I give up. Why resist director Peter Jackson‘s final installment of The Hobbit; a.k.a., The Battle of the Five Armies.
If there were a quiz, I confess that I wouldn’t be able to name the five armies nor would I be able to say I deeply cared about which one of them prevailed at the end of Jackson’s massive, three-part Tolkien extravaganza.
A sense of proportion pushes me into agreement with those who argue that The Hobbit might have been more admirable if Jackson had made one movie instead of three — or at most, say, two.
It seems unfair to have asked us to spend almost six hours on the two previous movies that set up this final chapter, which clocks in at a fleet two hours and 24 minutes, almost a short when it comes to Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Say this, though: Jackson certainly hasn’t underestimated Tolkien’s audience appeal. He has given the Tolkien fan base ample reason to support his efforts, which are chock full of CGI marvels, complex storylines and — in this case — a battle that becomes the big-screen equivalent of the 100 Years War. That’s a snarky way of saying that the damn thing lasts for about 45 minutes.
Now, if that battle — which follows a bravura opening in which an entire city is burned by a fire-breathing dragon — weren’t something to see, Jackson would deserve to be scorned. But in both its larger and smaller fights, Jackson presents battles that have the power to awaken those who have suffered through mid-picture torpor.
The movie begins with an attack by the dragon Smaug on peaceable Lake-town. Smaug is well on his way to torching the entire place when Bard of Bowman (Luke Evans) figures out how to slay the dragon.
Bard (or is it Bowman?) then leads the survivors to a mountain redoubt to seek shelter from a pending attack by the Orcs, who are marching as relentlessly as only Orcs can toward the same mountain fortress.
Meanwhile, other groups also are en route to the mountain, and Jackson introduces us to a variety of familiar Tolkien characters — of interest to the faithful and of no consequence to anyone else.
Now, the dwarves already have occupied the mountain, which also contains an ungodly amount of treasure. Thorin (Richard Armitage) has taken charge of the dwarves and is busy orchestrating things for his own, ambitious ends.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continues to be a “can’t-we-all-get-along” kind of Hobbit, and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up to add the customary gravitas.
It takes a while for all of the various factions to realize that they must join forces against the Orcs.
Enough about the plot, which the uninitiated might best approach with a scorecard listing all the various players.
Here’s what redeems Jackson’s opus: Significant characters die, and we feel the sorrow of their passing. The tone of the final segment is full of nobility, and, at times, a tragic sense of heroism.
The great battle is followed by a kind of idyll in which Bilbo returns to the Shire, where he attempts to resume normal life. Suddenly, the movie’s dark palette is flooded with lush greens.
Personally, I’m happy that the whole business has concluded, and I hope that Jackson finds other ways to express himself. I was touched by this operatic finale, but I’ve had all I can stand of Hobbits, Orcs, Dwarves, wizards and trolls.