So here we are once more, at the end of all things. Reaching the conclusion of an epic series of films is always such a bittersweet moment. After all, if you’re watching the final chapter, then chances are you’ve already invested heart and time into the story somewhere along the line. At least when Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King’s credits rolled, there was always hope that director Peter Jackson and his team would return once more to the realm of Middle Earth. But there’s no such comfort this time (even if The Silmarillion does come in for adaptation, as it’s hardly a beloved narrative, despite its merits). This, then, is it.
What’s important then is the way in which Mr. Jackson sends off his Middle Earth cinematic opus and (just in case there was any doubt) he does so with power and spectacle. If there’s one thing above else to love about Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s work, it’s the heart with which he enriches the characters relationships, not least those that have been created or elaborated on by himself, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. With jealousy and greed at the centre of the conflict, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies needs the purity of love between Kili/Tauriel and Bard and his children to keep us engaged during a time when it seems that no one is capable of doing the right thing.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Tauriel triangle is the strongest asset behind both The Battle Of The Five Armies and The Desolation of Smaug, with Evangeline Lilly’s performance managing to be equal parts tragically captivating and viscerally powerful. That her creation also gives us a harder edged Legolas is even more of a gain for The Hobbit’s story, with the Elven archer given more moments of jaw dropping cool in the various battles within The Battle Of The Five Armies. What’s more, his presence brings a certain security and comfort for those of us who know what’s coming.
Indeed, when the time comes for some members of the company of Thorin to face their destiny is when the film is at its most impactful. I don’t mind admitting that even when surrounded by the professional atmosphere of a press screening, I found certain moments really very moving. It was just something in my eye, of course.
In a film with universally strong performances and one that is supposed to focus on the titular Hobbit, the now complete trilogy is dominated by the mesmerising presence of Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield, whose story arc finally sees the heroic leader get his big moments in the spotlight. I really can’t say enough good things about Armitage’s work here – from the moment he first arrived in Bag End he managed to immediately capture what makes Thorin such a compelling and charismatic leader and his work in The Battle Of The Five Armies is excellent.
If there’s one element that works against this third and much shorter (comparatively for Peter Jackson anyway, as it runs to two hours and 24 minutes) part of the story, it’s that the conclusion to Smaug’s tale feels simply as if it ended up on the wrong film. Events pick up immediately after the unexpectedly abrupt final shot in The Desolation Of Smaug, which would have been fine if the dragon attack and consequent face off had formed a substantially long addition to The Battle Of The Five Armies. But in less than 15 minutes it’s all tied off and the next logical chapter begins. The result of this strange cut leaves The Desolation Of Smaug missing its natural end and makes its appearance in this one somewhat disappointing as an opening act. It also impacts on the character of Bard the Bowman, a personal favourite, though thankfully Luke Evans is still given a chance to shine.
Still: at least that the slight shortchanging of The Desolation Of Smaug here is a criticism that won’t make the slightest difference when the extended versions of all three Hobbit films are being watched back to back in years to come. And that is, after all, what it’s all about. It’s a strange thing to review a film knowing full well that it’s an abridged version of what was shot and to know it was a planned part of one large story. After all, The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers was markedly improved in its extended form, especially having lost the books’ emotional first and last punch.
The Battle of the Five Armies shares most in common with Return Of The King though in terms of its cinematic structure as, after the brisk start, it’s not long before all hell breaks loose. The film then remains consistently action packed until the fighting ends and things are wrapped up in good time (you can insert your own ‘multiple ending’ jibe here).
Furthermore, it’s impressive that having brought to the screen so many quality battles throughout The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson can still find new ways to thrill and excite here. The level of detail and thought shines through in everything from the new troll catapults, to the close quarter combat in a crumbling tower. At his best, Peter Jackson has a claim to being one of the best working action directors, one able to keep a one to one fight as engaging (if not more so) as one that happens between thousands. He also reminds us why there are still occasions to watch films on the big screen.
The Battle Of The Five Armies is a satisying ending to the saga, thankfully. And as we say farewell to Middle Earth on the big screen, at least this final instalment of The Hobbit ends things on a high note, and with an emotional force that matches its visual power. The Hobbit‘s arguably not been as successful a trilogy as Lord Of The Rings, but this is a strong final chapter to end on. Job done, Mr Jackson…