The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Well, that’s it. The trilogy is over and in the end it has largely been a repeat of what happened with Star Wars. A visionary director returned to the world he created with a series of prequels that just weren’t as good as the original films. There were some nice moments but it was really just nostalgia that kept us interested. They even excused it by saying these ones were aimed at a younger audience. The three parts of the Hobbit are fine but they can’t stand any comparison to The Lord of the Rings films.

There is something different about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies though. It manages to recreate some of what we loved before and holds up against the first trilogy much better than its predecessors. Now that we’ve come out the other side we can see that bringing back old characters, playing us the same music and scooting around familiar landscapes was never going to be enough. What made Jackson’s first tour of Middle Earth great was its heart and this latest film recaptures some of that.

The whole of The Lord of the Rings was centred on the strong relationships between its characters. First off you had Frodo and Sam, whose friendship felt real and relatable despite the fantasy surroundings. Then Merry and Pippin joined, then Gandalf and Aragorn and then Gimli and Legolas. We happily followed this fellowship on their quests because we cared about them and we were moved by their camaraderie. Others got involved too and even though some only took a fleeting role in proceedings we connected with them because they were important to one or all of the central octad. Boromir, Galadriel, Arwen, Elrond, Theoden, Eowyn, Eomer, Treebeard, Faramir and even Gollum were all endearing and well rounded additions to the story.

In this trilogy we’ve had Tauriel, Radagast, Bard, Thorin, Balin, Fili, Kili, Bofur and assorted underwritten dwarves but no one that we have been able to get attached to in the same way. It has only been Bilbo that we could identify with and because he was a little isolated in this crowd, so have we been.

I know we’ve had some old friends back but nice as their moments have been most of these were extended cameos. There’s been more of Legolas and Gandalf but one of these had to stay aloof due to his coming character arc and the other spent a fair amount of time on other missions only to end up locked in a dark tower (again).

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In ‘Five Armies’ though the relationships that have been slowly playing out have paid off. Bilbo and Thorin have been through some stuff now and are closer having come out the other side. Bard the Bowman earns his name and some respect so doesn’t have to act petulant and infuriated any more and the laboured romance between Tauriel and Kili actually evolves into something quite sweet and inspiring. For the first time in six hours of viewing I started to care about the people on screen.

The one thing the Hobbit movies have always done well is the set pieces and this final instalment doesn’t disappoint here either. The very beginning has Smaug desolating Lake Town and it is an impressive scene to start with. In retrospect it was a little odd breaking between films 2 and 3 where they did as this relatively short sequence would have given the second movie some much needed resolution. Still, last year’s loss is this year’s gain.

There is also an exciting moment early on when Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman team up and bring the pain to some familiar ghoulies and Legolas gets to do some of that physically impossible but really cool ‘flipping around, running up and sliding down stuff’ stuff that we have come to love him for.

As the title rather suggests though, the bulk of the film is one big smack down. This third film was originally subtitled ‘There and Back Again’ but you can see why they changed it. The battle in question is the equal of the one fought on Pelennor Fields and this time there are more of the one to one face offs like Eowyn and The Witch King’s, mini confrontations that don’t always end well for the heroes.

Admittedly there isn’t anything here as downright cool as that moment where the white orc general casually sidesteps the huge piece of masonry that has been catapulted at him but there are other bits to enjoy. Take Thranduil for example, he’s good value on the battlefield, he has an elk and he’s not afraid to use it. Also, what battle can’t be enhanced by Billy Connelly suddenly turning up and doing a parody of himself in the middle of it?

It may be because this is our final cinematic trip to Tolkein’s world or perhaps it’s because my expectations were lowered by the aversion therapy of watching a large dragon stomping around a castle for hours and hours and hours in part 2 but I enjoyed every one of the hundred and forty minutes of this film. There is no doubt that the book should have just been split into two movies at most and there is nothing here to win over new fans but with this film I thought The Hobbit is finally as good as it should be. It is finally a fitting prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Is this one for the kids?

No surprises that this is a 12A. The criticism the BBFC got after inappropriately rating The Fellowship of the Ring as a PG was, I am sure, instrumental in the creation of this certificate in the first place. This is pretty much the film series that 12A was made for, a fairy story with violence.

There is plenty of carnage but it is all fairly bloodless. There is a big difference in the way heads come off here and how they come off in the tank drama Fury for example. It is only the orcs that get decapitated too (unlike in Return of the King). Is that the best way to kill them do you think? Are they like vampires in that respect or are their craniums just not that well attached in the first place? Either way there is a lot of bad guy beheading.

The Ripley Factor:

Okay, there are two strong female characters in the film but let’s put them through the filter:

Q. Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men?

A. No, not anymore. This was a failing of Tauriel before because she seemed to be there just to be one point in a love triangle. This time she gets more to do. She does need rescuing on occasion but she does her fair share of saving others too.

Q. Are the women in the film believable as real people?

A. No but they are both magical elves so perhaps we need to look at the context here.

Q. Are women objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film?

A. No, certainly not. It’s looking good from a feminist point of view.

Q. Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism?

A. Ah! Um, yes. This is a classic example of the Smurfette Principle, I’m afraid. Like Black Widow and Maria Hill in Avengers, Tauriel and Galadriel are totally surrounded by men. Neither of them were in the book so they are clearly here to address the imbalance and tick a box. Mind you, neither of them were in the book so at least they are trying to address the imbalance, even if it is just ticking a box. Both of them are portrayed as powerful, confident and courageous females and Glad in particular shows the boys how it is done. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test but this is one respect in which the Hobbit films probably do a little better than The Lord of the Rings. The girls are actually allowed to fight and don’t have to pretend to be men to do so.

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