever has it, you’re left more interested in how the master ring fits into everything, yet these scene are few and far between.
Most of Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) activities are encouraging Thorin to see past his greed so it’s left to some fascinating moments with Gandalf (Ian McKellan) to really get a feel for the impending peril for Middle Earth, served up best in a battle that includes Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) against the Ringwraiths and an emerging Sauron. It’s a brief insight into how this film feeds into The Lord of the Rings which doesn’t return until the closing scenes with Bilbo, Gandalf and Legolas (Orlando Bloom). But while these scenes are welcome, too much fluff crops up unnecessarily.
The romantic subplot between elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) is too unlikely, especially in the time frame, while there’s very little to get excited about with the Laketown residents relocating – in particular the comedic actions of name are merely stumbles in the narrative. You just about get your money’s worth on the back of the amount of action, however with Smaug killed so quickly and then the amount of needless chatter coupled with (another) overlong battle sequence, if feels like Jackson has overstretched even his epic storytelling. Unlike many of the additional scenes in The Lord of the Rings extended editions building on the story shown in cinemas, we need a director’s cut of The Hobbit trilogy that takes away all the extras to make it a richer experience. In the case of The Battle of the Five Armies, more is less.