When last we left Peter Jackson’s three-part cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Smaug was swooping down upon the burgh of Laketown with desolation on his dragony mind.
Smaug the mighty. Smaug the fire-bringer. Smaug the invincible.
Or so he thinks.
As the winged wyrm torches the tinderbox town, the man known as Bard nocks arrows to fell him. Smaug mocks. Smaug laughs. And Smaug dies. Bard’s last projectile pierces the lone point of vulnerability in the dragon’s otherwise impenetrable hide, slaying the hated and hateful beast.
It should be a time of celebration. Of emancipation. But devastation is all that remains in the wake of the firedrake’s conflagration. So the now-homeless denizens of Laketown turn their eyes toward their only nearby refuge: the crumbling walls of Dale near the gates of Erebor, the fabled mountain redoubt of the dwarves lately devoid of the scaly interloper that had slumbered there for six decades.
The fallout of Smaug’s downfall is not lost on the band of dwarves who plotted his eviction. Led by Thorin, they watch Laketown smolder from Erebor’s heights. With Bilbo’s burglaring help, they’d achieved their quest against long odds, vanquishing the dragon and reclaiming their ancestral fortress.
It should be a time of celebration. Of emancipation. But more devastation awaits.
That’s because Erebor is home to the most fabulous treasure in Middle-earth … treasure all the races believe they’re entitled to. The dwarves. The elves. The bedraggled refugees of Laketown, whom Thorin had promised recompense if they helped.
But that was before Thorin saw it.
All. That. Gold. In all of its blazing, beautiful, corrupting, corroding luster. Having seized Erebor’s inestimable fortune, and having been seized by its seductive allure, Thorin has no intention of sharing any of it.
“By my life,” he vows, echoing Smaug’s own declaration before he perished, “I will not part with a single coin, not one piece of it.”
Even if it means hardening his heart to the downtrodden survivors of Laketown. Even if it means going to war with an elven army led by their king, Thranduil. Even if it means spurning the friendship and counsel of Gandalf, Bilbo and all the other members of his company. Even if it means abandoning an army of dwarves (led by Thorin’s cousin Dáin) that arrives at Erebor hours after Thranduil’s bow-bearing elven battalion does.
“Will you have peace or war?” Bard asks Thorin on the threshold of a cataclysmic conflict.
“I will have war,” the dwarven leader spits.
And that’s when the orcs and the goblins and the wargs and the trolls and all manner of other misbegotten adversaries join the fray. Led by Thorin’s lifelong nemesis, Azog, these creatures have still another claim in mind: the would-be dwarf king’s head.
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus says, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Perhaps no movie I’ve ever seen more forcefully illustrates that perilous correlation than The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
Thorin Oakenshield is a heroic, tragic, but ultimately redeemed character. Propelled by pride, his desire to right an old wrong and his noble dream of giving his people a home again, Thorin has bravely led his troops to Erebor. Thanks to Bard’s courage and skill in slaying Smaug, the fortress’s gold-filled vaults once more come into the dwarves’ possession. Thanks to the darkness that lurks within us all, that once wonderful treasure possesses and poisons Thorin’s soul—just as we hear happened with his grandfather, Thror.
Thorin’s paranoia and possessiveness is evident to Bilbo and the dwarves, but they are powerless to counter it. Balin dubs Thorin’s malady “dragon sickness.” Gandalf confirms that Smaug’s long-lurking presence may have intensified the gold’s hold on Thorin’s soul. “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold,” he tells Bilbo, “gold that a dragon has slept on.” Bard tries to talk Thorin into making good on his promise of payment: “What of your conscience? Does it not tell you our cause is just?” Likewise, Bilbo suggests that Thorin’s refusal to share with the Laketown people sunders his integrity: “You gave your word. Does that mean nothing?” But the gold grips Thorin’s heart so tightly that he’ll sacrifice everything to keep it. “Life is cheap,” he says. “But a treasure such as this one cannot be counted in lives lost. It is worth all the blood we can spend.”
Bilbo recognizes that Thorin is sinking into madness and risks his wrath by escaping walled-in Erebor to seek counsel with Gandalf, Thranduil and Bard. Bilbo also cleverly tries to call Thorin’s bluff by hiding a particular treasure Thorin is keen to find, but to no avail.
[Spoiler Warning] In the end, as you’d hoped he would, Thorin comes to his senses, heroically joining the elves, dwarves and men in their battle against the Azog’s orc and goblin hordes arrayed against them. There, nearly all the major characters—Bilbo, Gandalf, many dwaves, elves and men—put their lives on the line for rightness and justice. Especially touching is Bard’s valiant attempts to protect his young children. Equally poignant is the sacrificial commitment that Tauriel the elf and Kili the dwarf have to each other in their growing romantic connection.
Apart from all that, Gandalf partners with elves Galadriel and Elrond, as well as fellow wizard Saruman, to combat the growing might of Sauron.
As is true in The Lord of the Rings and previous Hobbit movies, magic is part and parcel of Middle-earth, from Frodo’s use of the One Ring of Power to become invisible, to the potent magical might wielded by wizards, elves and Sauron. The shape-shifting Beorn makes a bearish cameo.
As if defining the spiritual gravity of the battle, a dwarf says of the orc army, “The hordes of hell are upon us.” [Spoiler Warning] Galadriel magically revives a nearly dead Gandalf. She and her comrades face off against the nine wraithlike, deceased kings Sauron has reanimated. And she unleashes a massive blast of potent magic that banishes Sauron once more.
Tauriel and Kili’s affection deepens, with the pair struggling to know how to express their growing feelings for each other amid a war and Thranduil’s and Legolas’ disapproval. A craven character named Alfrid disguises himself as a woman (including stuffing his dress full of gold, to ample effect) in an attempt to avoid the fight.
The movie’s title implies that there are five armies duking it out near Erebor. But the cacophonous clash makes it feel like six or seven or eight or nine. The bloody battlefield boasts goblins, men, elves, dwarves, eagles, orcs, wargs, bats, trolls and giant Dune-like worms. The final clash fully fills the last third of the movie. We see members of all the races slashed, smashed, hacked, impaled and filled with arrows. Oh, and then there are the (sometimes mass) decapitations, usually of orcs.
Thranduil clearly mourns the death of his people—though he doesn’t much care if dwarves die. Orcs and trolls chase women and children through the dilapidated streets of Dale. The camera lingers on the corpse of a child. Tauriel, as though a rag doll, is repeatedly tossed against stone walls and stairs. One orc is brutally stabbed in the head. Another is impaled by a sword, as is a dwarf. Dwarves are also stabbed and/or tossed off cliffs and/or ruthlessly cut down in other ways. Gandalf is badly abused while in the orcs’ hardened hands. A man is nearly hanged, then almost crushed.
We see Smaug strafing the rickety Laketown with destructive blasts of fire that ignite buildings and people alike. We hear the screams of families trying to escape. Bard’s arrow brings the monster crashing down on top of the town’s wicked Master (who is in the process of escaping with stolen treasure). When they reach Dale, the survivors are horrified to find the mummified remains of Smaug’s victims from his fiery attack there 60 years before.
Dáin says of Thranduil, “I’ll split his smirking head open.” Thorin threatens to kill Bilbo and asks the other dwarves to throw him over the wall. (They refuse.) Bard prevents a mob from executing a traitor after Smaug’s rampage, asking them, “Have you not had your fill of death?”
Dáin calls the orcs “b–tards” once and “b-ggers” twice. He uses the vulgar British slang “s-dding off.”
Elves drink wine. Gandalf smokes his pipe.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a rollicking, satisfying conclusion to Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien trilogy. It’s also easily the most violent of the six films comprising The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. There are undoubtedly just as many wince-inducing moments as stand-up-and-cheer heroic ones, presenting a conflict for Middle-earth fans to reckon with—especially parents of their own little hobbits—as they consider whether to wade into this last big, emotion-charged Battle.
The Daily Beast’s Alex Suskind noticed the film’s amped-up violence and asked Jackson about it in a recent interview. “Correct me if I am wrong,” Suskind said, “I feel like there are way more beheadings in this trilogy than Lord of the Rings.” Jackson replied, “There probably are. See, the trick too, as a filmmaker, you’ve got guys fighting with blades. They don’t have guns or machine guns or grenades. So when you want to kill people, you’ve got limited options. One of the weird things with these films, which I must confess I actually quite enjoy, we sit around thinking how we are going to kill an orc. You actually turn into a psychopath. And actually I can think of a h— of a great way to kill orcs but I am always restricted by PG-13, unfortunately.”
More like fortunately! Pushing the violence envelope any further would surely alienate families from the otherwise inspiring conclusion to this remarkable story. Pushing it as far as he already has will (rightly) do so for some.
That may well be the only thing that’s unfortunate, though, about this final chapter in a franchise that has reminded us over and over again how light (heroism, loyalty and love) ultimately triumphs over darkness (greed, wanton wickedness and outright evil).
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.