“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the end of an era, and the beginning of one of the biggest movie franchises in history. As the third part of the Hobbit trilogy, it brings to an end the Peter Jackson movies inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. In the chronology, however, it is midway, the film that sets up the “Lord of the Rings” movies.
The action picks up seconds after the Dwarves evicted greedy dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) from the gold filled Lonely Mountain in “The Desolation of Smaug.” With the wicked worm gone exiled Dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has now reclaimed his homeland and all the gold and power but wearing the crown has made him paranoid. He trusts no one, not even his loyal warriors and won’t listen to Bilbo Baggins’s (Martin Freeman) attempts to make him see reason. His irrational behavior leads to the epic showdown mentioned in the title. Legions of bloodthirsty Orcs (complete with their giant, hard-headed War Beasts) face off with Dwarves, Elves of the Woodland Realm, King Dain II Ironfoot of the Iron Hills and the Men of Laketown. The fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance as alliances are made and skulls are cracked.
At least I think that’s what happens. There is so much going on, so many characters struggling for power and survival it’s sometimes hard to keep track. Jackson wraps up the series with a movie that tries to close every door it has opened which leads to a cluttered film short on story but long on characters and action scenes.
Big themes abound—greed, power, love, loyalty, family, all cloaked in a story about dragons, halflings, wizards, ill tempered Orcs and a struggle for a mountain filled with gold but the one thing, by and large, missing from the story is a strong presence from the title character. That’s right, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” treats Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) like a supporting character.
Baggins bookends the action and appears sporadically throughout, but the spotlight is fixed firmly on the other characters, rendering the “Hobbit” part of the title a tad superfluous.
The “Battle” part, however, is bang on. The movie is essentially a series of combat scenes stitched together and within those bruised and bloody sequences are some of the film’s highlights. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) running atop bricks, Mario Brothers style, as they fall through the air from a disintegrating bridge is a striking visual image and a scene where Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) thrash away at evil spirits will entertain the eyes.
Jackson’s grey palette infuses “The Battle of the Five Armies” with an ominous air as the dozens of characters breath life into the fight scenes. Heroes and villains abound, and while there isn’t quite enough actual story to justify the two-hour-and twenty-minute running time, the battle between good and evil is so primal, so elemental you can’t help but let it get your blood racing.