One last time.
These words, though spoken by Thorin as he prepares to lead his company of dwarves into the Orc-Dwarf-Elf melee, also speak clearly for Peter Jackson. In the course of his own journey, fraught by battles (of the legal variety), fire, illness, and injuries, Jackson managed to channel fresh energy and enthusiasm into an already time-tested classic, a classic which essentially gave birth to the epic fantasy genre. Transforming many mechanical and artistic aspects of film technology, Jackson raised the bar to a level as yet unmatched by any other fantasy adapted for the screen.
So as the film’s release dawned, the ironic words “no pressure” had never been more relevant. As this die-hard fan rushed to the first showing on opening day, expectation mingled with excitement was nearly palpable in the impressively filled Ultra AVX theatre, particularly for a Wednesday matinée. Not only was The Battle of Five Armies the conclusion of The Hobbit trilogy, but it also represented the last of Peter Jackson’s film forays into Middle Earth. It bore the responsibility of satisfying old and new fans alike—fans who number far into the millions. Balancing the demands of textual integrity (particularly of a piece so beloved and well-established), the intricacies of the cinematic medium, and massive fan expectation is not an easy task for any director. But Jackson had done it before.
From the beginning, Martin Freeman more than pulls his weight as Bilbo, revealing new facets of his character and inhabiting his hobbit skin with effortless panache. Richard Armitage, too, shines in his masterful portrayal of the increasingly paranoid dwarf king Thorin, who is beginning to descend into gold-obsessed madness as he holes up in the treasure-filled halls of his reclaimed mountain kingdom. Armitage’s handling of Thorin’s death was particularly skillful. In each of my three viewings of the film, sizable portions of the audience erupted into (sometimes noisy) tears as Thorin breathes his last.
Smaug, too, does not cease to impress, opening the film with a brief yet somehow majestic rampage. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is one aspect of the film which all sides must agree is a triumph. Unfortunately, it is with Smaug that we see the last of secondary characters knowing better than to overstay their welcome.
The Legolas-Tauriel-Kili love triangle proves once more to be the film’s canker. Already burdened by a clumsy premise and a fairly ridiculous execution, The Battle of the Five Armies finds the accursed subplot lumbering further into focus. Cheapened by tragically clichéd lines (warning: contains “Why does it hurt so much?” and “Because it was real,” without a hint of irony) and a drawn-out death scene (complete with a slow-motion tear-roll), I found myself doing an actual face-palm. The baseless relationship between Tauriel and Kili does not manage to expand the role of women; instead, her character disappears after Kili’s death having contributed absolutely nothing to the plot. In truth, Galadriel accomplishes more in her five minutes at the beginning of the film than Tauriel does in two films.
Nevertheless, golden nuggets are plentiful in the film—and not just in the treasure horde of Thror. Moments of warmth and humanity are largely provided by Bard and his children, but also by Bilbo’s loyalty to his Dwarf friends and his courageous defense of them. Humour, too, is gracefully woven into the story, provided primarily by the shameless Alfred, the late Master of Lake Town’s greasy grunt, and Bilbo’s impish quirks. Perhaps the most masterful moment of humour is found in the wordless interaction between Bilbo and Gandalf as the latter casually and irreverently pulls out the pipe weed for a post-battle smoke.
The Battle of Five Armies undeniably lives up to the epic grandeur of the Middle Earth saga. The immense entertainment value of the film is undisputable; it is a compelling story thrillingly adapted that still manages to find ways to surprise an audience that thinks they know it all because they already know how everything ends. With well-choreographed and impressively animated battle sequences, there are exquisite moments of awe and delight— Elves sail gracefully over Dwarves hunkered down for battle into a knot of oncoming Orcs and the Elven king Thranduil catches six Orcs by the horns of his elk stallion and decapitates them all in a single elegant stroke. You are constantly reminded that this is a film world built with the loving reverence of another fan—this is Jackson’s Middle Earth.
Jackson ends an era with a significant bang, and it is with gratitude and with great sadness that this fan must reluctantly, in the words of Billy Boyd, bid Middle Earth’s cinematic representation “a very fond farewell.”
-Contributed by Emily Willan