On The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

In two previous posts, I covered The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, both serving as a pre-The Lord of the Rings series. I conclude here with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Smaug, as it turned out, was quite a pathetic enemy and didn’t last long past 15 minutes of the film – so much for that build up over the past two films.

3f5be1e978592916eed6bd6b9bf7b7e4

Certainly, the elf Turiel was not, overall, depicted well, as according to The Mary Sue review:

But none of those good bits are enough to make up for the flaw that really cancels my second breakfast, which is what The Battle of the Five Armies did to Tauriel. She went from being a character driven by moral and political convictions to one for whom 95% of her screentime revolved around her being in love with Kili and/or having her Elvish bacon saved by Legolas. Jackson—rightly—acknowledged the importance of representation when he added an original female character to a trilogy that otherwise would have been a near-complete sausagefest (or maybe take out the “near”—even Galadriel, who got her moment of BAMF here, wasn’t actually in the original book), which makes it all the more bewildering, not to mention infuriating, that by the time the credits roll she’s a damsel almost entirely defined by her romantic attachments. Fuck that noise.

And then there are Bard’s three children–two girls, one boy. One of them gets to charge around being all badass, rescuing his siblings, and helping dear Dad in battle. The other two run around screaming. Guess which is which.

All that said, while I wouldn’t recommend shelling money out to see The Battle of the Five Armies in a theater, if the treatment of Tauriel and the general sloppy storytelling aren’t completely dealbreakers for you, and if you consider yourself a fan of the other movies, I’d catch this one on DVD. For completion’s sake, yes, but also because, if you go in knowing and accepting that it’s going to be stupid as hell, there are still big chunks of the movie that are really fun. The Hobbit trilogy has always suffered in comparison to The Lord of the Rings, and sure, The Hobbit is by far the inferior trilogy, but it’s not awful, even if at times The Battle of the Five Armies skirts perilously close to that line. It’s a disappointing follow-up to a trilogy that redefined fantasy cinema, but judged on its own merits, it’s… OK. There are lots of things to like.

We’ll always have dwarf racist party dad.

Another reference to her portryal can be found in BuzzFeed‘s “5 Ways “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies” Lets Down Feminism“:

I’m not knocking the notion of an original character in The Hobbit. Peter Jackson deserves credit for the decision to add a female character to the mix, especially one who seems so initially badass as Tauriel. But while she enters the films as a spider-slaying, tree-swinging warrior elf, she is quickly turned into nothing more than a potential love interest for Kili. Tauriel is a big step forward from Arwen, sure — she actively fights, she spends a good deal of her time ignoring authority, and she hasn’t got anything against pulling a weapon on the snotty Elvenking — but when the final movie reduces her entire purpose to a reason for Kili’s death (a sacrifice for love, obviously), we’ve got a problem. I love you Tauriel, but not like this. Not like this.

Finally, Feminist Fiction ‘s post covers the idea that her storyline is not too dissimilar from Samantha Carter in Stargate SG-1, or Melanie Carmichael in Sweet Home Alabama, titled “Tauriel and the Love Interest Trap“:

Well, that was a disappointment.

Over the weekend, I finally watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and I was particularly intrigued to see where Tauriel’s storyline would go. As Tauriel was invented entirely for the movie franchise, the writers had complete freedom in building her character and her place in Middle Earth, and although her subplot with Kili in The Desolation of Smaug was too insta-love for my tastes, she also had a lot of potential as a character.

Unfortunately, all of that was abandoned in The Battle of the Five Armies. In the third Hobbit movie, Tauriel is reduced to just a love interest, although one that everyone pretends is something more.

I want to be clear: no female character is weaker or less worthwhile because she has a love interest. It’s not anti-feminist for a female character to fall in love, and the suggestion that it is only furthers the idea that Strong Female Characters should not express softer human emotions.

But it is a problem when the love story is a female character’s ONLY plot point, and that is what happened with Tauriel here.

Tauriel is, initially, a really fun character. She’s a badass warrior elf in a position of authority who fights for what she believes is right. She’s a skilled fighter, she has that elvish ability to defy the laws of physics, and she has a somewhat complicated relationship with her commander/king that adds depth to her character. But as the movies continue, all her potential is thrown aside.

In Battle of the Five Armies, Tauriel gets more lines than many other characters, but she doesn’t have much of a character left to express in them. Although she does help the people of Laketown when Smaug attacks, and there’s some vague plot about her being exiled from Mirkwood, her role in Battle of the Five Armies is mostly to be in love with Kili. To run to him and try and save him. To get knocked down and nearly killed so that he can heroically try to save her and die in the process. To then be rescued by the other part of her love triangle, Legolas. And to cry about how painful love is, and to reassured by Thranduil that her love was real.

The inclusion of a romantic plotline for Tauriel is not automatically a bad thing. It’s dangerous ground for a writer to tread, because none of the other characters have romantic plotlines, but it could have been successful, if 1) it was well developed and made sense for her character, and 2) it was just one facet of her character. If the movie had presented Tauriel as a character first and foremost, and presented her romantic plotline as a secondary aspect, then the writers could have squeezed in their romance without any problems. But every other aspect of her character seemed to vanish in the face of True Love.

And reducing Tauriel to a pure love interest (albeit one who can fight) has worrying implications for the movie as a whole, because it completely subverts the message that her inclusion original presented. She no longer says that fantasy movies can’t exist without interesting and relevant female characters, or creates a successful, badass female characters for young viewers to look up to. Instead, we get the suggestion that she was created just to allow for a romantic subplot, possibly to keep those same young female viewers interested through all those battles and dragons and other things girls couldn’t possibly care to see. And that’s an insulting suggestion not just relating to female characters, but to LGBT ones as well. If the movie needed explicit romance, they might as well have created a romantic subplot between two of the dwarves. A female character didn’t need to be created for the explicit purpose of adding romance and crying over Kili’s inevitable corpse.

Interestingly, Kili and Tauriel are equal victims in this, as Kili similarly seems to lose all other connections or goals beyond Tauriel, suggesting this is the result of lazy writing, not female character stereotyping. But this doesn’t erase the implications of Tauriel’s plot arc, especially since this failure is far more damaging in Tauriel’s case than Kili’s. We get to see many other dwarves and other male heroes in The Battle of the Five Armies, and to see one reduced to one part of a love triangle is surprising. But when it comes to female heroes, we only see Galadriel, and, although she is clearly powerful, her role is detached from the main action and about five minutes long. We’re used to seeing either no female characters in fantasy, or just seeing them as love interests. So what does Tauriel’s plot arc say about the role female characters play in fantasy? At first, it looked like it was saying that female characters could be heroes too. Now, with Tauriel falling desperately in love with Kili after one conversation and not doing anything unrelated to him once that happens, her inclusion simply screams: “We need a love interest, quick, add a female character!”

And to be honest, she didn’t need any complicated plotlines or well-thought-out emotional arcs to overcome that. Most of the other characters in this movie didn’t have those things. She really just needed to do some backflips and make some impossible arrow shots. Something that kept her as cool as the other named elves and maintained the skill and personality we saw when she first appeared.

It’s not difficult to create a female character who goes beyond a love interest. Just write her like you would any other character, whatever the standard in that story may be. And Tauriel’s creation was a step in the right direction. But like many things in The Hobbit franchise, potential was thrown aside by lazy writing and well-worn tropes. In most contexts, that’s frustrating. But when the writers of The Hobbithad a chance to write an exciting new female character into an iconic fantasy world almost completely devoid of women, and they messed that up? “Disappointing” doesn’t quite cover it in the end.

maxresdefault

Galadriel, as well, wasn’t well depicted either, as according to BuzzFeed‘s “5 Ways “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies” Lets Down Feminism“:

Galadriel can bring it when she needs to. Nobody doubts this — anyone familiar with her actions at the Kinslaying at Alqualondë (nerd moment) is familiar with her ability to throw down. Add this to the notion that she’s also arguably the most powerful elf in Middle-earth during the Third Age, and we should all be gearing for the best boss battle since Buffy faced off against Glory in Season 5. So what went wrong? After bodily lifting Gandalf from the ground, Galadriel is overcome at the appearance of the Nazgûl and spends the entirety of the physical battle lying on the ground while Elrond and a 90-year-old Christopher Lee defend her with sword and staff. Sure, she sends Sauron flying off to the northern wastes a few minutes later, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that we literally see her agency stripped from her moments before. Come on, Peter.

According to Roger Ebert:

So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called The Battle of the Five Armies, and it was very terrible.” -J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit”

The “very terrible” battle takes up only one chapter in Tolkien’s novel and is the majority of the action in Peter Jackson’s final entry in “The Hobbit” trilogy. It’s a stunner of a sequence, although it also illuminates the flawed logic of stretching out Tolkien’s book into three installments. What is the real story? How do we get from A to B? And, crucially, why do we care?

And where is Bilbo Baggins in all of it? The novel is concise, humorous, with a dark periphery, and even in the midst of extremely tense moments, we have Bilbo, a tut-tutting little homebody, wondering how the heck he got involved in all of this nonsense in the first place. There’s not enough Bilbo in “The Battle of the Five Armies.” The story misses his presence. The film’s first mildly humorous moment, a line reading from Martin Freeman, comes almost 40 minutes in, and it’s refreshing, but it highlights the humorlessness of the rest. There are some wonderful sequences in “Battle of the Five Armies”, and the attention to detail is breathtaking (each different space rendered with thrilling complexity), but the film feels more like a long drawn-out closing paragraph rather than (like “The Desolation of Smaug”) a vibrant stand-alone piece of the story.

“The Battle of the Five Armies” picks up where “Desolation of Smaug” left off: Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) has burst free into the air, and descends onto the helpless people of Laketown in a blitzkrieg of fire. Bard (Luke Evans) becomes the natural leader of the traumatized refugees, who straggle around dazed at the destruction of their homes. An endless line of devastated people trail up the dizzying slopes towards the Lonely Mountain, where they hope to receive compensation for all they have lost. Meanwhile, the Dwarf contingency, along with Bilbo, hole themselves up in the Mountain, protecting the treasure, most of the dwarves uneasy about the increasingly paranoid leadership of Thorin (Richard Armitage).

Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett return, briefly, for a psychedelic scene of mortal combat with the ring wraiths that doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything (although it is clearly supposed to be important), and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) returns from imprisonment to the field of battle. Tauriel the elf (Evangeline Lilly) is not given much to do, except love a dwarf, a big no-no in her world. She speaks about love repeatedly, softly and wondrously, and every time she does the entire film deflates en masse. Romantic love has nothing to do with the story overall, and the love subplot feels so obligatory that it’s practically condescending.

The real story is about greed, what Tolkien termed “dragon-sickness,” and when Jackson focuses on that aspect, “Battle of the Five Armies” finds its footing. It’s a strong theme, Shakespearean in scope, perfectly exemplified in one nightmare sequence in which Thorin, lost to “dragon-sickness,” greedy and jumpy, finds himself sucked into a monstrous whirlpool of thick molten gold. Everyone who has read the book knows that Thorin loses it once he has the gold under his care, but Jackson imagined it in a way that is surreal and visceral.

When the battle finally comes, it is tremendous. Armies swoop towards one another across a vast plain, each group displaying their own intricate maneuvers and battle strategies, wielding their own specific weaponry, making one think it could be a deleted scene from John Woo’s “Red Cliff,” or that a fussy Middle Earth equivalent of John Keegan had been a consultant on the film, providing information on how the dwarf infantry worked, and how the elves moved in formation. The sequence is an enormous pantomime of carnage that somehow maintains its sense of spatial relations and emotional tension (there is a terrific standoff between Thorin and the head Orc on a sheet of ice near a treacherous frozen waterfall).

Peter Jackson has devoted an enormous part of his life to the creation of these films, and taken all together they are a major accomplishment. “The Hobbit” may have been better served by being a single film: by forcing the action to be condensed into a single through-line, the storytelling would have more urgency, there would be less room for any “fat” on the story, there would be no detraction from its overall themes. The world-building aspect of the films is thrilling, and there are spaces created in all three of “The Hobbit” films that are unforgettable.

But that magic something is missing in “Battle.” There are glimpses of it, glimpses of true poignancy and emotion: the friendship between Thorin and Bilbo, Bilbo turning back to look at the row of dwarves standing in the doorway, the last conversation with Gandalf, and the final moment of the film. These moments are lovely; these moments are presented concisely, strongly and openly. There, there is the story.

Tolkien understood the appeal of home, of a nice pipe and a cozy fire, of being surrounded by those who know you, where life is safe and your role is set. Bilbo Baggins is thrust out of his comfort zone, and must come up with the goods in extraordinary circumstances. Frodo had the same role in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. These journeys are epic, and yet they are grounded in those homey details that make us understand and sympathize. Hobbits are constantly underestimated. They underestimate themselves. Tolkien’s work taps into a great universal anxiety: would I be up to a similar task? How would I fare if I were called? Would I be brave? Or would I cave? At its best, Jackson’s films dig into those questions. “The Desolation of Smaug,” part two in the trilogy, which this reviewer loved, is the strongest of the three films, because it never forgets that at the heart of it is a small creature who is overwhelmed by fear, and yet who must be brave anyway.

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “On The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

  1. Pingback: On Deep Impact | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On Stardust | The Progressive Democrat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s