The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

It’s part three of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy and part six of his Tolkien saga, where the Hobbit narrative is played out and the groundwork is laid for The Lord of the Rings. The dwarves have taken the Lonely Mountain, with the dragon winging its way to Laketown, but the apparent completion of their quest is scuppered when it seems a few other people are eyeing up the mountain.

There’s a generally accepted law of diminishing returns in films – sequels will inevitably be inferior to their predecessors, we assume – but this is a rule Jackson has shown can be broken, by planning out a trilogy and filming its parts simultaneously. While The Lord of the Rings has three films which all have a bold claim to be the best in the trilogy, his Hobbit trilogy builds with every film to this epic conclusion which is both the most exciting and well-rounded of the three.

The sprawling tale not only incorporates the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, but even brushes on Silmarillion mythology at one point, as Legolas and Tauriel venture to the Northern fortress where Sauron’s boss lived in the First Age. The brinkmanship between elves, men and dwarves captures the tension and unease that’s rife in Middle Earth towards the end of the Third Age. Evil and mistrust have seeped into the world, and races that should be allied instead turn on each other over petty squabbles.

There’s far more nuance to the characters, shunning the good/evil categorisation which can be applied to most characters in The Lord of the Rings. Our hero, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is corrupted by the treasure in the mountain, betraying those closest to him. Thranduil (the brilliant Lee Pace), the king of the woodland elves, is vein and arrogant, and King Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly) is aggressive to the point of recklessness. There are very few characters who are presented as wholly good. There are some great performances from Ian McKellen (who I’ve met), Pace (who I haven’t met) and Connolly, in his least boring film role in years. There are also some not-so-good performances from Orlando Bloom and Orlando Bloom.

Like the first two films, the feel is wholly different from The Lord of the Rings. The lighter tale and presence of thirteen quirky dwarves makes this a story will less gravity than its big brother, and as such it aims squarely for fun. This isn’t to say their aren’t emotional moments, but that delivering spectacle and entertainment comes first. Set against an icy backdrop, the film delivers all the rich scenery, stunning costumes and remarkable makeup of the previous films.

Unsurpisingly, for a film named after a battle, most of the film is spent in combat. There are so many characters from so many different races that following each of them throughout the lengthy battles takes a siginificant amount of time. Are there a few too many last minute savings of characters? Perhaps. Is it rather over the top? Absolutely. But it’s a stunning spectacle that provides a fittingly exciting final chapter to the Tolkien saga. The special effects are superb, and Jackson once again shows his ability to tell a story through a battle, with most of the character arcs reaching their conclusions on the battlefield. We’re also treated to seeing Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman flushing Sauron and his wraiths out of Dol Guldor in a superb scene it’s hard to describe without using the word ‘nerdgasm’.

All the odd threads that have felt peripheral in parts one and two weave together and bridge the gap to Rings. This is Peter Jackson’s last journey to Middle Earth and he knows it, and pulls out all the stops to push the envelope further and do everything possible with the universe in the knowledge he won’t get the chance to do it again.

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