Yes, it's time for my third and final bitter rant about how they've managed to mess up their adaptation of "The Hobbit" by turning it into a prequel trilogy for "Lord of the Rings"! Complete with parallels with "Revenge of the Sith", and nitpicks of minor characters.
Actually, I'm going to try to be brief, but there are going to be big spoilers from here on out. The non-spoiler version: like RotS, this film has a good start and a good end, but it really lags in the middle. Oh, and that 'good' start and end isn't even all that good - the first was annoying while the second actually left me bored.
Anyway, there are spoilers from here on out.
The film opens with Smaug's attack on Laketown, which is pretty spectacular and generally excellent. I really liked Bard's one-man resistance, and the bit where his son raced to get him the black arrow was also good.
But they messed it up at the end.
Annoyingly, infuriatingly, maddeningly, they decided that it wasn't enough to have their bowman make his one last desperate shot with his last remaining arrow, right in the face of the dragon. No, that wasn't exciting enough. So instead they decided to have his bow break. And so he constructs himself a makeshift bow by wedging the two halves somewhere in the tower he was standing on, and using his son to sight his shot.
And with one spectacularly bad mis-step they undo all their good work to date.
Probably the worst thing about all of this, beyond just the inherent stupidity of thinking you could make any sort of useful weapon like that, is that they actually foreshadowed the way the scene should play out in the previous film - they made sure to show us the ballista, they commented that there were no black arrows left, and then they showed us that Bard did, in fact, have one such arrow. So there's your desperate last stand - after his arrows are done he casts aside his bow to take the desperate last shot with the ballista.
This is then followed by the rescue of Gandalf from capture, which is actually really well done. My only issue with this scene (other than the nitpick that we don't see what Galadriel actually does to that one orc), came with an epiphany about how these prequels could be better...
One of the problems with prequels is that they tie into a story that has already been told. This limits the scope of what you can really do. However, it can be negated somewhat if you can show something that hasn't been previously revealed. And there's an option here:
We know from "The Lord of the Rings" that Saruman the White is both wise and powerful, being the head of Gandalf's order, and his trusted friend. We also know that he comes to betray Gandalf having become convinced Sauron is unstoppable (in the film version, at least). But we never learn how he comes to this point.
So, with one easy switch, we get this fixed: allow Gandalf to convince the wise Saruman of the threat at the White Council. Have Saruman, not Gandalf, go investigate and get captured by the Witch King. (And his motives for going in alone make sense here: he's arrogant in his power.) Show him being tortured by Sauron/the Witch King, and then show him being rescued. And then, at the end of this film, show him holed up in Isengard, bent over desperately crafting his own "ring of power".
And, at a stroke, you eliminate Gandalf's moment of madness in the second film, you tie up a major loose end in the series, and you add an extra link back to both the original trilogy and to the books. Not bad for a trivial character switch, is it?
Anyway, after that we have lots of scenes of Thorin's growing madness, and the build up to the inevitable Battle of the Five Armies. These are mostly good, though they go on too long and are too repetitive. Unfortunately, though, I just don't 'feel' Richard Armitage's take on Thorin. Basically, having spent most of the first film being pretty damn mean to Bilbo, and then in the second film being willing to casually leave him to die, I found there wasn't all that much change between the mad Thorin of this film and the sane Thorin of the previous ones.
And then, finally, we get to the Battle of the Five Armies, which is suitably spectacular... and hugely problematic. Where to begin...
Actually, I'm going to begin with Tauriel, who just sucks. It's absolutely not Evangeline Lilly's fault, but her character shouldn't even be there.
I have two big problems with the character. The first is that we're expected to believe that she and Kili have developed True Luv over the course of the two films - that is, over the course of a few hours spent together across a few days of the adventure, in which time they have one conversation of any depth. And then she's devastated when he dies, thus demonstrating that it's 'real'.
Yeah, that's not love. That's emotional instability. Sorry, I don't buy it, at all.
But the biggest, most damning problem with Tauriel comes with her role as a warrior woman, and is something I've ranted about before. Basically, she's presented as being competent and cool and badass... right up to the point where it really matters. And then, suddenly, she needs a Man to come and rescue her. And, in fact, here she needs two: first Kili and then Legolas!.
Just no. If you're going to feel the need to include a warrior woman because of equality, then let her do her own damn rescuing. Ripley and Sarah Conner did.
As it happens, all the elves are problematic in this film. It's pretty clear, almost right away, that the battle is constructed as it is to show us some cool visuals without any thought to sound tactics or strategy, or even internal consistency.
For example, the dwarves twice form a shield wall in order to repel an orcish charge. This is great... except that both times the wall then gets broken - the first time by elves jumping the wall to engage the orcs in a destructive melee (instead of, I don't know, wiping them out with arrows), the second time by the charge of Thorin and his company... as if adding 13 more dwarves would actually make any real difference. (Actually, in this scenario, it would - lots of dwarves would die unnecessarily.)
Or how about the orcish tactic of using burrowing worms to bring their troops to the battlefield under the earth. That gives us some great visuals. Except... why did they deliver the troops to the battlefield outside the dwarven fortress? Why not burrow past all their defences and attack from within?
And those catapults we see in the trailers, the ones carried by the cave trolls? Those are pretty cool, yes... except that the battle happens during the day and trolls turn to stone in sunlight. I mean, it's not as if that was a key plot point two films ago...
(The difference with the trolls in "Return of the King" is that Sauron has stretched out his hand to darken the day before launching his attack on Minas Tirith - which was also a key plot point.)
See, it's these little details that were so great in the previous trilogy that just don't quite work here, and which are really annoying.
Finally, there's Legolas!, another character who really shouldn't be here. Again, not because of a problem with the actor, or even the character. But he steals the show from the dwarves so thoroughly as to detract from the whole. Plus, this was the film where he stepped from absurd shield-surfing antics to ridiculousness: riding a troll "Ratatouille"-style and then running up a collapsing stairway of bricks.
I've gone on way too long. Truth is, I didn't really expect to like this film, and pretty much for all the reasons I've given. There's not much here that I couldn't have predicted. Ultimately, "The Hobbit" trilogy has proven just to be a big let-down, to the extent that I'd actually rather they hadn't made it (since we now can't get a better version).
All in all, a real shame.