We deserve a movie as good as this, having invested so many
hours in the first two parts of Peter Jackson’s distended Hobbit trilogy. After a deadly beginning and a more tolerable
followup, the final film delivers the goods.
The movie opens with the fearsome, fire-breathing dragon
Smaug wreaking havoc on Lake-town, and the action seldom flags in the more than
two hours that follow. There are battle scenes galore: some battle scenes even
have battle scenes within them! The final portion of the film features some of
the most exciting hand-to-hand combat I’ve ever seen portrayed onscreen—on a
crumbling stone bridge, a lake of ice about to crack open, and other perilous
locations. Jackson even brings forth Harryhausen-like monsters called Orcs who
enter into the fray along with the legions of elves, dwarves, and bats. The
screenwriters (Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro)
have let their imaginations run free, knowing that the geniuses at Jackson’s
WETA workshop can realize anything they dream up.
What elevates the proceedings above mere mayhem is the fate
of its leading characters, including Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage), a
once-noble figure who has lost his head and become a greedy, bloodthirsty
leader…the ever-bemused Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who participates in the
quest for Lonely Mountain but tries to bring sanity and perspective to the proceedings…and
the heroic Bard the Bowman of Lake-town (the charismatic Luke Evans), who is
determined to protect his family as well as his fellow villagers from annihilation.
Other familiar characters populate the journey, including Gandalf (Ian
McKellen), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Elrond (Hugo
Weaving), and, ever so briefly, Saruman (Christopher Lee).
I have never been swept up by this story, but ultimately, The Battle of the Five Armies offers
resolution, which is welcome and well-earned. It is satisfying to see any saga
come to a proper conclusion, although in this case it inspires a sense of
relief as well. It’s too bad Peter Jackson and his collaborators insisted on
swelling J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel into three lengthy films, but at least they’ve
left us on a high note.