Kiwi director Peter Jackson is back to his battle bombastic best with this two-hour-plus finale to The Hobbit franchise. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the part three conclusion to the Middle Earth extravaganza based upon the best selling J. R. R. Tolkien novels, follows 2012’s An Unexpected Journey, last year’s The Desolation of Smaug, and precedes the popular The Lord of the Rings trilogy of the early 2000s.
The film kicks off where we finished last December, with honey-voiced dragon Smaug (voiced and motion-captured by a menacingly magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch) breathing fire down upon the penniless folk of Lake-town. Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) returns as Bard the Bowman, and, as expected, spears the serpent of the sky in his Achilles heel (a scaleless spot on the skin), killing the beast and saving the town! But that’s just the beginning.
Mumbly Martin Freeman (Sherlock, Fargo) reprises his role as the titular humble hero Bilbo Baggins. This time, Bilbo and the dwarves are also at war with their blindsided leader Thorin Oakenshield (a hairy Richard Armitage of Spooks fame). The magnetism of the mountain has given him “dragon sickness” and he’s launched into a day-and-night pursuit for his ancestral claim to the kingdom, the white gem the Arkenstone. However, many Middle Earth folk – dwarves, elves and orcs alike – believe the riches of the now vacant Lonely Mountain are rightfully theirs, and therein lies the battle: the battle of the five armies.
First on the scene are the stranded people of Lake-town. Monobrowed moron Alfrid Lickspittle (Ryan Gage from the The Musketeers television reboot) is at his petty-pinhead best, with his exaggerated comic relief schtick wearing thin far too quickly (except one scene where the gold stuffed down his front resembles boobs. But see, it’s childish humour only). Now homeless, the humans view starting over again in the Lonely Mountain as an entitlement.
Of course, the elves are eager too. Elven King Thranduil (a silken haired Lee Pace) wants to reclaim his ancestors silver jewels from the belly of the mountain, flanked by elves with Gucci gold armoury, cascading locks and graceful, choreographed fight moves. Thranduil’s on-again-off-again son Legolas (Orlando Bloom reprises the role) and Legolas’ on-again-off-again wood-elf love interest Tauriel (Evangeline Lily – a character created especially for the films) bound between scenes as rogue renegades, unsure where their loyalties should lie.
On the sidelines, alongside a mostly absent Gandalf (stage and screen legend Sir Ian McKellan), Australia’s own Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving revel in the supernatural in their standout scene at Dol Guldor, reprising their Lord of the Rings elf roles respectively. They come to the aid of Gandalf to banish Sauron (aka The Necromancer – voiced again by Cumberbatch) and his ghost army from infiltrating the mountain.
The grisly Gundabad orcs (under Sauron’s instructions) are lead by regular Hobbit villain Azog (Manu Bennett) – a big and fearsome, battle-scarred albino orc hell bent on massacring everything “inferior” in his way. He and his butt-ugly army descend on the battle grounds of Dale en masse, having recruited trolls and evil mountain dwellers to aid their attempted takeover.
In comparison to the LOTR films, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a more light-hearted affair. The original novel is a prequel to all the franchise films, so unfortunately (but unavoidably) characters and plot points in this film are already well and truly known, so suspense is fleeting.
Themes of greed and friendship pepper the battle sequences too, grounding the epic and fictional world just long enough to tug a few heartstrings in-between the slaughterings. In this installment, Bilbo’s obsession with the infamous ring is eclipsed by Thorin’s destructive desire to claim the mountain’s heirloom treasure for himself.
There are also moments of humour and love (often when death is imminent, and often between rival species’) as well as brave sacrifices, adequately stopping the film from becoming just one giant bloody battle. The romance between Tauriel and dwarf Kili feels mostly contrived – the pair don’t have any obvious chemistry – so when the inevitable happens there is little emotional baggage.
Sweeping CGI panoramas are what Jackson and his team do best, and played out against the picturesque New Zealand landscape, the result is a breathtakingly beautiful birds-eye view of a medieval land engulfed in a video game-style war (albeit a little long-winded). Character SFX are convincingly maintained as creatures of varying species and height interact across equally computer-derived lands.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a rousing medieval melee – a fitting and fighting end to a long but beloved saga.