Farewell, Middle-Earth, it’s been quite the journey. After six films and thirteen years, director Peter Jackson closes the book on his time in Tolkien’s world with his “defining chapter”, The Battle of the Five Armies.
Opening right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, the concluding chapter of The Hobbit begins with a bang, setting the pace and tone for what is to come. There will be fire, there will be destruction and there will be death. As in the previous film, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is beautifully created, terrifying and spectacular (there’s a reason he has so many modest names – Smaug the Tremendous, Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy, Smaug the Mighty). His reign of terror over Lake-Town both pays off the build up from The Desolation of Smaug and sets in motion the events that unfold thereafter. Peter Jackson means business.
Having reached the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and company have two wholly different trials to face. The impending war for the Mountain, and Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) descent into madness. After outwitting Gollum in the first chapter of The Hobbit, and narrowly escaping death at the hands of Smaug in the second chapter, Bilbo now faces another tricky challenge, and one potentially as dangerous – keeping his friend Thorin from teetering past the point of no return and into the darkness, as he becomes riddled with greed for gold.
The scenes between these two display the best we have seen of Armitage as Thorin across the trilogy. Cold, cowardly and creepy in his sickly state, he is a great fold to the real star of the show, Martin Freeman. Whilst these scenes are well executed, they don’t quite match up to Bilbo’s previous battles of the wits with Gollum and Smaug, however they certainly do a solid job in setting up the intense, fist pumping final act.
There is action a plenty here, and for the most part it looks great. As was the case with the first two chapters however, the practical effects from the Lord of the Rings trilogy have been replaced with CGI heavy sequences and characters. Smaug looks great, the icy locale of the stunning final battle is well realised, and Azog the Defiler is suitably imposing, however Legolas (Orlando Bloom) looks just…different, and Billy Connolly’s Dáin is unnecessarily fully CGI it would seem. There are smatterings of these odd choices throughout and they tend to be a little distracting.
This is mostly forgivable however as The Battle of the Five Armies is just so darned heartfelt, which makes it a little easier to look past any dodgy CGI. Although the band of Dwarves may not all individually be fleshed out fully as characters, as a collective band of brothers they are certainly likeable. These are characters that are easy to care for, none more so than The Hobbit himself, Bilbo Baggins. This is his show, and Freeman rounds off his innings in the big old feet of Bilbo with a touching performance.
There are a few servings of cheese unfortunately – namely due to the underhanded and overacting Alfrid (Ryan Gage), former underling to the Master of Lake-Town (Stephen Fry). His antics undercut the tone and drama at times, and really could have been done without altogether.
In High Frame Rate 3D it takes a little adjusting to. It’s visually crisp, but to the point where it loses its “filmic” look. The 3D is subtle and at its finest during the opening scenes with Smaug. Otherwise its non essential, but non offensive.
Pacing wise, this is significantly zippier than the first two films in the series, and even more so in comparison to the final chapter of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and it benefits from this, feeling much more succinct and together than the at times disjointed An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. Despite arguably being the best of The Hobbit films, with the stakes not being quite so high as in Lord of the Rings it falls short of the near perfect films of that trilogy. Instead is settles for grand scale, incredibly fun, blockbuster glory – not bad for a Hobbit uninterested in adventure.
Fun, heartfelt and heartwarming. The Battle of the Five Armies is a spectacularly grand finale, with an epic final battle and great performances from Freeman and Armitage. Middle-Earth on the big screen will be missed.
Rating (out of 5):