The long journey from 310-page children’s book to incredible three-part movie extravaganza is complete. Originally conceived as two movies, The Hobbit trilogy could never be the epic that was The Lord of the Rings, with filmmakers mining material from Tolkien’s appendices.
Criticized for the excessive padding and thin plot, there is still joy simply in watching Bilbo’s story unfold onscreen, giving audiences the chance, one last time, to immerse themselves in Middle Earth.
The opening of The Battle of the Five Armies is exhilarating, as Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashes vengeance upon the residents of Laketown, prompting some nifty heroics from Bard (Luke Evans).
Richard Armitage’s Thorin is going mad in his mountain hall, as Bilbo (Martin Freeman) continues to display the decency and bravery that won the respect and friendship of the dwarf king and his company.
Evangeline Lilly is very strong as Jackson’s own addition to the elf race, Tauriel, even managing to sell the tricky inter-species romance with dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
We also finally get to see the magnificent elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace) in action. Merely glimpsed in the prologue to Unexpected Journey, Thranduil is a fierce warrior. Yet, quite the isolationist, he is quite happy to leave men and dwarves to their fate.
One character with too much screen time is Ryan Gage’s Alfrid. Pathetically endearing in the second movie, he’s now a thoroughly nasty piece of work jarringly deployed as comic relief.
Luckily Billy Connolly’s voice work gets a few laughs as Dain, Thorin’s less-reasonable CGI cousin. For while the prequel trilogy lacks the gravitas and grandeur of its sibling, it does share the overindulgence in CGI.
Despite this, the final battle between the five armies of the title lives up to the the vision and mastery of Peter Jackson, and the characters’ resolutions are poignant.
Verdict: It’s the best chapter about the little hobbit and his friends.