It’s time (again) for Peter Jackson to say goodbye to his cinematic Tolkien universe that he created with such passion and vision over a decade ago. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies delivers on the carnage implied in its title, providing an action-packed finale that isn’t the best of the overall series, but arguably the best of The Hobbit franchise.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’s cliffhanger left many audiences counting the days until the next film hit theaters, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies wastes no time jumping back into things. To be honest, I was actually quite surprised how quickly the film resolved the Smaug cliffhanger and moved on to bigger things, as if in a slight rush to fit it all into the movie. But Jackson doesn’t waste time with exposition as he throws the audience into the thick of the action at Lake Town. And action you shall receive, as the film is almost two hours of pure nonstop battles and dazzling sequences.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of Dwarves soon find themselves having to defend their newly re-acquired mountain home from a number of interested parties, whom all unsurprisingly have armies. Unfortunately Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has developed a touch of “dragon fever” and has started to develop a tendency to maniacally covet a missing Dwarf bauble, the Arkenstone, much like Smeagol covets the One Ring. Meanwhile Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is facing down the ghostly essence of Sauron himself with the help of some old and new allies, while coming to realize the Lord of the Rings himself is behind much of what has transpired, and his return to full power might be nigh.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is worth the price of admission for the insane nonstop action alone. This is easily one of director Peter Jackson’s most ambitious projects as far as visuals and execution go. From the assault on Lake Town to the continually escalating ‘Battle of the Five Armies’ there’s barely a moment to catch your breath. Although Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King had much more emotional weight, dare I say that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies had the better battle.
But that previous statement is exactly where the fault in this film lies. There was almost zero substance for most of the what was going on and it was hard to feel anything for the consequences that the film has for its heroes and villains. I found myself quickly more endeared to the massive Dwarf army and its leader Dáin (Billy Connolly) after our first awesome look at them than many characters we’d had for three films. Certainly The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’s swan song performances from Freeman and McKellen were unsurprisingly fantastic, but the rest of the events just felt like expertly crafted fantasy battles with little else tied to them.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies does, however, manage to do the best job of evoking the look and feel of the original Lord of the Rings, and its grim tale will certainly please audiences that were turned off by the frolicking light-hearted vibe of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There’s quite a bit collected from other works in this film (more so than the previous two) that are used to pad out the story, and it seems the result is a much more cohesive connection to the start of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring than the original source material contained and it worked nicely for me.
Fans can rest easy – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a worthy enough bookend to The Hobbit trilogy which will no doubt be entertaining viewers for years to come, and should find itself fairly high on most viewer’s rankings of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films. Where it’s light on the emotional resonance and character development that elevated the previous trilogy, it makes up for it with heaping gobs of jaw-dropping fantasy blood-letting. Lots of it.