I finally saw The Desolation of Smaug Thursday night, and with that out of the way saw Five Armies yesterday. So it’s time to talk about them as a whole, since the trilogy’s so interconnected you’d think they were supposed to just be two movies and not three.
But first, it has to be said that what the movies do well, they do well. Any scene with Smaug is wonderful; he looks great and Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a fantastic performance. The bits incorporated from the appendices, particularly the White Council’s assault on Dol Guldur, work well. Then there are a handful of scenes with Thorin, Bard, and the other major players that echo the drama of The Lord of the Rings. Lastly, Bilbo, of course, is terrific.
Which makes me wish we had more of him in his movie. There’s a protagonist shift during the trilogy and by Five Armies Thorin has taken over from Bilbo, who’s fighting a losing battle for the role of deuteragonist against Bard and — of all characters — Legolas. This causes a change in the narrative, from it being about a Hobbit stepping out into a larger world and instead one more heavily focused on politicking and warfare. In doing so the film loses a lot of the book’s heart.
Accentuating the divide is that many of the films’ additions do nothing don’t help. Much of the changes made to The Lord of the Rings added; Faramir’s temptation and Aragorn’s self-doubt accentuated the questions of choices and hope, for example. But in The Hobbit they bog the film down.
Tauriel is particularly frustrating. On the one hand, a female character is a welcome addition to the film, yet she’s a narratively unnecessary. A voice of dissent among the elves could easily be conveyed through Legolas (in his odd being of a main character rather than cameo), leaving her in the tired position of a love interest. This already troubling scenario is exacerbated by her being thrust into the center of a lackluster love shape that is sometimes, albeit inconsistently, a triangle. All this contributes to her feeling like a straggler, just there to add some romantic drama while engaging in ridiculous Jedi-esque combat alongside Legolas.
Some of these problems can be attributed to the decision to split the film into three parts, reshoots for which included adding in the love triangle. But most noticeable is the weirdness it gives the pacing. The meeting with Beorn is a short, but strong moment, one that would feel the right length were it part of a single film or even in a duology. But as part of a trilogy as inseparable as this (compare it to Rings, where each movie felt whole on its own), it feels like a blip that’s easily forgotten. This isn’t a major problem with a part like Beorn, but it’s when the same issue applies to Thorin’s growing greed that it becomes particularly painful. Not enough of the three films’ collective runtime is spent with Thorin’s madness. It feels so sudden given all the time it takes to reach it, and his redemption too comes too quickly. It feels like more time is spent on the battle (which is a short blip in the book) than Thorin’s personal conflict. Again, time is relative, and when a story stretches out as long as this, there needed to be more time given to moments like these. The story couldn’t breathe. Too much was happening too quickly, too much of which added nothing to the central narrative.
The Hobbit is not a complex book. Even when Gandalf’s adventures are added in, it’s still a straightforward enough story about adventure and avarice. The films are best when they keep to that, and worst when they stray. I’m looking forward to the inevitable fan-cut where it’s turned into a single film or duology; all the fat excised to leave the core of the story on full display.