After a combined running time of 1032 minutes, Peter Jackson’s six-part Middle-Earth saga draws to a close with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, rounding off the prequel Hobbit trilogy. Picking up directly where the second instalment left us, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the squad of not-so-merry dwarves look on in terror as the recently awoken dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) rains fiery hell over Lake-town. With the dwarf’s leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) back in his beloved Lonely Mountain in Erebor, will he maintain control of his kingdom or will he succumb to the greed that comes with the almighty power? Everyone and their army now feel a sense of entitlement to their share of the treasure that lies at the bottom of the mountain, so battle inevitably follows.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the recent Hobbit films haven’t achieved the same sense of spectacle as the Lord of the Rings and the same problems from Desolation of Smaug carry through into the final part. The continuation of the elf-dwarf-elf love triangle is an irritating subplot, with Legolas popping up now and again to do little more than hop across stones and have a little moan. The development of Thorin’s story arc is, to me, one of the highlights of the series, culminating effectively in an interesting character study that explores what can happen when you get everything that you’ve ever wanted. His friendship with Bilbo provides a few touching moments, and helps bring the hobbit himself into what is supposed to be his story after all.
In the midst of all the fighting and the questionable high frame-rate CGI, there are a few performances that deserve some credit. Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee are as strong as ever as the all-conquering wizards Gandalf and Saruman, their story nodding towards what is ahead, making it increasingly tempting to dig out the Fellowship of the Ring DVD. Martin Freeman comes into his own finally as Bilbo, the portrayal bettering as the character grows in confidence and stature. Richard Armitage impresses the most as Thorin, powerfully conveying the swaying nature of the character’s inner conflict. In an all star cast, Ken Stott, Stephen Fry and Billy Connolly stand out from the supporting actors, though the latter’s appearance is nothing more than an amusing cameo.
By now, the sight of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth is comforting to fans of the series and the finale provides a solid, if slightly subdued conclusion. Taking an overview of the story, the Hobbit novel is aimed predominantly at a young audience and has a primitive plot at its heart. In its cinemakeover, Jackson’s vision has stretched and contorted it, turning Tolkien’s short book into a near ten hour epic, perhaps for monetary gain and to fulfil his own artistic ambition. Where some flourishes work and his flair for stunning set pieces is unfaltering, others sadly don’t. Despite its flaws, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ is an enjoyable closing chapter to what is arguably one of the best cinematic franchises of all time.