‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’

Apparently you can go there and back again

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Orlando Bloom as Legolas in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”; Rating: PG-13, Grade: A-

All throughout Peter Jackson’s retelling of JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” I have mildly complained about the notion that it took three filmed installments to present what amounts to the shortest book in the whole Middle Earth saga. But I should emphasize that my objections have been quite mild because, despite my assertion that these three movies have been massive cash grabs, I knew from the start Jackson’s heart and vision were most assuredly in the right place, and his conclusion, “The Battle of the Five Armies,” is an epic and fitting end to his time in Tolkien’s rich and densely fashioned world.

As a casual fan of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I am here to say that “Five Armies” rivals “Return of the King” in both the large scale battle sequences and the character-driven moments that find the heroes in desperate straits with their backs to the wall, although, this time, much more seems to rest on the choices made by our cherished protagonists. Heavy is the crown and the treasure that comes with it, which, in “The Hobbit,” means the thick head and neck of the would-be dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) bears more weight than any hairy dome ought to shoulder. He has made deals with the downtrodden humans of the lake town that stands between him and the dwarf homeland, now in the possession of the dragon Smaug (voiced with dripping menace by Benedict Cumberbatch); seized control of a mountain of gold and various sacred artifacts from his Middle Earth brethren; and stands on the cusp of turning his back on the promises he made to all those who aided him along the way.

Time and again, whether it is the elves, humans, his own dwarf kinsmen or his lone hobbit compatriot, everyone rationalizes that it is the dragon’s curse making Thorin act this way, but the plain truth of the matter is Thorin finds himself suffering from the twin evils of pride and greed. The two can make a good and righteous man falter or merely blind him to the numerous reflections of both the right and the wrong paths laid out before him.

Standing in for the good, there is the Bard (Luke Evans), who slays Smaug, does all he can to protect what’s left of his people and pleads with Thorin to do the right thing. Of course, on the other side is the Elvin king Thranduil (Lee Pace), as prideful a figure as one could find in all of Middle Earth, who looks down on the dwarves and humans with mocking disdain but who will, in the heat of battle, inevitably make the right choice for the good of … well, good.

Curiously though, it is our trust in hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) that serves as the most complex reflection of them all. Bilbo, chosen to be the burglar of the merry outfit at the start of the adventure, becomes an exceptional thief and a most secretive fellow. He pilfers and sees the effects of evil on everyone else, but, when all is said and done, I wonder, how much of his own dark side has he acknowledged?

“The Battle of the Five Armies” is a grand affair, much moreso than say the biblical encounter between Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and Moses (Christian Bale) and their respective sides in “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which takes place before the raging tidal waters of the Red Sea. Jackson always knew how to stage the bloodletting and the derring-do to make it meaningful and somehow still capture the lightness of it, without it feeling like just so many millions of computer-generated pixels caught in high relief. But, more importantly, as “The Hobbit” comes to a close, what must be recognized is that Jackson has rendered the heart and soul of Middle Earth, as beating and lively a thing as ever was and ever shall be a reminder of the humanity of Tolkien’s vision.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at terrencetodd.wordpress.com.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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