Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly
Peter Jackson takes us back to Middle Earth one last time for the climatic conclusion of The Hobbit trilogy – and the best installment in his prequel saga.
The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, with Smaug the dragon unleashing a torrent of fiery destruction upon Laketown. It’s a spectacular sequence with a real sense of peril, and is a great way to kick off the film.
With the dragon out of the mountain, Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves are quick to reclaim their former homeland. But with the newly homeless people of Laketown looking for shelter, not to mention elves led by Thranduil (a scenery chewing Lee Pace) also laying claim to certain treasures within, it’s not long until everyone wants a piece of the mountain. Unfortunately for everyone, an increasingly greedy and obsessive Thorin is unwillingly to share. What follows is a slow, tense build up as the various factions inch closer to all out war.
At the centre of it all is Bilbo Baggins, played to typical perfection by Martin Freeman. In previous films he tended to feel sidelined in his own adventure as the likes of Thorin, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bard (Luke Evans) took centre stage for extended periods of time. While these characters (and Thorin in particular) still command a lot of screen time, Bilbo feels a lot more central to the narrative here. He actually takes charge at certain points and his actions drive the plot in a way they previously haven’t. Crucially, he’s the emotional centre of the movie and a number of the film’s best moments come in quieter scenes as Bilbo tries to come to terms with what is unfolding around him.
Of course, the big draw here is the titular battle and when it finally erupts it is spectacular. Elves, dwarves, orcs and more all clash in an extended confrontation which does a great job of recapturing the glorious battles of The Lord of the Rings. Jackson retains his panache for directing large-scale assaults and though there are a few too many moments of slightly floaty CGI, most of the battle feels suitably weighty. It’s a good job too because between the large-scale battles and one-on-one duels, much of the film’s final act is taken up by the clashing of swords and the shattering of spears. It’s possible things go on a fraction too long but the wealth of interesting scenarios and dynamic swordplay mostly keep battle fatigue at bay.
Though the core plot threads and climatic showdowns are engaging, it’s possible your patience will be tested elsewhere. The love triangle plot between Kili (Aidan Turner), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) continues to feel forced and while Legolas is given plenty of action, much of it involves distractingly unrealistic feats enabled by some of the poorer CGI work in the film. Another character who is given far too much to do in this installment is slimy Laketown deputy Alfrid (Ryan Gage) who does nothing of importance except constantly undermine the tension and drama with poorly conceived ‘comic’ interludes. If you find the image of a man dressed as a woman hilarious beyond all measure, this is definitely the film for you.
Minor quibbles aside, this extended climax serves as a great final chapter in the Hobbit trilogy. With its tense, moody build up and epic payoff, The Battle of the Five Armies ends Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth on a high note. Until the inevitable Silmarillion trilogy, of course!