The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies: Movie ReviewCast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Evangeline Lily, Christopher Lee
Director: Peter Jackson
And so the unexpected journey comes to a much expected end.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies feels like the most workman-like of the franchise though, with it having to resolve a myriad of plot-threads, tie the film to the Lord of the Rings and also end it on a high.
Opening with Smaug's desolation of Laketown and then seeing him off in relatively quick time thanks to Bard the Bowman's shenanigans, Jackson seems keen to give the film a roaring blast of action before it kicks into a web of plotting, politicking and planning ahead of a major fight at the end.
With Smaug dispatched and several of the main characters of Laketown crushed asunder, the focus shifts onto Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his succumbing to "dragon sickness" and the corruption within the gold as he essentially initiates a stand-off by threatening to go back on his word as the forces amass around the King under the mountain in his stronghold.
But as Gandalf soon realises, Thorin's insane gambit is threatening to destroy all of the unity between elves, humans and dwarves; and that could prove detrimental as the Orc forces amass...
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is considerably lighter on plot than the previous outings, with all roads essentially leading to a mammoth confrontation toward the end that recalls Jackson's prior Rings outings in terms of action, spectacle and relative excitement (even though placing Legolas occasionally in peril is dramatically pointless given how he figures in the LOTR trilogy).
There are character moments within, though, noticeably fewer than what's gone before and with some of the residents of Laketown (including the Master's squire who appears to have wandered in from a pantomime rather than channeling more of the weasel) throwing in some relatively ropey acting / dialogue, some of these flaws unfortunately stand out a little more than in prior outings.
Conflicts between Orlando Bloom's Legolas and an icy Lee Pace's Thranduil, the resolution of the love triangle between Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel, Legolas and Being Human Aidan Turner's Kili, and Thorin's face-off with just about everyone who comes near him as well as the orc Azog are all thrown into the mix and vehemently stirred asunder before boiling over.
Freeman's Bilbo appears less on the screen this time - likewise the majority of the dwarves - but he once again shows why he's the perfect actor for the Hobbit. A simple look, twitch of his face can tell more than a thousand words and is used to maximum effect throughout. Equally, it's Armitage who steps up to the plate this time with the dragon sickness malignancy adding a much needed dimension and giving him the dramatic weight that's needed as we head to the end sprint.
Newcomer Billy Connolly makes an impression as the Glasgow kiss-touting cousin Dain of Thorin and proves to be the perfect tonic to lots of portentous talk and foreboding; Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, and Ian Holm all appear, giving the movie the chance it needs to lead into the Lord of The Rings series and imbuing it all with an continuity that's needed for its conclusion.
The inventive action sequences as Jackson's camera sweeps across giant plains do much to impress and showcase the technical prowess of all involved, providing a scope that's befitting of the scale of what's occurring and Jackson's not lost his eye for spectacle with Legolas's escape from a falling bridge showing there's visual creativity still left to be had in the series as he moves the figures around like a war master toying with a giant open-world set of goodies and baddies.
In among the bluster of the blockbuster trappings and once the dust has settled on the incredible action sequences, the overall feeling is that The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies thrills and frustrates in equal measures.
Tauriel's sidelined as the love interest in this, which is a frustration given how much she stood out as a point of difference during The Desolation of Smaug; Bard the Bowman simply disappears from proceedings once his usefulness is dramatically spent and the majority of the Company of Dwarves (with the exception of Ken Stott's Balin and Richard Armitage's Thorin) is simply set-dressing, lacking the emotional edge that was so evident in the last film as it built to its crescendo. This time around, it lacks the cohesion needed to push the series into air-punching rousing territory as it ends.
Spectacular it may be, and an achievement from Sir Peter Jackson and his team it undoubtedly is, but The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies brings the series to an end in a relatively uneven fashion. As a standalone film, it just misses the mark due to some dramatic constraints, but as part of a series, it proves a fitting send-off to Middle Earth.