We can’t all be in agreement all the time and after reading Vivek’s review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and finding it to be little more than fanboy gushing (sorry Vivek, I still think you’re a cool dude) I just had to offer my own two cents. But instead of a proper review, I’m just gonna list all the reasons why the final entry in this bloated, overstuffed series (which possibly could have worked just fine as one movie, maybe two) is simply not a very good film. In fact, I think it’s a tedious, uninvolving, unconvincing, confusing and overstuffed mess!
Before proceeding I must point out that I was never a big LOTR fan and think Peter Jackson is kinda overrated. He’s clearly talented and has made some great movies, such as Heavenly Creatures, but a lot of things about his movies bug me and I haven’t really liked a film of his since the 90s.
Also, I never read any of the books and barely remember the previous two Hobbit movies. I will say, however, that me barely remembering those films is not my fault, but rather the fault of the movies’ for not being that good.
1: There are too many main characters and they’re almost all sketchy and unconvincing:
This movie has 13 dwarfs, a hobbit, a wizard, a few elves and a human all battling for the spotlight. It’s never quite certain who exactly is the real protagonist (I guess it’s Bilbo but he’s stuck to the sidelines for so much of the movie it doesn’t really feel like he’s the hero most of the time and he doesn’t really do very much of anything, anyway) and it’s hard to get too involved when you have so many to choose from and you barely know most of them. This was also a problem in the other two Hobbit movies (and the LOTR trilogy for that matter, but it’s better handled there) but it’s even more of a problem here. I really have no idea who any of the dwarves are. They all just blend into one-another. For instance, there’s that dwarf who’s in love with an elf… and that’s really all you know him as. He’s just Joe Dwarf who loves an elf. Jackson seems to expect the audience to be deeply moved by this romance but there’s really no reason to connect to it. Why should we care about their love when we barely know who they are? And then there’s that Alfred dude. Where did he come from and why is he in this movie so much? I don’t remember him at all from the previous movies and he hardly adds a thing to this “story.”
The only remotely memorable, but still not very interesting, dwarf is Thorin with his “sickness,” which isn’t convincing at all (it feels way too much like a plot device and reason to stall things, very contrived). And how did he recover from his sickness so quickly and so easily? The movie starts with him being crazy so, within the context of this movie, that’s all you really know him as… and then he has exactly one scene of himself wandering around and just quickly realising he was wrong… and then he’s just magically back to normal! This is another example of the “too many characters” problem… his madness is just barely felt and never very convincing and then PJ has to quickly “cure” him to get him back to business (is it like that in the book?). That’s just bad writing.
A good action flick should have one, maybe two clear protagonists and really only one set of heroes… not 3-4 sets. In this movie Peter cross-cuts the cross cutting and it just feels more like television than a movie. Having so many characters works fine in televison, but Game of Thrones this ain’t (and it often feels like it’s trying very much to be…).
2: There’s no real plot or story.
Really, this movie is just basically a bunch of characters I hardly know and don’t care about, battling another bunch of characters I don’t know at all over something vague and uninteresting. This whole movie is about one battle with no serious stakes and little is built up, if anything. You could say the first two movies are the build-up but I’m not so sure, this film still needed to have a proper build-up of its own. It basically starts with a scene that should have been the climax of the last movie (a scene that is confusingly staged, anti-climactic and rather lame) and then… just creates a new battle that feels like it materializes, practically, out of nowhere. And that’s the whole movie, one battle about very little of note. There’s no real story here, it’s just an empty and boring power struggle that’s impossible to get deeply involved in. I never gave a shit for a moment and pretty much none of it thrilled me (Legolas has the best moments, and that’s probably partly because you already have a strong connection with him from the previous trilogy). It basically boils down to a bunch of people fighting over…money? Why should I care about any of these characters? They’re not fighting a noble cause, there’s nothing convincing about their motivations (which are highly unclear anyway) and there’s hardly any resolution at the end of it all. A movie should have a beginning, a middle and an end… but this movie just feels like one long end (even if it is the end of a trilogy it should still have its own proper structure).
3: The pacing, tone and rhythm are all way off.
The first half hour of this movie is a series of “in-medias-res” scenes that are totally confusing because they’re alluding to stuff from the previous films which I could hardly remember (and much of which was probably highly unclear to begin with) but also because little of it matters to what comes after. What exactly does that scene with Gandalf in captivity have to do with the rest of the movie? I mean, I know it has something to do with the orcs but why do the orcs want to kill everyone? What are they after? And what little Gandalf does here has hardly any impact on the story and most of it could easily have been handled with other characters. And aren’t Hugo, Cate and Christopher there just because PJ wanted to have them in the movie? Was that whole fight just not completely unnecessary and barely tangental to the rest of the movie? Wasn’t it just a bunch of fan-wankery alluding to the previous trilogy, right?
The music in this movie is also pretty terrible, it’s just a bunch of generic “fantasy movie” music that often feels way out of place, is overly dramatic and/or overly manipulative. A good score should either go unnoticed (it should be a part of the background staging) or have you be humming it for days afterwards, but the music here is the opposite of that. It’s highly distracting and not remotely hummable.
And there’s just so much here that has no build up; entire scenes or characters that come of out nowhere or elements that are introduced and then hastily discarded or under utilized. This movie feels like a teenage boy playing with a toy box, just throwing in a bunch of “cool stuff” with little rhyme or reason. It starts with a weak “climax”, then we get about 40 minutes of sketchy build-up with far too many characters so none of it is really properly built up, and then we have an hour long fight scene about some silly-ass mountain. And that’s it. This movie does not remotely work on its own two feet and rests on the shoulders of two unmemorable films. And if you’re gonna make a movie that’s basically one long fight, don’t make it so generic and clumsily staged and don’t have so many characters to potentially root for! If you have too many characters to root for, there’s really no one to root for.
4: It’s poorly made.
I saw this movie in 48fps (not willingly, I though the theatre I went to wasn’t showing it in 48fps) and it looked like shit. I felt like I was watching a BBC play filmed in 1989 rather than a real piece of cinema. Why does Peter Jackson think this looks good? Does he not have eyes?
PJ seems to have lost his touch in how and where to point the camera and how to stage things. Several of the scenes here are clumsily shot and weirdly edited to the point that it does not always flow very well. The 180 degree rule is frequently broken and character introductions often feel weird and amateurish. The forced perspective thing is often very badly done and unconvincing (or it’s just obvious that the little stand-in person standing in front of the other is someone else than the actor) and the CGI repeatedly looks fake (Cate Blanchett going all crazy-ass on Sauron looks like a video game cut scene). How can this happen in a $200+ million movie in 2014? PJ and co. must have been in a big hurry to finish this in time… (or just didn’t care because money in the bag was already guaranteed).
5: It’s almost utterly humorless.
I know this isn’t a comedy, but it remains extremely dramatic throughout most of its running time. There are a few small humorous moments but they are few and far in between. This movie absolutely needed to be lighter as it’s just so lumbering, dour and overdramatic. It’s hard for me to get involved or take a blockbuster action flick seriously when it’s so afraid of not being taken seriously that it almost skips having a sense of humor altogether. Having a bit of humor, in my opinion, means that a movie is in fact taking itself more seriously. Humor is a necessary counterweight to all the drama, lightens the tension and also to shows that you’re unafraid to get a little silly. Jackson seems to have lost his guts while making this movie. It needed more moments like Gimli saying “No one tosses a dwarf” in the middle of a battle scene. There are exactly zero one-liners here which is a mistake as we know all good action movies have one-liners!
In short, this is a not good movie and stands against so many things I consider to be what makes good cinema. It’s not exactly terrible; the cast is mostly fine, they just don’t get much to do, and there are a few nice visuals and a couple of cool bits… but a $200 million blockbuster directed by an Oscar winner and based on one of the most renowned children’s books in history should not be such a bloated mess. It was a mistake to make this a trilogy as it just makes for each movie being haphazardly structured and bloated and I really think it would have worked just fine as one movie (or maybe two) with all the fat cut out. The combined length of this series is 460 minutes and I think 180 minutes would have been plenty. No Vivek, this movie is not remotely lean or efficient. It’s a big fat, tedious mess!
Final Verdict: 4.2/10