"The defining chapter" declare the posters for this wrap-up episode in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Lord of the Rings prequels, the last of three films stretched from J.R.R. Tolkien's one novel, The Hobbit. Exactly what’s being defined is left conveniently vague, because what we have here is a whole lot more of Jackson’s proven formula: more battles, more creatures, more not-quite-comical asides, more stern speechifying and more gob-smackingly elaborate action set pieces. If you’ve been enjoying The Hobbit so far, you’re in for a treat. But if you were hoping for something extra or different this time around—a touch of honest emotion, perhaps—then The Battle of the Five Armies will leave you wanting.
We pick up the story right where The Desolation of Smaug cut to black: The dragon is on the rampage, and all Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his dwarvish companions can do is watch as the lizard lays waste to Lake-town. It’s a phenomenal opening, thunderous and apocalyptic, pitching us into the heart of a city on fire.
But when the smoke clears, the script begins to lose focus, as what seems like every single character in the trilogy (bar one slimy riddler) comes crawling out for a cameo. While Thorin (Richard Armitage) indulges his lust for gold to the frustration of bowman Bard (Luke Evans) and elf-king Thranduil (Lee Pace), Gandalf recruits a few old pals to assist in his escape from the dungeons of Dul Guldur. In the confusion, poor Bilbo feels more like a supporting character in his own titular story, surrendering screen time to such feeble distractions as Billy Connolly riding a pig.
Luckily, Jackson’s singular talent for massive-scale mayhem hasn’t deserted him, and the hour-long smackdown that crowns the film gives him ample opportunities to indulge it. With what feels like a lot more than five armies on the march—we counted elves, dwarves, men, orcs, trolls, goblins, eagles, evil bats and bizarre Dune-like earthworms—it’s one of the grandest sequences Jackson has ever shot. And if there’s sometime a hint that his imagination is even bigger than his special-effects budget (some of the busier panoramic shots are a bit murky), that’s perhaps inevitable when you’re working on a bigger canvas than any other director has attempted. There are flaws in this final chapter, for sure, but as Jackson's six-film Middle-earth series comes to a close, it's a fitting tribute to his dedication and ambition.
Cast and crew