‘I’ ON CULTURE
Sequels are always tricky things, and when you have a sequel that is also a prequel, things get very complicated, as the writers know how things will end and have to create a story that ties up all the loose ends. This is the case with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Director Peter Jackson has already created one of the great fantasy series in movie history, The Lord of the Rings, but has fallen somewhat short of that high mark in the second trilogy. The battle of good vs. evil is still present, but not nearly as vivid. Of course, the first trilogy was based on three large volumes, and the second group is based on one smallish book.
The movie begins as a continuation of the previous film. Smaug the dragon, who has hoarded an enormous treasury of gold and jewels, has left his great castle and attacked Laketown, burning it to the ground. However, he is killed by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans). The humans who lived there come to the castle needing a place of refuge but are turned away despite having provided assistance to the dwarves. The central figure in all of this, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), had been heroic on the journey but turns almost solely to the preservation of the great fortune he now controls and casually breaks his own word by refusing the help the refugees.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the charming hobbit who is the central character of the trilogy, has the Arkenstone, a special jewel that is of central interest, and tries to ward off a war that is ready to take place between the dwarves in the castle, the humans huddling around it and the elves under Thranduil (Lee Pace), who have come to collect some sacred jewels that the dragon has taken. As they are preparing for battle, another army of dwarves appears, and finally, a huge army of the villainous orcs arrives to kill everyone.
Thorin fights through his madness and leads his dwarf forces out to kill the orc generals. There is a lot of heroism, a lot of sacrifice and eventually the good guys win. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) the elf, the spurned suitor of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) kills one of the orc generals while Thorin kills the other. Legolas is told by his father to go north and meet the son of Arathorn (who is Aragorn, the great hero of The Lord of the Rings trilogy). Bilbo quietly returns to the shire, discovering that his fellow hobbits are auctioning off everything he owned from his precious home. In essence, the movie moves to the start of the first of the films of the greater trilogy.
That is the curse of movies like this, visible also in the second Star Wars trilogy. Things have to fit together neatly, and that limits the imagination. Still, this is a superb undertaking. The characterizations are incredibly vivid: Bard bravely fighting enormous odds while always looking out for his children; Bilbo trying to be reasonable while somehow always turning out wonderfully heroic; and most importantly, Thorin becoming a tragic hero, almost losing his mind and his decency before regaining his sanity and his honor. The battle scenes, lasting 45 minutes, were filled with wonderful moments of individual heroism and incredible creatures, and still somehow kept a semblance of humanity.
The cast was uniformly excellent. Freeman has been a charming Bilbo, always humble, always friendly, yet possessed of an unerring moral compass. Armitage was superb as Thorin. This was a role that was almost Shakespearean in its complexity while carrying enormous physical challenges, and he did everything wonderfully well. I particularly liked Evans; the lead human was remarkably human. As he fought both a dragon and orcs, he always looked toward the safety of his family; he was remarkably easy to identify with.
Aidan Turner as the lovelorn dwarf Fili was excellent, and Lilly matched him in feeling. Their final battle was wrenching. We even had a bit of a reprise from the earlier trilogy with brief appearances by Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Sarumen the White (Christopher Lee) as they rescue Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
While not quite on the level of the earlier films, this is a very good movie. There is plenty of action and a lot of plot to explain it. I found it enjoyable, well worth the time and money I was spending.