The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Christian Movie Review
Hobbits have lived in my imagination since I was a little boy going on adventures in the high country wildernesses of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, pretending with my brothers to be on quests like Bilbo or Frodo, fighting orcs and goblins and dragons as we stomped through forests with pretend swords and walking sticks. (That just summed up about half my childhood. For some reason, backpacking in the American wilderness goes really well with reading J.R.R. Tolkien books.)
So I was more than delighted to see a Hobbit marathon on Monday — nine hours of Middle-Earth! — capping it off with the new (and final) installment of The Hobbit series, The Battle of the Five Armies.
I write this next sentence with a heavy sigh: this last Hobbit film was glorious but it was so very sad to watch what will likely be the last Middle-Earth film to ever grace the big screen.
You see, the Tolkien Estate’s sentiments in 2012 made it clear that they will likely never let anyone adapt another Tolkien book, including The Silmarillion. I met Tolkien’s grandson Simon once, though I wasn’t able to ask him what the deal was with all that — other than the general knowledge that Christopher, Tolkien’s son, really hates all of the movies.
Despite Christopher’s objections, the final chapter was truly worth the wait. I can’t recommend this film or The Hobbit series enough. This third film inspired me with its unique vision of hope (which I’ll explain in a moment); and, from a Biblical perspective, this film — despite taking place in Middle-Earth — had a lot in common with the recent WWII epic Fury (as strange as that sounds).
I’ll explain all of that and more, but first the parental guidance issues:
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: An elf and a dwarf kiss. That’s about as steamy as it gets, assuming one would even define that as steamy.
Violence/Gore: About the same amount of PG-13 violence as the last film: lots and lots of orcs getting limbs and heads chopped off in battle, but none of it is seen up close with exorbitant amounts of gore and detail. The most violent scene, most likely, is when Legolas stabs a sword directly into an orc’s skull from the top. That part skirts the edges of PG-13 violence.
Language: Leave it to those rascally dwarves to be the only ones in all six of these Peter Jackson movies to say a swear word. In this third movie, one of the dwarves refers to the enemy army as “bastards,” and in an angry Scottish accent, no less. I might be remembering wrong, but I’m fairly certain that was the first and last obscenity ever uttered in the cinematic Middle-Earth.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Gandalf keeps smoking that pipe of his. Various flasks of wine are imbibed at a feast.
Frightening/Intense Content: Well. Hmmm. How do I put this. Save for the Shire, basically all of Middle-Earth is frightening. A significant percentage of the Middle-Earth population looks like something from a child’s worst nightmare: the orcs, goblins, trolls, ring wraiths, dragons, and Sauron himself all do their very best to be as frightening as possible in this third film. So please respect the “13” in the PG-13 rating and don’t bring sensitive, impressionable young ones to see this. You will be giving them the gift of nightmares if you do, I’m guessing.
(Review continues below)
Please Support Our Affiliates!
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
The first Hobbit film, Unexpected Journey (which I loved) squeaked by with 64% on RottenTomatoes.com. The Desolation of Smaug got a healthy 74%, and The Battle of the Five Armies is looking at 71% (at the time of this writing).
This third film begins a little abruptly — right in the midst of the action that ended abruptly in The Desolation of Smaug — so you really need to have seen the previous film to appreciate the intensity of this film’s opening scenes.
But from there this film soars with nary a moment of boredom. There’s no ill-timed pacing or poor scripting. Everything clicks. The plot kept me riveted for the full 2 hours 24 minutes (a little short for a Peter Jackson closer), and when it ended I desperately wished it wouldn’t end.
I wanted more.
This film has three especially wonderful delights that I will mention, and then I will leave it at that:
1) We finally get to see Galadriel unleash her full power (something we didn’t even get to see in Lord of the Rings), and we finally witness — with our very own eyes — why everyone, including Gandalf, is so darn scared of that immortal elvish icon. I won’t say when, how, or why (to avoid spoilers) but when her big scene came, every hair was raised — nothing but goosebumps.
Basically, we get to see Elrond, Saruman (before he was evil), and Galadriel fight together and go hog wild on the enemy like some kind of Middle-Earth dream team.
It. Is. Awesome.
2) The Nine make an appearance that is unforgettable. We see the Ring Wraiths in a way that we’ve never really seen before — at least in their style of fighting. Let’s just say that they would have given Quicksilver from the X-Men or Neo from The Matrix a run for their money.
3) The film, because it tells the ending of The Hobbit, has one of my favorite endings of all-time from the Tolkien world, and the film did the book justice. It was a wonderfully satisfying, emotionally rich ending that was worthy of the book — and also worthy of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (partly because it pays a wonderful homage to The Fellowship of the Ring and the trilogy as a whole).
Um…Don’t Mess With Legolas Either…Wow
Galadriel was by far the most mind-blowing character in this third Hobbit film, as far as stunning the audience with a memorable scene.
But Legolas, as he did in Return of the King, stole the show frequently in this film. He is always the one doing the most damage. That pointy-eared, acrobatic William Wallace is a one-elf-wrecking-crew, and he views his enemies not as creatures but as modes of transportation — hooking, stabbing, and sliding over their skewered bodies as a means of getting from point A to point B on the battlefield.
Legolas commutes to work by hopping and leaping on the backs, heads, and bleeding torsos of orcs, trolls, goblins, and any other vile creature that he can stab with his 14,000 knives, arrows, and swords that he keeps on his person.
It’s hardcore parkour!
Forget Rambo or the Terminator or William Wallace; I’d take Legolas over them any day.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Christian, and his worldview powerfully informs all of the books. Of course, he never wrote allegories and the Christian influence is subtle — more of the supporting foundation that you don’t see because it’s beneath the surface — but his faith is there.
And it’s certainly there in these films. Not because Peter Jackson was deliberately trying to do that, but simply because Tolkien infused his beliefs so thoroughly in the content of the stories. It’s impossible to separate them.
So it’s not surprising that we find a wonderful spiritual thesis that guides this film: don’t allow your love of the things of this world to become an idol. If you do, that idol will eventually control and destroy you.
In the beginning of the review, I mentioned that this movie had something in common with the WWII epic Fury — as odd as that might sound. The reason is because in Fury a character quotes a verse that could easily be the spiritual/moral backbone of The Battle of the Five Armies:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).
That could sum up The Hobbit series. Though there’s certainly more content than just that. Another great line, for example: “If there will more like you who valued home more than gold, the world would be a merrier place.”
The Discipline of Hope
I get that phrase “discipline of hope” from a wonderful article from Crosswalk that explores how Tolkien’s greatest gift was the way he conveyed a discipline of hope — learning to hope as a way of life, as a habit that you intentionally practice on a daily basis.
What I love about Bilbo Baggins is exactly that: his discipline of hope — his simple but determined will to hope even when all seems lost. So often in these films, Bilbo (played masterfully my Martin Freeman) conveys a humble, unassuming courage that expresses itself in the most ordinary mannerisms and tones of speech. As Thorin described Bilbo, “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar.” Bilbo never makes any grand speeches or dazzles everyone with wizardry or strength. He simply presses on into the fray — into the most dangerous situations when no one else is willing to follow — with an ordinary courage that soon becomes extraordinary when the fruit of his efforts come to light.
It stirs the soul.
Bilbo Baggins has become an important role model of what courageous faith and hope looks like. It’s not always flashy and dramatic. Sometimes it’s covered in the most modest, unassuming mannerisms and personality, yet it is willing to step through the hottest fire.
And this third film captures that spirit wonderfully.
Conclusion: The Joy of Home
[Note: Contains spoilers if you’ve never read the Hobbit or seen the Lord of the Rings films]
The Hobbit films have much in common with Lord of the Rings, yes, but there’s something distinctly different about The Hobbit — something less bittersweet and tragic (though there’s plenty of that too, especially with this third film).
But the general pattern of the story is simpler, more like a universal fairy tale: an ordinary person leaves the comforts of his home to go on an extraordinary adventure. After many dangerous and wonderful experiences that transform him, he returns home safe and sound, and he spends the remaining years of his happy life reflecting on his life-changing adventure.
Yes, I suppose you could say that Frodo and Samwise follow a similar story pattern, but there is more bitterness and complexity in their ending: Frodo is never able to return home to the Shire, he bears terrible, painful scars from his quest, and Samwise must continue on with his life at home without his best friend.
But in The Hobbit, and especially in this third film, we see a person come home after a grand adventure, and it’s a simple as that — nothing terribly complex. There’s something deeply satisfying about the way this simple, peaceful return to home is captured, both in the book and this film.
And, for any film geeks out there like me, here’s a list of the production credits:
Production: New Line Cinema, MGM, Wingnut Films
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Billy Connolly, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Hambleton, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Adam Brown, John Bell, Manu Bennett, John Tui
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriters: Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
Producers: Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh
Executive producers: Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins, Carolyn Blackwood
Director of photography: Andrew Lesnie
Production designer: Dan Hennah
Costume designers: Richard Taylor, Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey
Editor: Jabez Olssen
Music: Howard Shore