*SPOILER WARNING* Some major plot spoilers feature in this review. Read with caution.
So this is it. Peter Jackson has come full circle in his near 15-year quest to bring the vast and idyllic realms of J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ to life. In this third and final installment of The Hobbit trilogy, we are given both an end and a beginning; As we come to the conclusion of Bilbo Baggins’ ‘unexpected journey‘, we are also treading steps to embark (or rather re-embark) on the perilous trek of his nephew Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings. The resonance of The Battle of The Five Armies cannot be understated. It marks the end of an era of story telling, through film-making that has been spectacular, thrilling and touching all in equal measure. And thankfully, Jackson has struck exactly the right chord on which to end his much loved take on the franchise – with hard-hitting blows, an inimitable sense of style and of course, the warmth of heart with which Tolkien fans from all over, have become so attuned with.
The film starts, as you would expect, from where The Desolation of Smaug left off. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his company (of twelve dwarves and a hobbit) have successfully taken back the mountains of Erebor. However, in the process of reclaiming their homeland and all the riches that lie within, they angered the great and fearsome dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) who in a vengeful fury, flies towards Lake Town, intent on burning the village to ash and desolating the lives of all who live there. But, as was hinted to in the last film, the righteous bowman, Bard (Luke Evans) has the power – and the only rare black arrow – that can pierce the dragon’s hide and destroy him once and for all. Now, I don’t wish to spoil too much for you – a lot of the film’s most brilliant moments are best kept as surprises – but this is a finale. And like The Deathly Hallows and so many other stories, death is undoubtedly a feature. And while some deaths may prove more shocking or heartbreaking, I think the end of Smaug was always inevitable – no matter how badass he was. And sure enough, in a courageous act of ‘father-son’ bonding, Bard and his son work together to defeat the dragon.
But with Smaug fallen and no longer occupying the mountain, other eyes look towards the mountain, seeking it’s position and it’s wealth. And Thorin – struck by the same bout of madness or ‘dragon sickness’ as his grandfather was – becomes obsessively protective of his new-found kingdom and the gold it bestows, much to the frustration of Bilbo (Martin Freeman). Elsewhere, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is held prisoner in Dol Guldur by Sauron’s Orc army, while the Woodland Elf king, Thranduil (Lee Pace) seeks to claim his share of the mountain’s treasures – namely white elvish gems that were stolen many years past. For the first half of the film, we are intensely focused on Thorin and his fierce fixation on finding the Arkenstone; ‘the kings jewel’, that Bilbo was tasked to find and steal. In his desperate desire to possess the stone and to retain his gold, we see a very dark side to the Dwarf King. He is suspicious of everyone, and arrogantly unsubmitting in handing over any of his treasure – even to Bard and the people of Lake-Town, despite giving his word in the last film that he would allow them a share of the gold when he took back the mountain. There is much bartering between the dwarves, the elves and the people of Lake Town, before the main event occurs. Sauron’s army of Orcs, Giants and specially made Bat-like creatures are headed to the mountain, determined to defeat all who stand in their way. And so the titular Battle of the Five Armies begins.
The Battle, as is surely to be expected from a film of this size and scale, is truly a spectacle to behold. The choreography of the warriors from each army in battle is beautifully fluid, whilst also being as action-packed and awesome as you like. The arrival of Thorin’s cousin Dain (voiced by Billy Connolly), who strides up, riding a pig and swearing at both elves and orcs, is rather wonderful and adds some comic relief to the otherwise hardcore fighting. The film is certainly lengthy (Peter Jackson is not only a master in CGI and storytelling, but he can also really test one’s bladder capacity) but in it’s longevity it provides a wide scope on which a range of characters can evolve and resolve their individual purposes. Obviously, over two and a half hours, there are some characters that might test your patience in amongst all the ‘proper action’ – And for me certainly, the attention put upon Jackson’s self-invented elven beauty Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and her cynically romantic attachment with Kili (Aidan Turner), has never settled particularly well. The focus on the Master of Lake-Town’s slimy servant, Alfrid also seems a bit much – there is only so much ‘snivelly coward’ one can take before it gets annoying.
But some characters are focused on and performed brilliantly. As previously mentioned, Thorin’s decline into madness and subsequent salvation of conscience is fascinating to watch. And several characters get some really bad-ass moments – namely Cate Blanchett’s Lady Galadriel, Bard and Thranduil, who just majestically slays left, right and centre astride his Elk. But, ultimately – despite the incredible feats of war and action amongst the plot -the film’s real resolve is in it’s titular character, The Hobbit. Though brilliant in the last two instalments, Freeman in his portrayal of Bilbo perfectly captures the heart of this film. Bilbo is like the moral conscience amongst all the madness – courageous, thoughtful and loyal to the greater good.
Overall, The Battle of the Five Armies really enraptures an audience. Yes, it’s long but it is full of moments that are unmissable and incredibly poignant – not only to the details of this trilogy but also to The Lord of The Rings. It is a film that is spectacular in it’s vision, gut-wrenchingly emotive in it’s plot and unmistakably warm in it’s main character. And as the ending to a franchise that has been so critically acclaimed and beloved by audiences, it certainly won’t disappoint.
This article was written for The Indiependent. It can be found in it’s original form here.