Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014) Review

It’s the final installment in the oh-so-superfluous series … so is Peter Jackson’s grand Tolkien finale a hit, miss, or somewhere in between?

The third film in the unabashedly excessive and needless “The Hobbit” series is a movie that, in all seriousness, could have been over in 15 minutes.

I shit you not folks, the film hits the finale of its Tolkien literary inspiration -- with Smaug annihilating Laketown and getting shellacked by the world’s largest arrow -- before the opening credits even roll. From there on out, Peter Jackson and company try their damnedest to transform the petering remnants of the “Lord of the Rings” mythos into a full-fledged cinematic product, and the results -- to say the least -- are a real mixed bag.

To the best of my knowledge, “The Battle of the Five Armies” is an adaptation of the liner notes from the Tolkien books, which means we have literally reduced ourselves to filming its indices at this point.

As far as plot goes, there’s not a whole lot. In fact, this might just be one of the most pell-mell mainstream movies to come out in quite some time, as nearly half the picture is dedicated to an hour-long-plus battle scene. Of course, whether that’s a positive or a negative really rests in the eye of the beholder; odds are, if you like the character development and ambiance of the original Jackson trilogy, you’ll probably be disappointed by “The Hobbit 3,” but if you like “World of Warcraft” and CGI bedlam? This might just be your frontrunner for motion picture of the year.

At times, “The Battle of the Five Armies” almost comes off as a sort of half-hearted parody of the Middle-Earth franchise. It’s so exuberant aesthetically, yet at the same time, the battle itself has such a perplexing lack of vigor. It really is an Xbox One game come to life, with an equivalent proportion of the humanity you’d find in something like “Ryse: Son of Rome.” It’s virtual reality masturbation at its finest -- or worst, depending on what you find commercially satisfying as a 21st century moviegoer. In short? Don’t expect to shed any tears during this one, unless the 3D glasses give you a migraine or something.

The cast of characters in this outing is pretty bland. Outside of Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, nobody in the movie seems to port about anything even remotely resembling human emotions, with Legalos and female-Legalos (my girlfriend, a huge Tolkien aficionado, said she was completely made up for the film) spending half the movie just running around, surveying the battlefield, and code switching between Ye Olde English and fairy-talk.

To me, half the characters were pretty much interchangeable, since just about everybody else was a black-haired dude with a beard or a rock-colored gnome monster. Oh, and there are also some dwarves right out of “The Lost Vikings,” too, but they really don’t say or do much.

The opening salvo is pretty solid, as the Benedict Cumberbatch-voiced reptile monster lays fiery waste to a wooden island -- a sly reference to the fire bombing of Tokyo, perhaps? After that, though, we’re pretty much left stammering around, with the remaining cast experiencing survivor guilt for about five seconds before getting into petty politics about gold and shit. Speaking of, there sure is a lot of ham-fisted (and severely outdated) metrosexuality going on in this one, with the corrupt Sauron sporting more eyeliner than a platoon of Captain Sparrow cos-players while another character tries to flee town in drag, sporting a bustier lined with gold coins.

But yeah, all of that shit is secondary to the real draw of the movie, which is incessant, computer-generated violence. In this department, the film does not disappoint, providing filmgoers with a multi-species battle royale that’ll have tweens and man-children searching for their control pads.

The sheer ridiculousity of the virtually feature-length battle is possibly worth the price of admission, if nothing else, for the unintentional hilarity and outright bullshitery. We’ve got orcs donning rock helmets and running head first into bulwarks. We’ve got dudes grabbing a hold of the wings of giant bat creatures and flying from tower to tower to stab each other. At one point, Legalos goes full-on “Prince of Persia” and hops over a crumbling tower to give a troll demon a motherfucking FRANKENSTEINER. Shit, there’s even a guest appearance by the giant worms from “Tremors,” even though they do absolutely nothing in the movie. And just when you think this thing can’t get any more absurd? Here come the aerial reinforcements, who decide to drop LIVE BEAR BOMBS on the opposing troops. Man, this thing would’ve made a great double bill with “Paddington,” now that I think about it.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the subtitle of the film -- I really can’t help you. There could be five armies fighting each other at once, or just two comprised of some permutation of five smaller platoons, or three armies taking on two armies, or whatever. All I know is that one part where that one dude fights a troll carrying a stone on a chain on a slowly thawing iceberg is probably about as close as we’ll ever get to a live-action “Samurai Shodown” movie, and for that, I remain forever grateful.

As I was saying earlier, though, there’s not a whole lot of emotional investment within the battle. You never really feel like the good guys are going to get hurt (the inherent flaw in making a prequel, obviously) and after the fourteenth millionth dude gets bloodlessly decapitated, you just fall into a general ennui. Jackson is going full on Playstation here, making the horrors of war seem cool and inconsequential, which is pretty odd considering the focus on civilian terror and loss during the opening Smaug siege. It’s not a 100 percent effortless cash-in, but its clear the makers of the film aren’t striving to make great art, or anything really socially-relevant; it’s a big, loud, stupid popcorn movie, and it’s unrepentant willingness to never aspire to be anything more is, to some extent, admirable.

“The Hobbit 3” isn’t a great movie, and it’s a far, far cry from the character-driven atmospherics of the first “Lord of the Rings” film. Alas, if you like sheer visual force -- and have always yearned for someone to make a big-budget “Shining Force” movie -- you could probably do worse for yourself than this one. At heart, it’s a war movie sans any of the humanity we typically associate with the genre … it’s not quite as dim and borderline fascist as “300,” but in terms of grandiose battlefield stupidity, it might just rival it.

And after being walloped over the head with the dystopian, disturbingly-youth-oriented bullets and high-grade explosives mayhem in flicks like “Divergent” and “Mockingjay” last year, a little fantastical, sword-and-sandal faux-barbarianism is just a wee bit refreshing. And even if you don’t like this third and purportedly final installment in the franchise, you can rest assured that old Pete has officially run out of Tolkien source material, meaning we will never have to sit through another Middle-Earth flick ever again.

That is, until they decide to go ahead with the inevitable reboot.

My score:

Two and a half Tofu Dogs out of Four

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