The first half of Battle of the Five Armies is full of tension. We open on Smaug attacking Laketown, progressing to the gold sickness that has consumed Thorin and finally to the titular battle itself. The scale of Laketowns destruction is impressive, ranger from the personal losses of villagers to ariel shots of the town in flame. Smaug is a rather impressive feat of CGI with a tangible weight to him and a shine of hatred in his eyes. Once the destruction has ceased and the dragon is slain we follow the villagers as they come to the gates of Erebor looking for a place to stay, thus showing us the true cost of the company’s quest and providing more grief to the events that follow.
The gold sickness that befalls Thorin makes up the majority of the plot until the battle and it is handled excellently. We are introduced, not through the dwarves, bt through Bilbo who is clearly scared for everyones safety, demonstrating how far Thorin has fallen from grace without needing to show him. When we do see him it is clear in his voice and body language how much he has changed. He walks much slower, like the sickness is weighing him down and he barely focuses on his companions, accusing them of disloyalty and thievery when he does. It comes to a head when Bilbo turns over The Arkenstone (the kings jewel) to Bard and Thranduil, who also seeks claim to the mountain, in the hopes that it will provide a bargaining chip to prevent a war. Thorin, enraged by this act, demands that Bilbo be thrown from the parapet and, for the first time, his company refuses his order. The dwarves will no longer bow to their king, choosing to protect Bilbo and seeing that he only wants to help. For a brief moment there is peace. This is what we call “the calm before the storm.”
So far we have an army of men, led by Bard and an army of Elves, led by Thranduil. With the arrival of dwarves from the Iron Hills, led by Dain, a horde of orcs, led by Azog, and a group of Goblins, led by Bolg, we have our five armies and the battle can commence. What a fine battle it is, using CGI to amplify the amount that each battalion can have. While it is slightly disappointing considering how many extras LOTR used for that purpose, it is still impressive in its own right even if time constraints mean many elves end up looking the same.
During Battle of the Five Armies’ theatrical run, much of the gore was removed to achieve a 12 rating but it returns here making this the only 15 rated film in the saga. This gore is particularly evident during smaller moments in the battle, where blood has clearly been added in post-production as well as the many beheadings that take place. There is also extra footage of Laketowns destruction, including the death of the Lakemaster, and the Elven archers firing at the Iron Hill dwarves. This particular round of extra footage is different from previous installments in that it doesn’t really add anything to the story itself, bar the Lakemasters death which did fill me with a little joy. Removing this footage simply makes the film tamer but I feel that if you are showing a war then it must really be driven home how awful war is. As the old proverb says “go big or go home.”
This half of Battle of the Five Armies is about rising tension and it does that well. There’s also a lesson to be had about how money/power can corrupt but i’m not nearly qualified enough to dive into that, though I’m sure we all know how it ends. Here it leads to war so from there you can draw your own conclusions.
The second half of Battle of the Five Armies is mostly battle, saving Bilbos return to The Shire for the last 20 minutes. Many battles in cinema simply do not last this long and certainly not at a scale this large. While the battle itself is huge, there are several smaller battles happening withing. This is expanded in the extended cut to give us a chariot sequence that is completely ridiculous but also one of the funnest scenes to watch. It also show us why Thorin, Fili and Kili are the only dwarves who make it up the hill to face Azog and reminds us just how impressive the CGI is. We also follow Bard, Gandalf and Bilbo fighting off orcs alongside the Laketown villagers. It is a brutal reminder of just how much Bilbo has grown as a character and how badass Gandalf can be when he wants.
Now we come to something I cant avoid talking about and that is the major character deaths. I usually wouldn’t give a spoiler warning and this film is five years old but these are some of the biggest deaths in popular literature. If you ever plan on reading the book, it simply won’t have the same impact it could if you keep reading this review. Please support the written word, it’s an important part of our culture.
Our first death is that of Fili at the hands of Azog who puts a dlade through his chest before dropping him several meters downhill in front of his brother. It is a very personal kill and a real turn in in events for the company who have remained relatively unscathed so far. Whats worse is that this death will inspire Kili to attempt to take on Azog for revenge, eventually leading to his death. Kilis death should be an incredibly poignant moment. We have just seen his brother murdered and now Thorin has lost both his nephews to the orc he once attempted to defeat. This moment should be utterly heartbreaking and it isn’t because Tauriel is here. The majority of screentime is spent on her grief, not Thorins, and how love hurts and how life isnt fair. Putting the focus on a character who has not earned this moment is an outrage. We could be focusing on Thorin who has known the boy his whole life but instead we spend more time with a character who has said 4 sentences to him and who shouldn’t even be here.
Lastly come the deaths of both Thorin and Azog in their climactic showdown. We have seen this tension build over 3 films and watching it come to a head here is brilliant payoff. In his dying breaths Thorin is found by Bilbo, providing us with a beautiful goodbye to, not only his king, but his friend. when the company arrives, there are no words, they simply kneel. The extended cut features a funeral for Thorin, Fili and Kili as well as the coronation of Dain as the new king of Erebor. This scene is so short and the acting and score are so gorgeous it’s a wonder it was cut. The last 20 minutes go on to show Bilbos return to The Shire and it is as much a welcome return to us as it is to him. You’re finally home and you can breathe freely knowing the battle is over and all is well.
As I said when i started this trilogy, its existence is a bizarre thing. Nowhere is this clearer than in Battle of the Five Armies which is the ending of this trilogy but also the end of the Middle Earth saga, being the last film released. It handles this in the best way I think it could, by having its last moments be the first time bilbo and gandalf reunite in Fellowship of the Ring. This caps off the trilogy perfectly while also being a flawless segue into LOTR. The credits song “The Last Goodbye” is performed by Billy Boyd who played Pippin in that trilogy, providing longtime fans with a moment of closure. The credits also feature drawings of the main cast, echoing back to that very same decision in the credits to Return of the King.
The Hobbit:The Battle of the Five Armies is a wonderful conclusion to this trilogy. it handles the battle better than most films could and gives these characters the respectful send-off they deserve. For a trilogy that could have stood as just 2 films ,The Hobbit and particularly Battle of the Five Armies do a good job of demonstrating why they should be watched. Come for the good characters and stay for the storytelling.
Until Next Time…