While the final instalment in The Hobbit trilogy isn’t without its flaws – much like the series in general – The Battle of the Five Armies still provides a rousing finale that is still far better than most blockbusters out there.
The main problem is The Hobbit should have been two films, not three. Greedy execs wanted three films to milk the JRR Tolkien cash-cow for all it was worth and, as The Hobbit didn’t have as much to tell as The Lord of the Rings, Jackson had his work cut-out piecing this together in the same way as his 2001-2003 Oscar-winning work – thus hampering him for the get-go.
This is evident as the film starts off directly where the second film finished, with vengeful super-sized dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) heading to Lake-Town to obliterate Bard (Luke Evans) and the town’s inhabitants with his fiery wrath. This surely could have been the finale to The Desolation of Smaug some may ask.
And that pretty much sets the tone for the movie: very disjointed, but with some great stand-out set-pieces that hark back to Jackson’s The Lord the Rings glory days.
With Smaug out of the way, this leaves Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his company of dwarves – along with the peace-making Bilbo (Martin Freeman) – to reclaim their homeworld, but with a bevvy of treasure which leads to Thorin sacrificing friendship and honour to keep it away from potential outsiders.
But with Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his army of elves laying claim to some of the riches – much to the chagrin of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) – and Lake-Town folk displaced and seeking solace in the mountain, it leads to game of ‘cat and mouse’ to resolve the situation.
That’s before Sauron’s orc army (complete with giant trolls), led by Azog (Manu Bennett), catch the disputing factions off-guard by trying to take the strategic stronghold of Lonely Mountain themselves – forcing the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men to unite or be destroyed.
With several interesting side stories shoe-horned in: elf Tauriel’s (Evangeline Lilly) love story with dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner); and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and (a good guy) Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) battle against the awoken Sauron to help save a stricken Gandalf (Ian McKellen), to name but two – it does welcomingly fill in some gaps as a prequel to the original The Lords of the Rings series.
Fortunately the final 45-minute battle – which at times does look like one massive special effects scene and is NO Helm’s Deep by a long shot – isn’t just left on the battlefield, and is mainly dominated by a fantastic duel between Azog and Thorin.
Throw in a few genuinely heart-rending moments – it’s hard to not have a lingering tear when Bilbo heads back to the Shire and Jackson’s T olkien six-parter is wrapped up for good. This is just about the best out of the three The Hobbit films, which got slightly better each time.
If The Lords of the Rings was Jackson’s much-loved masterpiece – The Hobbit is Jackson’s likeably ‘flawed’ epic yarn.
But it’s still a battle well worth undertaking – and for that Mr Jackson and Mr Tolkien, we thank you.
Review by Gavin Miller, rating: 4/5 stars.