Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has not been the fantastic return to Middle Earth that many fans were eager for. The decision to turn an initial two-film piece into a full trilogy certainly smelled more of a cash grab rather than a commitment to honoring the timeless source material. The Unexpected Journey was a laborious bore and while The Desolation of Smaug served as improvement, it was still a highly flawed, though at least entertaining film. Jackson’s time in Middle Earth is now coming to a close with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and while it still suffers from the flaws that have plagued the previous two Hobbit entries, Jackson still equips the film with gripping action sequences that prove to be a satisfactory enough close to the series.
Picking up immediately after the end of Desolation of Smaug, the aforementioned dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is on his way to destroy the city of Laketown after believing Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to be a Laketown spy sent to steal his gold. Smaug lays waste to the town, though eventually sees his demise at the hands of the Bard (Luke Evans). With the beast slain, the dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) can now reclaim their homeland with Thorin assuming his rightful place as king.
However complications ensue when Laketown residents want a share of the dwarves’ treasure for their assistance and kingdoms around Middle Earth, including the Elves, demand their payment for long held contracts over the mountain. Thorin finds himself corrupted by the mountain and desires to give nothing and honor no contracts. Meanwhile, Azog (Manu Bennett) and his forces still seek to find and kill the dwarves while Gandalf (Ian McKellan) begins to see the looming threat of Sauron growing stronger all leading to the titular battle of the five armies.
Having shot all of the Hobbit films concurrently, The Battle of the Five Armies still finds itself affected by many of the same issues that hurt the first two entries in the series. Jackson’s incredibly heavy reliance on computer-generated imagery is still equal parts infuriating and awe-inspiring. Many scenes still look like video game cutscenes rather than seeming like they appear in a large budget Hollywood production. Also, Jackson does deliver some of his worst writing in this film, particularly in the early pre-battle sequences which are a bore to sit through to say the least. And his decision to still focus on a relationship between dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) and elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) though sweet in intention, never successfully gels and proves more melodramatic than effective.
Thankfully though, Jackson still knows how to direct and stage incredibly elaborate and awe-inspiring battle sequences that take up the large majority of this film’s 144 minute running time. The titular battle sequence that takes up the last half of the film saves it from its largely boring first section. Jackson’s sense of scale is still incredible and his use of CGI in these sequences ring largely solid, helping to make this Hobbit the best entry of Jackson’s new trilogy. Jackson still shows that he can effectively pace the dynamics of a battle, from the grand scale of armies colliding to the more intimate and personal struggles of one-on-one combat. While the length of the battle sequences in this entry may grow grating to some, the climax of the film is still incredibly engrossing.
Effectively, The Battle of the Five Armies succeeds on the action front which thankfully takes up a large portion of the runtime of this entry (and thankfully with no GoPro shots a la The Desolation of Smaug). And while Jackson’s prequel has come nowhere close to matching the quality of his incredible Lord of the Rings trilogy, this writer still couldn’t help but feel a bit sad and even nostalgic for all of the time that has been spent with Jackson in Middle Earth and it is still sad to see him go. Ultimately, The Battle of the Five Armies though not a great film by any means, is the best entry of The Hobbit trilogy and worth seeing if you’ve already spent this much time in Middle Earth.