Welp, the last Hobbit movie has finally come out. Before we go any further, let’s pour one out for the franchise—this is the last time (barring a Peter Jackson Silmarillion adaptation—fingers crossed) that we’ll be able to see a new Lord of the Rings movie in theaters. I didn’t have high hopes for the final installation in the series, since the first two were a little bit too long for my tastes. So I don’t know if it was a result of my low expectations or what, but I was surprised to find I actually enjoyed Battle of the Five Armies.
Battle of the Five Armies covers pretty much what you’d expect, plot-wise: Smaug’s attack on Lake-town and his subsequent slaying by Bard; Thorin’s descent into dragon-sickness; the siege on the mountain; the Battle itself; and Bilbo’s return to the Shire. Unlike the other films, where I could say immediately upon leaving the theater which parts I’d’ve cut, I mostly didn’t object to any of the added material. Was the movie still a little longer than it needed to be? Certainly, but there wasn’t any one scene where I was like, “okay, we can move along right now.”
In fact, there were a few subplots that I felt were rather under-served. For example, the beginning of the movie briefly and spectacularly dealt with the Dol Guldur conflict that only happened off-screen in the book. Obviously, Gandalf was needed at the mountain, and so plot rules declared he had to be rescued and sent on his necessary course. In a nice subversion of fantasy tropes, it is Galadriel who comes to rescue him. Elrond and Saruman are also there, but it’s the Lady who does the heavy lifting. They guys fight off the spirits of the Nazgul, but it’s Galadriel, drawing upon her full and terrifying supernatural power—the force that’s only hinted at in the scene at her Mirror in Fellowship—who banishes the Necromancer from the fortress.
The other under-served plotline was that of Legolas and Tauriel. After Tauriel helps Bard’s kids and the sundry dwarves who were with her escape the burning wreckage of Lake-town, she and Legolas ride off to Gundabad after Bolg, the orc Legolas went toe-to-toe with at the end of last film. The two of them are offscreen for large stretches of the movie, and return only when it’s necessary for them to be present at the mountain again; i.e., when it’s time for Tauriel to be present for Kili’s death. It’s not necessarily that I wanted them to be in the movie more, but I did wish that their time onscreen was used a little more creatively.
There were a few items of note about the elves that I want to bring up before I move onto other things. First of all, I appreciated that, while Legolas is nothing but forthright about his feelings for Tauriel, he never nice-guys himself into her space after she declares her feelings for Kili. Hell, he doesn’t even give her a hard time about leaving him out to dry last movie. I especially was pleased that—OMG—Tauriel survived! I was not expecting that at all, and it was both pleasantly surprising and a nice spit in the eye of any whiny dudebro who bitched about her inclusion in the films. In the end, though, her pain over Kili’s death was used somewhat as a device to make Thranduil more three-dimensional, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it was nice to see the King given a little more backstory as explanation for why he’s an asshole; on the other hand, it takes away from Tauriel’s having her own grief. Legolas mentions earlier while he and Tauriel are chilling outside Gundabad that his mother died there, and his father never speaks of her even to mourn her. As Tauriel laments the pain of love lost, Thranduil tells her that it hurts because it was real. It gives them a bit of a bonding moment—despite the fact that he earlier banished her from Mirkwood, and he’s done nothing but belittle her status and her choices throughout the films—because it lets the audience see that he too mourns his lost love.
The real star of the film for me was, of course, the King Under the Mountain himself. Richard Armitage literally blew me away with the range and nuance of his performance. He’s terrifying under the thrall of the dragon-sickness, and it’s made all the more unnerving by the moments of clarity, where he briefly displays more characteristic warmth. Thorin finally has his come-to-Jesus (come-to-Mahal?) moment on the now-cooled gold floor where they’d spilled the molten metal on Smaug last movie, giving that unnecessary waste of last film’s screentime a little more plot relevance.
I was incredibly glad that the film made the small fix-it tweak allowing Thorin and Bilbo to see each other again after Thorin shakes off his delusions. If I recall correctly, book Bilbo never actually sees Thorin alive again after Thorin throws him out of Erebor, which is horribly tragic for both of them. In this, it’s Bilbo who sneaks into the fray to warn Thorin of an impending orc attack, and although it doesn’t stop Thorin dying by any means (we’ll save fixes that dramatic for fanfiction) it does allow Thorin and Bilbo to part on good terms.
The one thing that was truly unnecessary throughout the film was the subplot surrounding Alfrid, the Master of Lake-town’s sniveling second-in-command. After Smaug’s corpse falls squarely on the corrupt Master’s head, Alfrid attaches himself to Bard, and proceeds to be a comically nasty minion stereotype for the rest of the movie. He abandons children being threatened by orcs, cross-dresses as a woman to avoid being roped into fighting, and even stays behind when the women rally to battle as well, preferring to raid what stores of money are left in Dale and run for it. Amid the rest of the conflicts, it seemed like a real waste to focus even a little bit of screentime on this trashbag.
I didn’t go into this movie expecting to like it as much as I did, and while I have mixed feelings about this trilogy as a whole, I’m deeply saddened to think that this cultural zeitgeist has reached its end. Battle of the Five Armies is, in my opinion, easily the best of the three films, and I think it’s a fitting send-off to a franchise that’s closer to my heart than any other. Just remember, if you’re going to see it: bring tissues.