Spoilers if you don’t want to know any details about the movie.
After first seeing the movie, my initial reaction was that there was not much to say that has not already been covered. I’d only read two reviews before seeing the film, but both were similar and seemed to be spot-on.
First, there should never have been three movies. Most of us already knew that, but it gets highlighted in the films in different ways. The first two were filled with too many scenes of Azog chasing the dwarves around. The Battle of the Five Armies no longer had that option. It compensated by making every scene longer than necessary, by adding scenes that have no purpose at all (ex. Legolas and Tauriel go on a trip, stare at a fortress, talk about Elven history for a while, then travel all the way back to where they just came from), and by making a ridiculous percentage of the movie into prolonged battle scenes. I went with a friend who normally likes action more than I do; he said the battles were boring because there were too many shots of the heroes fighting nameless orc peons. He wanted the fights to at least be more personal, if there had to be so many. (As an aside, after all this battle, we never actually see how it ENDS!)
Something else that people generally seem to agree on: There were too many random animals being used for transportation. I can get behind Thraduil’s ride. And definitely the wargs. I was somewhat more baffled by the giant pig that Dain rode up on and by the giant mountain goats that materialized just in time for some dwarves to get up an icy mountain. (A mountain which, incidentally, seemed to vary in just how close or far away it was from Erebor. But, hey, it isn’t as if Tolkien very carefully tried to construct the geography of Middle Earth or anything….)
Also, the scenes that Peter Jackson added to the film took away from the story more than they added. The scene of Gandalf, Radagast, Elrond, and Sarumon fighting Sauron and the Nazgul was apparently meant to help bridge The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps that would have worked better if Jackson had kept the same symbolism. In the first place, I’m not sure if the Nazgul were sort of embodied here, or if they were supposedly invisible but given some sort of representation so the audience could see what the heroes were fighting. (Side note: their armor was awesome. The visual details were some of the best parts of this movie.) That does not explain the fact that apparently, if you know throw one off a cliff, they pop and teleport back to the top of the cliff to keep fighting you. Secondly, Galadriel seems to be having an identity crisis. I don’t even want to touch on why she seems to be having a romantic affair with Gandalf in these movies. Even more baffling is why her sudden glowing and speaking in a deeper tone represents her good spiritual powers here. When she did that in The Lord of the Rings, it was to show she was being tempted to EVIL! I still don’t know if glowing is good or bad. Just whichever Jackson needs it to be?
I could go on with some complaints. Some of the physics in the battle scenes is absurd even for a fantasy movie. Kili’s death seemed to be about his love for Fili, but suddenly became all about his love for Tauriel. Legolas spends a lot of time explaining Elven things to Tauriel as if she hasn’t been an Elf all her life. Most importantly, the movie needs more Martin Freeman. He is brilliant as Bilbo. But, as my friend pointed out, the movie is 80% battle and Bilbo doesn’t do battles. So we don’t see him. However, I’d like to take a moment to point out some of the good things.
Unfortunately, a lot of the aspects of the movie that I liked best are somewhat transitional. As I mentioned, the film is beautiful. The detail paid to costuming, world-building, etc. is fantastic. I love the visuals of Middle Earth. I also love the soundtrack, and how well all the music fit the scenes and fit in with the other songs. If you were to hear one of the songs without any context, you would know that it belonged to Middle Earth.
My favorite scenes were generally those where characters make a grand speech or have a touching moment with another character. I’m kind of a sucker for someone making a dramatic monologue to convince others to fight to save their land and honor and whatnot. The Battle of the Five Armies has enough to keep me happy, and they tend to be delivered sincerely and movingly. We also get to hear a lot about Thorin’s honor and his greed. The greed-moral, I admit, could have been toned down. However, Richard Armitage generally does a good trying to add nuance to what is generally unsubtle dialogue. Finally, Bard’s relationship with his family is pretty cute. I love that his son helps him defeat Smaug. I do, however, feel bad for the older girl, whose only role in the movie seems to be to run away from things in fear. The younger one does, as well, but at least she gets to look adorable while doing it.
So my opinion of The Battle of the Five Armies is mixed. On some level, I recognize that, as a movie, it isn’t very good. A lot things don’t make sense (usually things that were added to Tolkien’s work), and I a decent amount of time in the theatre laughing whenever something completely ridiculous and unrealistic happened (I don’t think the people around me appreciated it). However, I have to have some fondness for it because it’s The Hobbit and it’s one more time we, as viewers, get to visit Middle Earth. I also really do like Martin Freeman in this role. Despite all my frustrations, confusion, and complains, I’ll probably watch it again sometime. Maybe I can fast-forward through some of the battle.