Two Verge staffers saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and then gathered to discuss it. This discussion is, naturally, full of spoilers (and also caps-lock). Welcome to the Fellowship of the Hobbit. One (Kwame Opam) is a known stan; the other (Elizabeth Lopatto) hasn't read the books in a decade at least, and didn't see the other two Hobbit films.
The Hobbit is about hiking and trying to stay out of troubleElizabeth Lopatto: So, I haven’t read The Hobbit in a while, but there are whole swaths of this movie I do not recall being in the book. In my memory, The Hobbit was about hiking and trying to stay out of trouble when trouble is all around you; I do not remember a two-hour fight scene. The conflict re: hiking / staying out of trouble made sense, because the main character is a hobbit. In a two-hour fight scene, the remarkably charming Martin Freeman is basically reduced to furrowing his brow and staying out of the way.
Kwame Opam: Well, two things. First, you kind of have to already be on board for Peter Jackson stretching out said book about hiking and staying out of trouble to three long movies about a lot more than hiking and staying out of trouble. Which is to say, making The Hobbit mirror The Lord of the Rings. But you’re right, so much of what was in this movie was not in the book. People have been saying this for three years, but stretching the source material — which isn’t especially long to begin with — into three separate movies makes much of the trilogy feel unnecessary. This was probably the best entry in the trilogy, but after a long fight scene that felt like half the movie, I was exhausted.
we don't need thorin's fever dreamsMartin Freeman was great, though.
Lopatto: I loved him so much, I just wish he had more to do.
There’s also the fact that, while Jackson’s been working on this, Game of Thrones raised the bar on narrative economy in fight scenes. That’s particularly clear with Kili’s (Aidan Turner) death scene — we don’t need so many reaction shots between him and Tauriel! It was like an opera, where a character gets stabbed but then sings an aria while dying. Or the weird gold fantasia moment in the middle. It was pretty, but it didn’t move the plot along.
Opam: That was such a bizarre, trippy scene that took me out of the movie completely. We don’t need Thorin Oakenshield’s fever dreams!
That’s the thing: The core story here is great because Tolkien told a great story. But everything else feels like padding. Do we really need to see Legolas take a jaunt to Gundabad for no reason? (I had to look that up just now — that’s how much it didn’t matter.)
Actually, at this point we could make a pretty fair case for how useless Legolas is in this trilogy.
Lopatto: 100% useless.
Some useless elves (The Hobbit)
Opam: I do not care about his unrequited love for Tauriel. I do not care to watch him fight one orc for 20 minutes just to see Jackson flex his CG muscles. Give me Bilbo!
Lopatto: FOR REAL. The name of the series is THE HOBBIT. So why am I watching so many goddamn elves? Also, who was Lee Pace supposed to be, besides "problematic father figure" for Legolas and Tauriel? Did he even have a name or title? Why was he there?
Elven kings have the best eyebrowsOpam: Yeah, that’s Thranduil. He’s an elven king. Unrelated: the best tweet I saw about him after the movie was about how on point his eyebrows were.
Lopatto: His eyebrows were great. I thought he was John Cusack for a minute. That’s how good they were.
Opam: He’s a significant supporting character because he’s the ruler of the Mirkwood elves and he’s powerful. But the whole "Legolas I am your father and you will heed me" nonsense was just ugh.
i can respect Jackson wanting to do world-buildingThe thing is, I can respect Jackson wanting to do world-building. I can respect that this is all meant to foreshadow the events in Lord of the Rings. This battle is significant because Sauron needs Erebor as a strategic stronghold, and that’s cool. I dig that. But the material is stretched so thin that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what actually matters before Jackson hits you over the head with his "This is important in LOTR" hammer.
Lopatto: Jackson just hits you over the head with a hammer a lot! I felt like that at the beginning, where a child is cheaply used to ratchet up suspense / Smaug’s evilness. The cat in Gone Girl was more real than that kid, and it was a cat. And then there are all these unnecessary love triangles. Why? To make it more tragic when a likable character dies?
Opam: That’s my biggest problem with Tauriel as a character. I can appreciate that there is a serious paucity of female characters in this franchise, but her biggest arc is falling in love with Kili, and all it boiled down to was her being sad for losing him. She became a love interest and lost someone she loved. I’ve seen this story play out.
Lopatto: Although how could you not fall in love with Kili?
Opam: Kili was awesome. His rage at Thorin was such a great moment.
Lopatto: He’s a great character without Tauriel’s loss — the audience will mourn him, you don’t need to telegraph to us that he’s worth mourning. We like him! She also just… didn’t have a lot to do.
Opam: Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett is over in the Dol Guldur slaying everything she touches.
Noted BAMF Galadriel (The Hobbit)
Lopatto: I would like to talk about Cate Blanchett and elf fighting, because I have thoughts! A) If you suddenly can just slay a demon by going FULL ELF, why do the other elves not do this in battle? B) I am over women "fighters" who have "power" which is just like, glowing, and then going "BOOM," and then crumpling? Boring.
meanwhile cate blanchett is over in the dol guldur slaying everything she touchesOpam: Well, there’s a bunch of stuff going on here. Galadriel is supposed to be the greatest elf in Middle-earth. She has one of the three elven rings of power. So it makes sense that she was able to hold off Sauron and the nine dead kings. Trope-wise, she's this goddess figure who’s sort of removed from the rest of the action. But at least Tolkien was also willing to have characters like Eowyn who were fully developed and saw battle and did awesome things.
Lopatto: Eowyn was exactly who I was thinking of. There’s such a huge difference between "I AM NO MAN," followed by stabbing, and "POOF LIGHT BOOM MAGIC ooh I’m tired."
Opam: Yeah, in that respect, Galadriel disappoints. But trust when I say she’s a BAMF.
Lopatto: Also: what is the point of elves, does anyone know? They’re like vampires without blood-lust. Nothing drives them. They’re antithetical to plot! Lee Pace was into some jewelry I guess?
what is the point of elves? does anyone know?Opam: Elves just are! They’re pretty, practically immortal, and will go to war when you need them. The tough thing about them is that they’re hardly relatable. Which is partly the point. They’re apart, but are in tune with deeper, unknowable things. Dwarves are mortal and have virtues we can identify with, just like what Bilbo said. Same with humans, same with hobbits.
Lopatto: Right, and from a storytelling point of view, it seems weird to center elves as characters. They work best from the sidelines; as main characters, they feel like dead weight. Which I guess is why they get romantic plotlines? To give them literally anything to do?
Lee Pace, pictured with Lee Pace's eyebrows (The Hobbit)
Lee Pace is great as this stately assholeOpam: Anything! Lee Pace is great as this stately asshole character, but he doesn’t do much else. This goes back to the worldbuilding problem, though: Jackson wanted far more than he could deliver with this trilogy. Truth be told, it’s not as though Elrond or even Legolas are THAT deep or relatable as characters on the page. They’re more representative of their races. Which worked for LOTR because it was more of a sweeping look at Middle-earth as a place at war centered around an ensemble cast. The Hobbit doesn’t really have that luxury of scope.
Lopatto: My sense was that Jackson was so deep in this world that he forgot the basics of narrative. And while it kind of worked — I really want to go backpacking in New Zealand now! — it also kind of didn’t — because my main takeaway from the movie was not any emotional reaction. It was that I really want to go backpacking in New Zealand.
Opam: I would LOVE to go backpacking through New Zealand.
Lopatto: And "WAR BATS." That phrase occurs in my notes three times, in all caps every time. We went to a fortress for no reason except to learn that "they were bred for war." WAR BATS. Loved the WAR BATS.
Opam: That scene is the epitome of what’s wrong with this movie. "Let’s go see what’s happening at Gundabad." 20 minutes later. "We’re at Gundabad." 20 minutes later. "So we’re still at Gundabad. OMG WAR BATS. Time to go back." Like, what?
Lopatto: Right! If there’s no scene at Gundabad, you lose nothing. Jackson wanted to build Gundabad, so he did, and shoehorned it in. And as a viewer, that’s super frustrating.
It felt like i paid to see an extended version of a much shorter movieOpam: It felt like I paid to see an extended version of a much shorter movie.
Lopatto: This is George Lucas territory, you know? This movie felt as bloated and shaky as the Star Wars prequels. Perhaps with a smaller budget Peter Jackson would be forced to make movies that are for the audience instead of for himself.
Opam: At this point, I am WAITING for some enterprising internet person to cut down all three of these movies to what’s essential. I bet you it’s maybe two movies, each an hour and a half long.
Lopatto: It is one movie and it’s an hour and a half long.
Opam: The crazy thing is the LOTR movies were super long. Return of the King has that long, climactic battle in Pelennor Fields. But it felt momentous. It had weight. You needed it to be there.
Whereas in this movie, at some point I began wondering how anybody’s still alive after all this fighting.
this movie has its own jar jar binks
Lopatto: So I would just like to say: Alfrid Lickspittle was the movie’s Jar Jar Binks.
Opam: I did not care about this idiot. Were we really meant to laugh at him in drag?
Lopatto: Right, ha ha it is a man but he is in women’s clothing. It wasn’t even interesting drag, and he had such wonderful sparkly raw materials to work with. Gold coin sequins — guess he didn’t know how to sew! (I watch a lot of Drag Race.) But in those scenes, the drag’s a laugh only because it’s absurd for a man to dress as something "lesser."
Opam: There were some actually funny moments, to be fair. Like the whole scene with Gandalf cleaning his pipe, after all the fighting was over. We needed a fucking break after all that, and Gandalf gave it to us.
and the oscar for best pipe-cleaning goes to ian mckellenLopatto: Yes! And the auction sequence at the end. I liked that, too, perhaps because Martin Freeman was allowed to talk for so long, unimpeded by battle.
Opam: There was good to this movie. There really was. Thorin’s fight with the pale orc, while super long, was thrilling. And I was moved when he died.
Thorin: the movie's MVP, pictured with titular hobbit Bilbo (The Hobbit)
Lopatto: Thorin’s redemption was the real heart of the movie, and I was sad it wasn’t handled more deftly. Particularly since he manages to rally the dwarves once he loses his greed / dragon sickness, and really inspires his people to heroic feats. In the shorter version of this movie, that’s the climactic action, along with Bilbo’s line about the paucity of legends when it comes to remembering a friend. The moment Thorin decides to die to take out the orc leader is the true moment you know the dragon sickness lost its hold. It is selfless in the extreme.
Opam: Thorin’s charge into battle gave me goosebumps. It reminded me of the Ride of the Rohirrim. At the end of the day, had the movie done a better job of telling a story about Bilbo and Thorin, it would have been a better movie. But at that point you’re necessarily asking for these movies to be shorter, more focused efforts.
Lopatto: Yes. Again: worldbuilding run amok, and at the expense of a very good story.