I have come to this conclusion: had Peter Jackson made the Hobbit films (yes, all three) before ever making the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I think the Hobbit would be significantly better received. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, though connected by an over-arching story, are also very significantly different stories. They differ in theme, aura, and even differ in their story-arches. The Hobbit is primarily about the reclaiming of the Dwarves home under the mountain, while the Lord of the Rings is about the battle of the destruction of the ring, and the corruption of the ring upon the hearts of those who bear it. The Hobbit, primarily, is a children’s story whereas the Lord of the Rings most certainly is not.
Yet, viewers are forced to compare the movies. Why? Because Jackson made the Hobbit in a LOTR-esque manner by adding to the original book the Hobbit-related appendices found at the end of Return of the King as well as information and history found in the Silmarillion. Thus, to view the third Hobbit installment is a rather complicated endeavor. On one hand it is far from the brilliance that was LOTR. On the other hand, The Battle of the Five Armies is also one of the better films this year. How does one say, “not as good as LOTR” yet say “better than the average film,” other than to say just that?
One of the things that makes the middle-earth series so amazing is the attitude in which Tolkien wrote them: through a Christian worldview. He once stated the God of the Bible is the God of humans and hobbits. This element is very evident in both LOTR as well as the Hobbit films. At one point in the Battle of the Five Armies, Gandalf says to Bilbo, “do you really think all this happened because of luck?” For Tolkien, there is no such thing as luck. In LOTR, Gandalf talks about how Bilbo was meant to find the ring, Gollum has a role to play, and that there is more at work in the world than just evil. God working silently behind the scenes is one of the passions of Tolkien, and one of the great values of the entire middle-earth series.
This film shows how money/wealth can corrupt as deeply as the ring itself (complete with some Gollum allusions), and how the love for money can lead one to do all kinds of evil; the special effects are very well done; running at 2 hours and 24 minutes long (including the end credits) you will find the pace being significantly quickened (compared to the other films in the series), and due to the inclusion of the Return of the King appendices and the Silmarillion, the story of the Hobbit is told with more fullness than just reading the book.
There are no inspiring speeches prior to war, while there are some shocking moments of death, there is a lack of deep emotional moments in the film; some of the multi-story archs in the film feel a tad out of place (like two movies merged into one), likely a result of Tolkien writing the additional Hobbit story-lines after writing LOTR.
Overall, the film is a good movie and a decent film-going experience. I do recommend the film, but I caution all who see it not to expect LOTR quality here (neither in performance, acting, nor in story).