The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Defining Chapter

Just over a decade ago audiences were bidding farewell to Middle-earth as director Peter Jackson’s final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King (2003), brought the series to an epic close. Now, some years later, we find ourselves ‘there and back again,’ so to speak, parting from Middle-earth perhaps for the final time. From the onset, it’s apparent that director Jackson has saved the best for last with the concluding chapter of Tolkien’s drawn-out The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, being the most violent, emotionally stirring, and electrifying entry in the series of films.

While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) were entertaining flicks, it’s plainly obvious that Jackson decided to stretch a simple, straight forward story, into several enormous features, introducing a handful of new characters and situations — not found in the original text — along the way; but Jackson made it all work, relishing the opportunity to re-visit Middle-earth for a second time. Although never surpassing the triumph of his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is about as fitting a conclusion as one could hope for Jackson’s blockbuster saga.

'Does this mean there's no second breakfast?'
‘Does this mean there’s no second breakfast?’

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies roars with a thrilling opening sequence — picking up directly where The Desolation of Smaug left off — with Smaug, (voiced of Benedict Cumberbatch), setting Lake-town ablaze in an apocalyptic attack. In its opening moments, Jackson’s visual mastery sets the picture ablaze, slowly building suspense for the grand battle that’s about to transpire. In truth, the whole Smaug sub-plot should have been resolved in the previous chapter of Jackson’s trilogy, feeling oddly out-of-place, similar to the abrupt cliffhanger ending of The Desolation of Smaug. Nonetheless, once Smaug the dragon is out of the way, Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the dwarves are finally free to reclaim their kingdom inside the Lonely Mountain. Alas, their triumph is short lived as Thorin becomes corrupted by the gold — inflicted with Smaug’s ‘dragon sickness’ as he searches for the missing Arkenstone — transforming into a greedy tyrant, intent on keeping the vast fortune inside the mountain for his people alone.

The situation worsens when the folks of the destroyed Lake-town, lead by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), head up the mountain seeking shelter and repayment for their ravaged homes. Elf-king Thranduil (Lee Pace) eventually arrives too, with an army of elf soldiers, intent on reclaiming a necklace of white gems from Thorin’s treasure. When Thorin refuses both Thranduil and the people of Lake-town entry into the mountain, they gather their forces at Dale, the base of the mountain, in order to attack, forcing Thorin to share his newfound riches. All the while, an old foe, the Pale Orc, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), has gathered legions of Orc and Goblin soldiers who are secretly marching to the mountain with heinous plans of wiping out the collected armies of Middle-earth. Let’s not forget about Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the Hobbit burglar — still carrying that pesky ring in his pocket — caught in the middle of the quarrel, torn between his friendship with the dwarves and his survival instinct, covertly teaming up with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as war breaks out at the base of the mountain.

Now, that's what I'm Tolkien about!
Now, that’s what I’m Tolkien about!

As one might expect, Peter Jackson’s soaring visualization of J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-earth remains unfazed, adhering to the world he crafted in The Lord of the Rings trilogy almost ten years ago; from Gandalf’s encounter with the Necromancer at Dol Guldur, to the effects-heavy combat sequences, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a technical marvel. While some might grumble about the film’s higher frame rate or argue that its battle sequences itch dangerously close to video-game imagery, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies delivers on its promise as Jackson gives us a wall-to-wall war, where seas of Orcs duke it out against waves of Elves and Great Eagles swoop masses of soldiers. What’s more, the film’s final showdown, where Thorin goes head-to-head with Azog on the icy Ravenhill, is an absolute showstopper, as is the gripping face-off between Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Bolg (John Tui).

Sure, director Jackson and screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim (2013), exhibit some creative license with Tolkien’s work as the CGI-laden action scenes and melodramatic moments — particularly the love story between elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) — fail to deliver a narrative as powerful as Jackson’s Lord of the Rings predecessor, nonetheless the picture’s striking visuals and elaborate set pieces will no doubt impress most Middle-earth enthusiasts. Aided by an emotional score, composed by Howard Shore, Hugo (2011) — which mimics the picture’s exhilarating atmosphere — the feature’s soundtrack elevates events on a surprising number of levels, further amplifying the flick’s gravity and scale.

'Run, you fools!'
‘Run, you fools!’

Returning cast members, once again, bring their beloved characters to life with Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), anchoring this impressive ensemble, delivering the adventure’s top performances. Having grown into the part like a second skin, Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) is unparalleled as Gandalf, whereas Ken Stott, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), once again radiates with warmth and knowledge as the dwarf Balin. Old faces such as Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) resurface, whilst the popular Orlando Bloom defies gravity once again as Legolas, son of the Elf-king Thranduil. Billy Connolly, Brave (2012), is impeccably cast as Thorin’s hog-riding cousin, Daín Ironfoot while Ryan Gage, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) is given too much unjustified screen time as the snickering Lake-town deputy Alfrid, in the process sidelining a handful of dwarves such as Bombur (Stephen Hunter) and Gloin (Peter Hambleton).

With a concluding act that offers a cleaner send-off than Return of the King, Jackson brings his Hobbit series to a satisfying end, finishing on a bittersweet note as Billy Boyd, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), hums the gentle words of ‘The Last Goodbye.’ Now at long last complete, The Hobbit series stands as a worthy successor to Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy — although never quite emerging from its shadow — and as the final credits roll, one can rest easy knowing that Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth may be the best we’ll ever see.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia