The Battle Of The Five Armies certainly doesn’t want to give you time to settle in. Indeed it appears that in Peter Jackson’s mind he wasn’t making three movies, he was creating one enormously long one, as the final part of the trilogy jumps straight in without even the vaguest hint of a recap or a desire to allow the audience to catch their breath.
Nope, the dragon Smaug is on his way to attack Laketown and only Luke Evan’s Bard the Bowman can stop them. That part of the plot is wrapped up pretty quickly, leaving two full hours for the battle of the title and its build-up. Thorin (Richard Armitage) has holed himself up in his ancestral home in the Misty Mountain, but like his forefathers, having control of the vast dwarvish treasure immediately sends him nuts, with the gold causing him to betray his friends and isolate himself from all those around him.
However the people of Laketown, led by Bard, want the share of the treasure they were promised, and so do the duplicitous Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) Woodland Elves. While there are only a few dwarves in the mountain, an army of their brethren arrive to help out, and it appears the only way to sort things out is for the two sides to go to war.
Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is keen to avoid that, but he’s just one Halfling in the midst of a lot of angry and much bigger men.
While the humans, dwarves and elves squabble amongst themselves, they refuse to listen to Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who knows that a great evil is threatening to rise, and that an army of Orcs is heading their way with plans to wipe them all out.
There’s certainly a lot going on and as you’d expect there’s plenty of extremely well-handled, pulse-pounding action, massive battles and incredible special effects. While the character action is a little soap opera, it keeps things moving along and there’s certainly plenty to keep your attention. Each of the characters gets at least one moment to shine and there are a few deaths that are extremely affecting. Unfortunately the manufactured love story between the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and various others never really comes into its own, although it does its best.
The highlight for many though will be fight involving Gandalf, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and the agents of Sauron. It’s a chance for all of them to show what they can do, and that when they need to, they can marshal an awful lot of power.
However Battle Of The Five Armies never quite gets over the problem that was also there in the book, which is that the journey we thought we were on finishes about 15 minutes into the movie, and the rest has the sense of being an exciting addendum that isn’t really necessary. It’s almost like a different story, even if it is tied in to what gone before.
Peter Jackson tries to make it feel more intrinsic by focussing on the links to the Lord Of The Rings even more than he did in the earlier movies, attempting to ensure we feel that this Battle is what sets the stage for where events pick up 60 years later. It’s only partially successful though.
It is an entertaining movie and it’s difficult not to think it would seem incredibly impressive if the whole of the trilogy didn’t pale in comparison to triumph that was the Lord Of The Rings movies. Taken on its own though The Hobbit films are a lot of fun, and indeed watching the whole thing reveals it to be a series that’s greater than the sum of its parts. As a whole it fits together extremely well and benefits from a marathon viewing.
Jackson may not have held the narrative and characters as tightly as he did with Lord Of The Rings – partly because he was padding the story out here rather than cutting it down – but it’s still rousing, exciting and sometimes very funny.
As you’d expect, the Blu-ray offers an extremely good picture, with the only issue being that it has a tendency to highlight how with The Hobbit, certain shots look like the live-action characters were pasted on top of the effects (of course they were, but it’s particularly apparent here, partly due to the lighting). If you decide to go 3D in the home, this effect is lessened, and indeed the whole trilogy works extremely well in three-dimensions on a home cinema sized screen. In 2D Jackson’s love of shots that swoop over the action seems a little excessive, but in 3D it really brings out the scale of the story.
There’s also a decent selection of special features. If you really want a complete look behind-the-scenes you’ll have to wait for the inevitable Extended Edition release later this year, but most fans will be more than satisfied with what’s included here.
Overall Verdict: It may find it difficult to get over the fact that The Battle Of The Five Armies is almost a separate story to the first two movies (which is really the fault of Tolkein’s book), but it’s certainly a rousing send-off for a trilogy that may never have touched the quality of Lord Of The Rings, but is still very entertaining in its own right.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac