In English soccer, when a high-priced newly signed player goes bust, opposing fans will sometimes taunt the player and his team by singing, “What a waste of money!” That’s the serenade that came to my mind when I was viewing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It’s not that this is an unwatchable movie, necessarily. It’s just that Peter Jackson’s entire enterprise has felt exhausted from the get-go, and the only thing its end inspires me to feel is, “It’s finally over.”
Picking up where the last movie left off, this final chapter starts with Bard (Luke Evans) freeing himself from prison and killing the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) before it can incinerate all the citizens of Lake-town. This seems like great news for Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves who now control Smaug’s lair, gaining access to the dragon’s giant hoard of gold and reclaiming their ancestors’ ruined kingdom in which the lair lies. However, the newly crowned dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) goes insane with greed and refuses to release one coin to the armies of men and elves who come to the mountain with their own claims on the treasure. When the orcs show up to take the gold by force, an all-out five-way slaughter ensues.
Of the three chap-ters of The Hobbit, this is easily the most action-packed, and the fight sequences are performed with great aplomb by Armitage, Evans, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, and Christopher Lee (who’s 92 years old and can still swing a sword credibly). The climactic showdown between Thorin and the chief orc warrior (Manu Bennett) on an ice floe is possibly the highlight of the trilogy. Cate Blanchett shows up as the elf queen Galadriel and looks completely badass for the only time in the Middle Earth movies as she shoos away Sauron’s spirits.
Still, nothing on the personal scale rings true, not Thorin’s struggles in the face of limitless riches, not his dwarves’ attempts to bring him back to the right side, not the forbidden love affair between the elven warrior Tauriel (Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), not Bard’s quest to save his family. I’m tired of these faceless evil enemies and heroic characters who are so one-dimensional that they could have been peeled off the posters in some Tolkien nerd’s bedroom. The book is a crackling adventure tale that gains power from being relatively brief, and Jackson has heedlessly blown it up into a 474-minute saga because that’s the only thing he still knows how to do. While his Lord of the Rings trilogy remains a landmark in the history of epic filmmaking, he has brought nothing surprising to the The Hobbit. For all the effort Jackson has expended here, his story remains stubbornly earthbound and unmoving.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Starring Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage. Directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. Rated PG-13.