Oh my goodness, has it really been a month since I last posted? Well, it is true that life has been busy…. I still mean to write an update on seeing Michael Palin in the flesh in November! That update will follow in time…
For now, I am again in Richard Armitage obsession mode, ever since I saw the latest and final The Hobbit installment named The Battle of the Five Armies. “Is it just me?” I was thinking, “Or was Richard Armitage absolutely brilliant as Thorin Oakenshield in this film?” I am very prejudiced towards liking everything he does and I just needed to check and see if I am suffering from Armitage-sickness (sort of like Thorin’s gold-sickness) or is he objectively really this good?
Reception of this film amongst the critics is quite mixed. It looks like you either hate the film or you love it and I love it! I have been partial to these films ever since I (unexpectedly) fell in love with The Lord of the Rings trilogy 13 years ago. When The Fellowship of The Ring came into cinemas my husband wanted to see it and so to please him I reluctantly went along as at the time I thought fantasy movies weren’t for me. But I was wrong, so wrong. I fell in love with the Fellowship and the two films after that. So, when The Hobbit came about (regardless of Richard Armitage being in it) I was presdisposed to liking the films. And I have not been disappointed! As a story, The Lord of the Rings has more meat to it than The Hobbit and remains the somewhat stronger trilogy in my eyes but that does not mean I don’t love The Hobbit trilogy as well, it is such an excellent prequel to the Rings films!
So, back to Armitage – is he objectively good? I hadn’t read many reviews before seeing the film as I didn’t want my opinion to be influenced. After seeing the film I started searching the net for them and specifically for reviews mentioning Armitage’s performance. And I find that the overall consensus is that he really is very good in this final Hobbit installment. Many negative reviews don’t specifically mention the performances of the actors but in the few that do, even they agree that Richard did well! So, while I may have a touch of the sickness, I feel encouraged that I am not completely insane.
I have collected some reviews on his performance, so if anyone is interested, quotes can be read here….
Collected reviews of Richard Armitage’s perfomance as Thorin Oakenshield in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
It doesn’t help matters that the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), presumptive heir to Erebor’s throne, is not long inside these hallowed walls when he succumbs to a familiar Tolkeinian malady — a lust for gold and jewels that renders its victims void of reason or empathy. And if “The Battle of the Five Armies” feels psychologically weightier than the previous “Hobbit” films, that’s largely a credit to Armitage, who plays Thorin with the paranoid despotic rage of a Shakespearean king, his heavy-lidded eyes ablaze with a private madness.
As both hero and antagonist at various points, this is in large part Armitage’s film. Thorin’s descent into madness under the dragon’s taint is played out with maniacal intensity. His grim rebuff of Luke Evans’ diplomatic overtures (the exchange framed beautifully by a hole in Erebor’s barricade) and final, hallucinatory epiphany upon a floor of burnished gold are as masterfully shot as they are powerfully delivered.
Maddened by greed, the dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage, a dramatic standout in all three films) refuses to honor agreements to share his treasure with his elvish and human allies. Who then decides to fight for what’s owed them.
– Sun Times
From their prominent position front-and-center in An Unexpected Journey, the dwarves slowly recede into the background during Five Armies, arguably to the story’s benefit; in the pitched battle of the climax, they’d be of little use, and they collectively manage to survive the carnage largely by staying out of harm’s way. The exception is their leader, Thorin, and the formerly little-known actor who plays him, Armitage, who emerges as perhaps the dominant actor in this very large ensemble.
Back atop the mountain stronghold of Erebor the dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), stare down on the destruction in the town below. Since reclaiming their subterranean kingdom, Thorin has become possessed with “dragon sickness” – which is in essence a madness in the mold of Denethor – causing him to abandon all sense of honour in his quest to reclaim the Arkenstone. In a pleasing touch, Armitage’s voice echoes that of Smaug and even a touch of Gollum, consumed with protecting his endless fields of gold. It’s Armitage’s performance, encompassing themes explored in Jackson’s first trilogy, that elevates this final adventure. The same can be said of the return of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, who provides the tale with its diminutive moral core.
When allowed quiet in which to breathe, the pair exercise their acting chops to great effect, even though Freeman seemingly has little screen time. These moments cut through all the impressive technical wizardry and baggy subplots to the very heart of the story.
If there was one performance that stands out the most in the film however it would belong to Richard Armitage, dominating proceedings utterly, as the arc of the plot circles around Thorin’s redemptive path from madness to heroic end, all delivered with a thundering, Shakespearian presence. Despite the demise of the dragon, in a genius touch, composer Howard Shore’s shifting and creeping theme for Smaug shifts to Thorin as the greed threatens to overwhelm him, with Armitage’s voice manipulated in a similar way as Cumberbatch’s. It is a fearless, dangerous display from him, as he risks losing the sympathies of the audience utterly, and so when he does emerge from his stupor, it is a triumphant moment.
In fact, your heart is put through more strain here than compared to any of the previous Middle-earth instalments, and it’s mainly down to Jackson’s love of the material, but also down to the cast, in particular, Martin Freeman (as Bilbo Baggins) and Richard Armitage, who are both equally brilliant, but in such different ways.
(…) As Thorin falls to ‘dragon sickness’, Armitage takes, what was once a heroic character, and brings him to the depths of greed, to the point where he becomes close to villainous and, at times, downright menacing – his incredible performance is frightening, frustrating, sympathetic, heartbreaking, but ultimately inspiring. It’s hard to believe that this is the same guy that starred in the final episode of THE VICAR OF DIBLEY.
But, what makes the combination of these two actors so outstanding is that you have Armitage playing Thorin as though he has just come fresh from THE LORD OF THE RINGS series. And, on the other side to that, you have Freeman playing Bilbo as the rational, down-to-earth character, who has just come fresh from THE OFFICE (and I don’t mean that as a criticism). What this leads to is Armitage retaining what the fans held, and still hold, so dearly to the trilogy: grand speeches of honour and betrayal, male ego, warriors and so on, along with Freeman, who acts as the audience’s eyes into this warring world, making us truly involved in Middle-earth, in a way with which I initially struggled in THE LORD OF THE RINGS series. Thanks to these two actors’ performances, this film is for everyone, fans or otherwise.
And once again Richard Armitage is a powerful presence, with Thorin’s journey both touching and heartbreaking.
If all those names are so much gibberish, “Five Armies” is likely to leave you cold. But the cast, especially Armitage and Bloom, play it all like Shakespearean historical drama, which helps overcome some of the baked-in twee-ness. Also of aid there is Freeman’s wry performance as Bilbo.
In a film with universally strong performances and one that is supposed to focus on the titular Hobbit, the now complete trilogy is dominated by the mesmerising presence of Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield, whose story arc finally sees the heroic leader get his big moments in the spotlight. I really can’t say enough good things about Armitage’s work here – from the moment he first arrived in Bag End he managed to immediately capture what makes Thorin such a compelling and charismatic leader and his work in The Battle Of The Five Armies is excellent.
Remember how it was mentioned earlier that the hobbits were the emotional core of the original trilogy of films? Jackson has tried time and again to provide the dwarves with a similar function, but their large quantity has often made many indecipherable from one another. And yet this is the story in which Thorin Oakenshield is finally the centerpiece of the narrative and helps to put the film back on its feet. There were seeds of his selfishness planted in earlier films, but they finally bear dramatic fruit in this one. His lust for power has turned him into a violent monster who distrusts his own kin and is obsessed with finding the infamous Arkenstone. Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin, continues to steal the show as the omnipotent and omnipresent dwarf. One must forgive some of the exaggerated speech (unfortunately Jackson, who was solid at using slow-motion technique in his first trilogy for poetic depiction, has overstepped the boundaries of indulgence at times) in which he tells Bilbo of his desire to destroy the traitor because it is the only pitfall in his performance. Once he eventually goes through his emotional trial and reaches his epiphany, Thorin retains the heroic stature that made him the trilogy’s true hero.
However, it’s Thorin’s movie, as Richard Armitage takes his Dwarf king character to the edge of madness. With the “Dragon Sickness” that plagued his grandfather taking hold, Thorin is a danger to everyone under his rule, yet Armitage never allows him to become a monster, allowing glimpses of the good man he was before to shine through.
As a bonus, “Armies” is armed with one of the best performances in the entire Jackson Middle-earth series, and that’s saying a lot when the cast includes Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen. As Dwarf Lord Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Armitage perfectly embodies one of Tolkien’s steady themes about man’s eternal war with his own inner demons. Even when the showy director can’t restrain himself and allows that epic battle sequence to run on too long, Armitage’s performance brings the film back to its classic literary firmament. He taps into his character’s “dragon-sickness” — coveting riches at the expense of the soul — and does it with a mad glint in his eye one instance, a conflicted expression the next. His performance is a highlight, as is the presence of Martin Freeman, whose hobbit Bilbo Baggins feels the tug of his own dark side. And, yes, “Ring” veterans Blanchett, McKellen and Christopher Lee contribute as well.
The cast, including Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage are great.
Nonetheless, it’s Bilbo and Thorin’s increasingly fraught and intimate relationship that stands head and shoulders above everything else in The Battle of the Five Armies, Freeman and Armitage both doing their most wrenching work in the series yet. There’s no standout sequence here to rival either Bilbo and Gollum’s game of riddles from An Unexpected Journey, or Bilbo and Smaug’s showdown from Desolation, but instead we get the utterly compelling, quasi-Shakespearean tragedy of Thorin’s arc.
(…) With comparatively few characters in whom you’re really invested, The Hobbit was always going to struggle for an emotionally cohesive payoff, and it’s thanks only to Freeman and Armitage that the climax plays as poignantly as it does.
Richard Armitage delivered an intense and commanding performance as Thorin Oakenshield, and is arguably the true star of the film. Armitage was also very skillful at portraying the subtle and the heightened aspects of Thorin’s internal struggles. But with Thorin being the star of the film, this also means that Bilbo Baggins plays more of a secondary role (in a film that’s named after him). This is unfortunate since Freeman’s sympathetic and caring Bilbo Baggins delivers much of the touching moments in the film.
Without Bilbo’s journey, there is no story, and Freeman has let us into that journey with exceptional skill and subtlety. Around him Richard Armitage (especially) and co have been flawless, but Freeman, in his quiet, measured, unfussy way, has been a masterclass
The tragic figure here is the Dwarf king Thorin (a splendidly conflicted Richard Armitage) who, having recaptured his people’s ancestral cave of gold, is tainted and maddened by it.
Though they’re both good actors with a gift for subtlety and pathos, Freeman and Armitage are a bit swallowed up by the action surrounding them, only really allowed to shine near Battle’s end once the warring ceases and their characters’ bond is finally allowed to be addressed.
In truth, Thorin is Battle’s main character with the greater arc: Early on in Battle, the noble Dwarf succumbs to madness, his lust to keep all of Erebor’s gold prompting him to declare war on Middle-earth’s other tribes, even those who are the Dwarves’ comrades. Thorin’s eventual change of heart may be simplistically dramatised, but Armitage gives it a punch, showing us how a good Dwarf can let greed temporarily blind him.
There are bright spots. Christopher Lee doing Kung Fu is great, and the last third is rescued by a crumbling citadel set-piece…When the dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) imagines drowning in molten gold, Jackson’s pet message that Greed is Bad resounds. At 6ft 2in, Armitage must be the tallest actor ever to play a dwarf.
– Daily Telegraph
Richard Armitage is perhaps the best thing about ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’. He’s utterly brilliant as Thorin and the way in which he plays the character is tremendous.
Maddened by greed, the dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage, a dramatic standout in all three films) refuses to honor agreements to share his treasure with his elvish and human allies.
– Chicago Sun Times
It’s not entirely without merit, as there are a handful of standout moments – the Dol Guldur battle springs to mind, along with some notable performances from Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen
In the series as a whole and in this movie, Armitage provides fine work. As the stoic and increasingly mad Thorin, he is ever compelling.
Of course, some things about the film work. Freeman, McKellen and Armitage do their best and their best is excellent.
The real standout is undoubtedly Richard Armitage. His portrayal of Thorin, as he descends into madness, provides a real gravitas to this final chapter. There is real depth to his character’s story that is brought out beautifully.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo is as charmingly aloof and plucky as ever, but he’s (somewhat awkwardly) replaced as the protagonist by Richard Armitage’s Thorin, who has the most well-defined character arc of the many players in Battle of the Five Armies. The two actors not only play their respective parts well, their scenes together are, by far, the most engaging when it comes to the non-action-driven material. Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t have a huge “heart,” but the one it does posses comes from the Bilbo/Thorin relationship.
Jackson also carves out some more room for Armitage to show what the dwarf king is made of. With the actor’s flare for making dark, brooding introspection magnetic, Thorin’s battle with himself and his legacy is by far the film’s most interesting fight.
And while the entire cast turn in a wonderful range of colourful performances, it is the core relationship between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) that the film offers a welcomed sense of realism and emotional weight amongst the fractured narrative and countless battle sequences.
(…) Opposite Freeman is Richard Armitage, who offers his best performance in the trilogy, perfectly conveying Thorin’s intoxicating sickness and greed, but never overplaying it – something I feel plagued his performance on occasion in the previous offerings. His character arc comes to a head where every nuance of emotion and realisation is felt in his heart rendering final act.
This review has been negative so far but there are positives. The cast is still game and continues with Armitage being an excellent Thorin as he becomes an irrational, paranoid figure. Martin Freeman is given more time as Bilbo Baggins and the movie refocuses on the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin, swinging from respect and friendship to animosity.
On the other side of the wall, Richard Armitage’s Thorin is more interesting than ever, glowering through hallucinatory sequences that illustrate how much of a hold the treasure has on him. Armitage is unafraid to take the character to dark places, repelling his friends with his Arkenstone obsession and his paranoia. It’s to the film’s credit that you’re not sure if he’ll be able to pull himself out of the spell; we may have never really been invested in him the way we were with Aragorn or any LOTR character, but this final film goes a long way to humanize (dwarvenize?) him, and the conclusion of his arc is entirely earned.
Watching Thorin succumb to the dragon sickness and turn his back on his dwarves, Bilbo, and those who helped them reclaim his throne is powerful in relating the troubles of greed and its affects on those who hold power over others. Richard Armitage does a fine job recreating Thorin’s madness and the destruction and death it brings to those around him, making you feel for him and want him to be a better dwarf than he is because you know he has the ability to redeem himself. His scenes with Martin Freeman (Bilbo) are definitely the most touching, and they honor the rocky relationship these two characters have in the book perfectly.
To be fair, The Battle of the Five Armies does have some beautiful shots and moments where the glory we’ve seen Jackson bring to Middle Earth before can be glimpsed. Freeman remains a delightful Bilbo, we’re treated to a heavier helping of Lee Pace (always a good thing) and Richard Armitage does great work with Thorin’s arc.