The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is an okay action movie and a piss-poor showing as something which claims to be part of the pedigree of The Lord of the Rings. The movie has its bright points, but these are dwarfed (pun!) by egregious choices of pacing, characterization, and overall content which plague the movie. I'm not going to laud the good parts, because the good parts stand on their own merits: most of the opening scene with Smaug, the battle at Dol Goldur, much of the actual Battle of the Five Armies, most any scene which involves Bilbo or Thorin.
But here's a pretty extensive list of what the movie did wrong. There will be spoilers, obviously, as well as crass language, because if nothing else I am sophisticated as fuck.
1: EVERYTHING ABOUT ALFRID, EVER
Alfrid, the cowardly toady to the Master of Laketown, receives more screentime, lines, characterization, and overall attachment to the movie's general plot than all of the following characters who also appeared in this movie:
Bifor, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Smaug, Beorn, Saruman, Galadriel, Elrond, Radagast, Sauron, The Nine, The Master of Laketown, Bard's Children, Dain
Aside from Dain, I'm almost entirely certain that the majority, if not all, of the characters comprising the laundry list of dwarves that appears before the dragon do not have any lines of dialogue at all.
In terms of sheer screentime, he also comes damn near to Azog and Bolg, who are the movie's primary antagonists, and he certainly has more lines than both of them, since they mostly just snarl and swing about outlandish weapons. Now, a character like that might not at all be a bad choice for a second-stringer. He's an everyman, not an unstoppable force of nature protected by plot armor and good looks like Bard or every named elf who ever existed. A character like that could give a great bit of perspective on the problems facing the survivors of Smaug's Laketown rampage.
The problem is that Alfrid is not made out to be that character. His physical appearance and role in the film is meant as a call back to Wormtongue, a slimy, self-interested opportunist who cares only about how he personally can benefit from every situation. There's no reason for viewers to grow attached to him or to put a stake on the situations in which he finds himself. And while Wormtongue's appearances in The Lord of the Rings are treated with the gravity which a scheming saboteur deserves, Alfrid is the comic relief in this film. He is an inept, Snidely Whiplash wanna-be villian who is an asshole to other people simply because he can, not because he should. And while bumbling, oafish dickheads have been a narrative staple for centuries, one of two things will invariably happen to them. Either they will:
1) Learn and grow as an individual, either evolving into a serious, canny antagonist or realizing the error of his ways and defecting to the side of righteousness, which also carries with it an automatic swelling of his INT and WIS scores .
2) Remain the same jackass character, but receiving right proper comeuppance and reckoning by the plot's close.
Alfrid does neither of those things, and he comes away from his misadventures during the Battle of the Five Armies with only his pride suffering permanent injury, not that he had much pride to begin with, mind you. He shows a sort of low cunning early on when he attempts to worm his way into Bard's good graces, but every other character there is wise to his mechinations and keeps him at arm's length. He is told to accomplish various mundane tasks necessary to his protection and survival, tasks at which he fails miserably, because Alfrid is apparently so stupid as to not realize he could only stand to gain by at least putting on a veneer of affability and at least trying to pull his weight.
But, instead, he does none of those things, and what's his karmic reward at the end of the film? Dressing up as a woman, stuffing a comically oversized brassiere full of what remains of Laketown's gold, and skulking away from the titular battle without a scratch. Yes, this inept asshole manages to evade not one, but two, armies of orcs, one of which is thrust balls-deep into the ruins of Dale where all the Laketown survivors have shacked up. To put insult to injury, in the middle of this chaos and carnage, Alfrid's last scene plays out over a couple of minutes and painfully reminds the audience that talking is a free action.
Bard has just fought off some steel plate-clad orcs in order to save his children from their nefarious blades. The dwarves of Erebor, all thirteen of them, have just sallied forth and their added presence to an army of hundreds has turned the tide of battle. Bard rallies his men, and some women (yes indeed, the women of Laketown take up shovels and cudgels because, as one lady puts it, "Why should the men be the only ones to die? We can swing weapons just as well as they can!" This lip-service to gender equality rings hollow after considering Alfrid's crossdressing is played for comedy, but at least this gal knows what's what) and prepared for a push to link up with the beleugered elves and dwarves. As this is happening, and CGI orcs trundle about in the background of the shot accomplishing nothing of importance, Bard takes note of Alfrid and his gold-filled bra as the weasel tries making good on his escape. They have a talk about Alfrid's perpetual cowardliness, and this greasy-haired, bad-toothed fucker baldly admits that he always has been, and always will be, an abject shithead. Rather than put an arrow in this guy, or running him through, or doing anything that would help balance this prick's scales of comeuppance, Bard does this:
"Alfrid, your slip is showing."
Then turns his attention back to the nonthreatening CGI orcs in the background. Alfrid, meanwhile, scurries over a small pile of rocks and is never seen again.
Fuck you, Alfrid, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
2: MILITARY TACTICS???, OR ELVES: WHAT A BUNCH OF ASSHOLES
As is the norm, the elvish race gets its dick sucked so hard that's it's a surprise and a wonder that it hasn't fallen off from lack of blood flow. Legolas the physics-warping immortal will receive his own section in a short while, but for right now let's just focus on the elvish army led by their king, Thranduil. To their credit, the elves provide succor to the hungry masses of Laketown and Lee Pace's acting is as wonderful as ever in the role, a perfect blend of Machiavellian cynicism and aloofness that perfectly captures the disdainful feeling of noblesse oblige elves have for the lesser races of Middle-Earth.
Thranduil and his dire elk carve a path through the orcish ranks later on but I can't be mad; authority equals asskicking, after all, and the dwarvish general, Dain Ironfoot, wrecks untold amounts of orcish face (in part with his face, no less) in a manner so eerily similar to a high-level, multiclassed fighter/monk from Dungeons and Dragons that the dungeon master in me immediately committed to including a character of that sort in my campaigns as soon as possible. The leaders of these two armies are more or less at parity with one another upon the Ultimate Badass Scale, and to be frank their combat shenanigans are far more gratifying than those of Immortal God Legolas.
The rest of the elvish army, though, is as deserving of an unending series of cockpunches as the poster of the average Youtube comment.
Okay, so there's a glorious scene right after the introduction of Dain Ironfoot, portrayed by Billy Connelly in a way so fucking masterful that it made my asshole clench with joy. The first of the orc armies has arrived on the field of battle and the dwarves, who had minutes earlier been ready to fuck up all kinds of elf army, pivot their forces to face the new threat. They craft a wall of riveted metal and pikes in the orc army's path with precision and perfection that The Clock King would be amazed, and the orcs, being orcs, charge right at it. The anticipation of the moment the charge hits is tortuous and every fiber of the viewer's being is invested in the moment the thundrous crunch of metal and flesh hits the senses.
But, seconds before the front ranks of orcs are to be transformed from intact to perforated, the elvish armies leap over an eight-foot high wall of impenetrable dwarvish steel using their scimitars like Final Fantasy dragoons to impale the orcs before dancing further into the clusterfuck without a care in the world. All the aforementioned tactical precision, all the promise of payoff for the viewer, evaporates because hup-dee-doo elvses are the bestest!
See, I get that elves have a superiority complex in Jackson's Middle-Earth. They need to be the center of attention because, well, they always have been; after all, they are favorite race of the Valar and were intended from the beginning to be better than everybody else. But as favored-by-the-gods as elves might be, they aren't stupid. Prideful yes, entitled yes, dumb absolutely not. So why do such a silly and short-sighted a thing as jump over an allied army which is arrayed in a tactically advantageous position? Haven't the elves constantly harped on the bloodlust and mortal frailty of the other races? Why would they suddenly be possessed by a death-wish?
As an addendum, the CGI for the elvish forces looks really bad compared to the other armies, especially when they're doing robotic formation shifts to allow Bard or Thranduil or other persons of importance to pass through the ranks. It looked like and reminded me (and not in a good way) of the movements of the titular Golden Army from Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. And that movie came out in like 2008. A carryover maybe from one of Guillermo del Toro's script iterations for the film series?
Fuck you, elves, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
3: IF THIS MOVIE WERE FINAL FANTASY TACTICS, LEGOLAS WOULD BE THUNDER GOD CID
Okay, so Legolas is in this movie again. He doesn't do very much of anything relevant to the plot, but he's still inexplicably the most important character after Thorin, Bilbo, Azog, and Gandalf (and he has more screentime than the latter two, to boot). Gotta ride that nostalgia train! Choo-choo!
Legolas in The Desolation of Smaug was an acceptable concession, a way to tie the prequel movies more tightly to the film trilogy which predated them. He doesn't appear in the original book, but he logically must have, since what else would Legolas have been doing if not slumming around his dad's forest realm? And, sure, he did some silly Legolasian action antics, but those were fairly tame. More video gamey than his deeds in Fellowship and The Two Towers, but not as patently absurd and gravity-defying as the shit he pulled in Return of the King. He also didn't overshadow too-too much of the main cast, including canon foreigner Tauriel and her hamfisted romance arc.
In Battle of the Five Armies, forget all that shit. This Legolas, despite existing chronologically before the tamer Legolas of the earlier movies, is Return of the King Legolas with IDDQD engaged. Here's a graph of Legolas' power level in the movies as the order they were released:
Looks innocuous, right? But when we plot this out based on the series' internal chronology....
There is no narrative reason for him to be so superpowered in this film. That he discards this frightening level of competence, for no reason, in time for Fellowship is a shameful example of power seep and a gigantic middle finger to the people who give half a shit about how chronology in a narrative works.
Here is a list of ways in which the character of Legolas defies common sense, the general rules of good narration and continuity, and the laws of physics:
He teleports from Laketown to Mount Gundabad, a place which lies at the far north end of the Misty Mountains, and back again just in time to save the day, along with Tauriel. In Desolation, Gandalf remarks that it is a journey of two hundred miles to swing north around Mirkwood when the dwarves express apprehension about plumbing its shady depths. The Misty Mountains lie some days to the west of Mirkwood, which lies some distance west from Laketown and Erebor. This could all be forgiven if some sense of the passage of time were made, but the movie's pacing makes it seem as though everything that is happening in the film takes place over the course of around five days.
He rides a bat half his size, at times inverting his body completely, by holding onto the beast's legs as it flutters about. None of his weapons, least of all his arrows, are dislodged. He kills it by somehow rolling it over so that he is above the bat, letting him stand on its body so his hands can be free to nock and fire an arrow into its skull. He then drops dozens of feet and lands on the top of a crumbling tower without any harm done to him.
He drives a troll with maces for legs by jamming his sword into the back of its skull in a way that's clearly meant to be evocative of the way he killed the cave troll in Fellowship, except that scene was cool and not pointless and stupid.
He outpaces the pull of gravity by leaping from stone to stone and using something (momentum? Doubtful.) to swing his body to solid ground as the tower on which he has been fighting Bolg for about fifteen minutes begins collapsing. Though I will grant that the fight was choreographed and done really well up until that point.
He can inform his father via either telepathy or osmosis that he has unresolved mommy issues. These problems are solved in the same breath that Thranduil tells him to seek out Strider, son of Arathorn, because we have to tie in more references to Lord of the Rings! Keep in mind that Legolas shows no sign of having met or known Aragorn in Fellowship.
Fuck you, Legolas, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
4: LOVE ON THE BATTLEFIELD
I'm not going to be That Guy and focus overmuch on the fact that this is an elf-dwarf romance arc in a production set in Middle-Earth. I'm judging this movie as the movie is, not on what the canon of the books says it should be.
I am, however, going to shit all over the elf-dwarf romance arc in this production because it's fucking bad. It exists for no reason other than to exist because some marketing guy cynically determined that a love interest would put more asses into seats and more money into the producers' pockets. It adds nothing meaningful to the plot, adds little of lasting value to the characters of Kili or Tauriel, and is so profoundly corny in its execution that I just might have pulled something rolling my eyes so hard.
I think that maybe what Jackson et al were attempting was injecting a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story tragedy into the narrative. After all, Kili is doomed by canon, and there's no way, no way, that Peter Jackson would change Kili's ultimate fate. Not after seeing the boundless nerdrage that erupted over excising the comparatively minor character of Tom Bombadil from Fellowship. This can work, but only if the romance is between characters who have more dimensions than a sheet of paper. There's no reason for a viewer to be invested in a coming together of star-crossed asshole lovers when their respective roles in the narrative are "the pretty-boy dwarf" and "the only relevant female in the whole fucking sausagefest, who also happens to be hot."
Their initial falling-in-love in Desolation was hackneyed and forced and somehow this love blossomed to the point that Kili can shit quasi-poetic love serenades after the characters see each other for only the fifth time in their lives. Seriously, here are the times Kili and Tauriel see and interact with each other over the course of Desolation and Five Armies:
1: The dwarves are captured by the elves after escaping the spiders in Mirkwood. Kili flirts with her by equating his penis to a weapon. Classy as fuck. Give this dwarf a monocle.
2: Kili gives her a magic dwarf loverock in the dungeons and tells her a groan-inducing sob story. This simultaneously manages to melt Tauriel's heart and wet the crotch of her leather leggings.
3: Tauriel assists the dwarves in escaping Mirkwood during the barrel scene by murdering some orcs, though not as many orcs as Legolas.
4: Tauriel appears in Laketown during Bolg's assault. She helps save Kili's life by casting Neutralize Poison and murdering some orcs, though not as many orcs as Legolas.
5: In Five Armies, she has a brief exchange with Kili before he passes on, after he is stabbed by Bolg. Rather than allowing her to avenge her lover in a way which might actually be too great a concession to a competent female character and something of a redemption of this tired romance arc, she gets her shit wrecked trying to murder an orc, then Legolas cleans up for her fifteen minutes later. She kisses Kili's corpse and chokes out a puerile lamentation on how much love hurts. Thranduil further hamfists the point of telling, rather than showing, actual, true affection by coldly stating, and I paraphrase, "It hurts so much because it is real."
That's it. The best scene, in my opnion, is the one in Laketown when Tauriel heals Kili's morgul-arrow wound, and if that had been the jumping-off point for the romance, and if the writers had managed to keep their heads out of their assholes, maybe that arc might have paid off. She saves his life because she's genuinely a good person, he is eminently thankful and, in dwarvish fashion, pledges to repay his life debt to her at any cost. They have some scenes together, get to know one another as individuals instead of cliches, develop a friendship, Kili dies, Tauriel can be legitimately sad. This is a barebones, inarguably trite arc I've shit out over about three minutes of thinking and writing, and still a better love story than
Just because this iteration and style of love might have turned out
platonic doesn't make it any "less real." Sexual love isn't
the only kind of love. Christ, any writer who is thinking about
including a romance arc in his or her project should take the time to
read Plato's fucking Symposium.
Fuck you, Kilriel or Taurili or whatever they call it shippers, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
Smaug is in the movie for about ten minutes at the very beginning, at which point he is promptly offed by Bard using his son as a crossbow. I don't think crossbows work that way. Wouldn't the pressure needed to fire that bolt with as much force as was shown...oh, right, we can forget physics when the plot demands.
I firmly believe that the previous movie should have ended with Smaug's rampage and death, but the opening stinger (seriously, Smaug is exanimated before the movie's title appears) is a very nice scene with one teensy caveat. I'm going to let this video clip from an amazing 2004 film sum up my biggest problem with Smaug's scene:
Yup. Smaug may claim to be wise and cunning, but when push comes to shove he pulls the same tired villian crap as badguys from Silver Age comic books and suffers for it. And the saddest part is that those opening minutes are some of the tensest, best parts of the film; that and the raid on Dol Goldur which happens around twenty minutes later.
Fuck you, Smaug's role in this movie, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
6: THIS BEARS REPEATING
Beorn is in the movie for about fifteen seconds. You read that right. Here's a conversation I had with a friend online regarding the movie:
LIKE OKAY THE EAGLES SHOW UP AND HE IS RIDING ON THEM JUST LIKE IN THE BOOK AND HE JUMPS OFF AND BEARDROPS INTO A LEGION OF ORCS AND YOU'RE THINKING "FUCK YES BEARPOCALYPSE!" BUT HERE'S WHAT HAPPENS LET ME BREAK IT DOWN BY SECONDS:
And that's it. That's Beorn's role in the movie. I understand his presence is going to be expanded upon in the extended edition, but there's a little problem I have with that.
Why include him at all in the theatrical cut if it's for fifteen seconds of inferred, offscreen carnage? This shit, where a content provider creates the content but teases it out in sloppy iterations, is exactly the same crap as what's happening in video games nowadays. I'm not opposed to extended editions of movies with added content, but if you're going to do that, DON'T HALFASS YOUR PRODUCT BY SLOPPILY TEASING MORE WILL EXIST DOWN THE ROAD JESUS SOCKFUCKING CHRIST. I mean, they're only going to release the theatrical cut of the movie in April, the special edition a few months after that. People are going to eat that shit up, and the producers and studios know it.
Fuck you, Beorn's "inclusion" in this movie, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
7: NOCLIPPING, MAPHACK, AND GODMODE
There is a certain measure of disbelief that should take place in an action movie. This is because it is, well, a movie. Now, there's nothing wrong with an action movie being stylized and exaggerated for purposes of enthrallment, as long as it fits the tone and style of the movie in question. The Matrix did it really well. Pretty much any Zach Snyder film can do it too. Fuck, even goddamned pingpong Yoda from the Star Wars prequels is legit from a rules-of-that-universe standpoint.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are more firmly grounded in a conventional view of how physics and momentum work than, say, a Bugs Bunny cartoon. For the most part, things move really close to how things would in the real world. Furthermore, most of the combat is fairly realistic and the armies which clash with one another do so with verisimilitude.
I am curious, though, how a ragtag, untrained bunch of lightly armed, unarmored displaced cityfolk are able to hold their own against a legion of orcs in steel plate mail and fuckoff axes and spears and swords who have been bred specifically for war. Orcish armor is worse than useless, judging by the ease with which, say, a random teenaged boy can lop off orcish heads and eviscerate innards with only a shortsword. Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys!
I've already covered Legolas' crimes against physics, but Azog pulls a fucking dumb one at the end too. He and Thorin have been fighting for some time on a frozen-over lake that exists because fuck you fighting on a frozen lake is awesome reasons that's why. And it was a pretty awesome fight. Thorin even won, mostly because Azog is a stupid albino orc who attached a chunk of rubble the size of a dwarf's body to a chain and swung that around. It was a good plan, except for the part when he broke all the ice swinging it around like an idiot, basically killing himself in the same way that Mario defeats Bowser in Super Mario Bros. 3. And since his plan consisted solely of swinging that morningstar around, well....
So Azog plummets into the icy depths and Thorin falls onto a solid stretch of ice, exhausted from his battle. We see Azog's body floating under the surface of the ice, his eyes closed. Thorin watching him warily, gets up, follows Azog's drifting course, because he's dumb.
Azog's eyes open, he impales Thorin's foot with his stabby-arm, and then his body crashes through the ice.
The actual fuck???
This is ice which took multiple blows from Azog's improvised morningstar before breaking up. How on Middle-Earth did he get the necessary leverage and force to break through a pane of frozen water many inches thick?
Fuck you Azog, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.
8: THE OTHER SHIT
There are other problems, but they're comparatively minor things. Where did the goats Thorin and Co. rode up to the fight with Azog come from, and where did they go once they arrived up there? Why was the choice made to brush aside all the closure regarding the deaths of Thorin, Fili, and Kili, and to gloss over that potentially amazing, emotional scene with Balin telling Bilbo, "We'll feast and sing songs, and then lay them to rest," when the interrment of Thorin under Erebor is a pretty big deal in the novel? What were the screenwriters thinking during the scene in which they showed Thorin tripping balls and being swallowed by bad CGI gold in his dragon-malaise, when up until that point Thorin's paranoia and actions, and Bilbo's reactions to them, had been the most enthralling of the movie's plotlines?
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is not a bad movie. It's not a waste of dollars to see it, especially if you go into it with low expectations. Hell, I came out of the theater with a higher opinion of it than I'd had going in. When the movie is great, it really is great, and as you're watching the movie and caught up in all the action, you almost fail to notice the little things that don't add up, that keep the movie from being great, rather than just individual scenes.
I don't regret revisiting Middle-Earth, as they say, one last time, but the Middle-Earth of 2014 is not the same Middle-Earth. The things are there, names and objects and places, but their souls are lacking. This movie, more than any other of the prequel trilogy, kicks aside what makes Middle-Earth distinctly Middle-Earth, and instead transports us into Dynasty Warriors or Total War with a Lord of the Rings mod applied to it.
Fuck you, Peter Jackson, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.