Ignoring its truncated introduction – which dispatches Smaug, introduces Sauron and earns Cate Blanchett a paycheque – The Battle of the Five Armies is the most coherent chapter of The Hobbit. It’s also the least satisfactory, despite its character arcs and narrative consistency. I was entertained throughout, but that’s more a reflection of my fondness for seeing a Warhammer battle played out on the big screen than the film’s quality.
The previous two films felt like kids’ films. Kids’ films periodically interrupted by the Adventures of Gandalf the Grey and unnecessarily dragged out, fine, but they succeeded when operating as a rollicking theme park (and, I’d argue, a metaphor for childhood, with the dwarves as new friends and Gandalf an often-absent father figure). That excused/explained the hyper-fakeness of the CGI, HFR, 3D and so forth – per Laurence Barber, it’s essentially a live-action cartoon. Outside of a cartoonish coward and Billy Connolly, that style is ill-suited to this story, which is half political posturing and half overblown battle.
Still, the film’s completeness explains Jackson’s choice to divide the story into a triptych; whether you like it or not, it’s hard to imagine Battle of the Five Armies gelling effectively with Desolation of Smaug.
Note: I actually found the combination of 3D and HFR – which I hadn’t experienced before this screening – really interesting/exciting, if disconcerting at times. It certainly lives up to the notion of “cinema as spectacle” suggested by this (flawed but interesting) article from a couple days ago. I’d probably knock my above rating up half a star for the experience in the cinema; the 2.5 stars reflects the film itself. Or I dunno, maybe it doesn’t. I felt like it was on par with the previous films (which I gave 3 stars to) watching it, but in retrospect it’s less satisfying. This is why I hate star ratings.