THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, and Aidan Turner. Directed by Peter Jackson. Rated M (Fantasy violence). 144 min.
This epic fantasy adventure film is the final movie in the 3-part film adaptation, based on "The Hobbit" (1937) by J.R.R. Tolkien. All three films are prequels to "The Lord of the Rings" series that began in 2001 with "The Fellowship of the Ring" and ended in 2003 with "The Return of the King".
Taking up immediately from the events of the second Hobbit film, "The Desolation of Smaug" (2013), Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a small company of Dwarves are inside The Lonely Mountain with Smaug's treasure - as Smaug, the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbartch) flies around Lake Town, their home. Smaug in rage rains terror on the town, and is felled by an especially designed arrow fired by the bowman, Bard (Luke Evans), which targets its heart. Bard is lauded by Lake Town as the slayer of the monster dragon.
Back inside The Lonely Mountain, the Dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), surrounds himself with Smaug's unbelievable wealth, becomes obsessed with the riches around him, and loses reason. Drawn by the ambitious desire to acquire this wealth, armies descend on the land of Erebor to do battle. Saruman has sent legions of Orcs to take the treasure, and armies of Dwarves, Humans, Elves, and Eagles join forces to stop the Orc invasion.
The final chapter is grim and action-packed. There are corpses galore, decapitations, mighty clashes of steel, and bloody fighting, as seen in other movies in this series. However, in this film there are an awful lot of them. A gigantic battle of the five armies takes place to decide the future of Middle Earth, and battle scenes occupy almost the entire second half of a long film. Typical of Peter Jackson's direction, the war scenes are exciting, spectacular, and full of visual detail.
Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) travels from afar to warn Bilbo that the Orcs are coming. The love between elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the Dwarf, Kili (Aidan Turner) helps to distract the viewer from the tide of greed that stirs the aggression on, and Bilbo does all that he can to rescue Thorin from his madness.
One result of so much action is that the final chapter is too spectacular and exciting. The action grandeur creates incredible moments that literally pile on top of each other, competing for attention. As an adventure tale, the fantasy of the film is outstanding, and it has been richly fuelled by the artistic imagination of Guillermo del Toro, arguably the world's leading exponent of inventive action-fantasy on film.
While the fantasy is terrific, intense action nearly always occupies centre stage. Most, but not all of the characters in the film, are the same people at the end of the movie as they were at the start. Only Thorin's descent into greed-fuelled madness and Bilbo's desperate attempt to rescue him provide in-depth plot development and character change.
The movie as a whole, however, is a spectacular action conclusion to Jackson's trilogy. It stands compellingly, if not too coherently, as the final chapter, and anticipates the visual grandeur, if not the dramatic sweep of "The Lord of the Rings". The film takes the viewer on a very heady, aggressive ride. As an imaginative fantasy epic, the film is magnificent. As a film communicating dramatic sweep, it disappoints. Chances are, however, that the level of excitement that the movie engenders is sufficient to overcome disappointment in other respects.
This film brings final closure to two remarkable series of movies - three on "The Hobbit", and three on "The Lord of the Rings". All six films have been under the control of the same brilliant director, Peter Jackson. Though there is variability across the six, this one, as the others before it, is inspired movie-making, and richly deserves to be seen, appreciated, and enjoyed.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released December 26th., 2014