Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies review

Note: This review originally ran on December 9. We’ve republished now that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in theaters.

Every time Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth, we expect something special. All of his Lord of the Rings films got Best Picture nominations and while The Hobbit films haven’t lived up to the achievement of the first three movies, they’ve had their moments. In my reviews of An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation of Smaug I found things to like about each film, despite their flaws.

So, following the trajectory of the first trilogy, I hoped The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies would be the best of the bunch. Imagine my disappointment to find out it was the opposite. Below, read our Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies review.

Here are the reasons why The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the worst Peter Jackson Hobbit movie.


Return of the King vs. Battle of the Five Armies

When Peter Jackson last concluded a trilogy, he made one of the best films of all time. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a masterpiece. It’s a film I’ll watch and get emotional about any time it’s on. That’s because not only does it work as a fantastic cap on a great story, it works perfectly as its own story. There’s a beginning, a middle and, a few, ends. All of the big action and emotional beats are earned within the movie you’re watching. The fact you have two movies with these characters before hand only bolsters that fact. A character like Aragorn or Frodo is a different person not only from the beginning of the trilogy to the end, they’re a different person from the beginning of the one movie to the end of that movie. The way the film stands on its own, even more so than the previous two films, is what makes it so special.

I say all of this because The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies does none of that. It fails by doing exactly what it’s supposed to do – being the third act of a story. The film is 144 minutes of almost non-stop action with no real arc. It has some dazzling excitement but it fails to resonate because it all lacks emotional weight. It’s as if Jackson took what should have been the final 30 minutes of his movie and stretched it by two hours. What you’re left with is a very beautiful, suitably exciting film that feels completely empty.

Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies Smaug

The First Two Films Are Essential Components

Make no mistake, if you haven’t seen the last two Hobbit movies, The Battle of the Five Armies is not for you. The film quite literally picks up as that one ended, with the dragon Smaug attacking Lake Town. There is no prologue or training wheels to get you back into the movie. It just starts, and this event, which many consider the climatic moment of the book The Hobbit, ends before the title of the film comes up.

Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies trolls

Big, Jaw-Dropping Moments Cancel Each Other Out

Once that’s done, Jackson moves all his chess pieces to their places on the board, and they just go at it. You know those iconic, unforgettable action moments in Return of the King? The Rohan storm Pelennor Fields; Eowyn kills the Witch King; Aragon arrives at Gondor with a ghost army? Those are great moments that give goosebumps. Well, The Battle of the Five Armies is basically a two hour string of those. Moment after moment of incredible feats of battle that eventually lose their “wow” because they’re all stacked up against each other. When we saw Legolas take down an elephant in Return of the King, it was amazing because we’d never see him do anything quite like that. In this movie, he’s got at least five moments on par with that feat.

Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies Thorin Gold

Little Character Development

Those moments would be okay if they helped progress the characters in any way. They don’t. Very little in The Battle of the Five Armies does anything to develop any character from where they were at the end of the last film. By far the most dynamic is Thorin (Richard Armitage) because, at the start of the film, he’s got “Dragon sickness,” which means he’s been driven mad by gold, much like his Grandfather in the prologue of the first film. It’s not a huge spoiler to say he gets over it, and that change (which is done in a weird, hallucinatory way) is the most broad character growth in the entire film.

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.