“What have we done?”
Those were the last words we heard from Bilbo in the doom-stricken finale to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It seemed at the time a brilliant place to end the second film of The Hobbit trilogy. It left us a cliffhanger for the next film, further emphasized the amazing presence of Smaug that Peter Jackson had accomplished, and all in all just felt like an epic conclusion to what had been a quite rocky road at times, almost redeeming itself in its conclusion.
I did say almost, didn’t I?
But the problem with stretching a short book into three films is that there just is not good stopping point, and the pacing is doomed to suffer as a result. That’s the first and most obvious problem with Peter Jackson’s third Hobbit film. The pacing is just plain awkward at times. Twenty minutes into the movie, when Bard is battling with Smaug, it feels like the climax of a film in and of itself, leaving me to wonder what the conflict was going to be for the rest of the movie.
Politics. Because gold.
Far from the adventurous nature of the Middle Earth saga, the majority of this film is spent switching back and forth from Thorin being driven mad by the hordes of gold he’s now obtained and the elves, dwarves, and orcs all converging on the mountain for their own selfish purposes. And aside from about twenty to thirty minutes wrapping up the Sauron subplot that will lead to The Lord of the Rings, most of the story is stagnant in location terms, taking place at the mountain. Of course, it’s not billed that way, because who wants to watch a movie about a siege?
With that said, perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on Peter Jackson. After all, there are things that should be recognized as positives about the film. Valor and virtue are heralded at every turn, with Bard’s bravery and Bilbo’s concern for the life of his dwarven friends are big themes, and the selfishness of Stephen Fry’s Master becomes his undoing. Without the incredibly awkward innuendo that Jackson played with earlier in the saga, this film feels like we’re back in Middle Earth again.
And there are cool scenes. A team-up with Saruman, Galadriel, and Elrond fighting the Nazgul is more than any fanboy could dream of, the clash between the five armies lives up to its climactic build-up, and Tauriel, despite what frustrations fans may have at her existence at all, is a phenomenal warrior and Evangeline Lilly plays her with a level of acting that may convince me yet to see Ant-Man.
But these positives must again come with a disclaimer. For all of the brilliance that Jackson has displayed in the way he has brought the world of Middle Earth to life, the age of that invention is starting to show. The sheer fact of how incredible the world was worked for the first trilogy, but at this point, it almost seems as though he’s taking for granted that we’ll love it, and then doing whatever he wants to, whether it makes a good story or not.
No, I’m not talking about departures from the book. This is a film review, after all, not a Middle Earth fan blog. But from simply a moviegoer’s perspective, the film suffers from being stretched in too many directions. This is supposed to be a story about Bilbo; it’s called The Hobbit after all. But Martin Freeman’s brilliant portrayal of Bilbo gets only a quarter of the screen time. Even more problematic, little else gets more. The film is trying simultaneously to tell at least five different stories: Bilbo and the ring, Gandalf and Sauron, the cringe-worthy love triangle, Thorin and his gold-lust, and elves are racist. But the end result is that we as the audience don’t really have any idea which of those five we’re really supposed to care about, or which is the point of the film. The movie tries to pull of those things together at the end, but it still ends feeling a bit too stretched and not very cohesive.
Does the final Middle Earth film have cool battle sequences, top-notch acting, and amazing set and costume design to bring the story to life? Sure. Does it live up to the hype set by the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Not by a long shot. It’s not bad enough to be commercially unsuccessful, but it’s also not good enough to convince me to go out and buy the extended edition. Most of all, it leaves me wondering what might have been if they had simply made one good movie, instead of stretching out the story with too many subplots.
But then I shrug. Because the battle sequences are still thrilling, the acting is still superb, and it’s still Middle Earth. Ultimately, it’s the most flawed of its kind, yet even the most flawed of Middle Earth films is still, to some extent, worth my time.