I know there has been criticism in certain quarters regarding Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. Yes, it could be argued that the films need not have been split into three. Yet I have not had the same problem with the Hobbit films as I had with, say, the last Hunger Games film. To me at least, each of the three has felt like a complete movie, even though each has also been part of an ongoing saga. At a comparatively trim 144 minutes, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest in the series, and for me the best.
The film opens exactly where the last left off, with the dragon Smaug’s spectacular assault on Laketown. Those familiar with the book will know what follows, with Bard’s heroics leading to a tense feud with Elves, Dwarfs and Men, over exactly who has a claim on the treasure of the Lonely Mountain. Meanwhile, a huge army of orcs, giant bats, trolls and other infernal creatures are secretly marching on the mountain. In the middle of all this, Bilbo Baggins finds himself faced with a difficult choice in the face of Thorin’s descent into greed and madness.
Thorin here is the key character, and Richard Armitage plays him brilliantly. Even more brilliant is Martin Freeman, who simply owns the part of Bilbo despite the fact that at times he appears sidelined in his own story. The rest of the cast – Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, Luke Evans’s Bard, Lee Pace’s Thranduil, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel and so on – are all very good. Even Billy Connolly turns up, playing Thorin’s cousin Dain, but also kind of playing himself. And yes, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas performs a series of even more ridiculous stunts. Incidentally, Christopher Lee’s whirling dervish duel with the Ringwraiths at Dol Guldur is another bonus, and Cate Blanchett gets to do scary Galadriel once again, as (SPOILER WARNING) the White Council face down the Necromancer aka Sauron (Benedict Cumberbatch, who also voices Smaug), banishing him to Mordor and thus setting up The Lord of the Rings.
Everything one has come to expect from Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth epics is present and correct, including spectacular New Zealand locations and astonishing special effects by the bucketload. Howard Shore’s music is tremendous, and Billy Boyd song The Last Goodbye, which plays over the end credits, brings the whole saga to an appropriately bittersweet close.
There is plenty of good dramatic meat to chew on too, with Tolkien’s study of the corrupting power of greed an ever present theme. Even more important from a moral/spiritual perspective is the central relationship between Bilbo and Thorin. SPOILER WARNING: Bilbo acts as a true friend by trying to save Thorin from what he has become blinded to, and like the novel this provides the film with it’s most powerful, tragic and moving scene. Essentially the moral of The Hobbit can be summed up in Thorin’s final words: “If more people valued home over gold the world would be a merrier place”.
I must confess I am intrigued to see an extended cut, since a number of shots and sequences glimpsed in the trailer were not present. But that isn’t to say the film feels as if anything is missing. All the main elements from The Hobbit are covered, and indeed this film sticks closer to Tolkien’s original text than the previous two. In short, The Battle of the Five Armies is a fully satisfying conclusion to a series of films that – for me at least – are every bit as funny, thrilling, relevant and ultimately heartbreaking as the book.