The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Directed By: Peter Jackson

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian Mckellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, and Orlando Bloom

There and back again.  This hobbit's tale has been a tumultuous journey that has never quite taken us back there to that place of movie magic called Middle Earth in a way that The Lord of the Rings trilogy did more than a decade ago.  I've explored this unfortunate truth in excruciating detail in my reviews of An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug in 2012 and 2013 respectively.  As we get ready to go back to Middle Earth one last time, I have a glimmer of hope that we may get a taste of what once was.  Peter Jackson's vision with The Hobbit trilogy has been to bring the series closer in style and tone to LOTR with each installment.  To try and catch that lightning in a bottle, war is absolutely essential, and that's exactly what Jackson is offering this time around.

To find the Arkenstone and be truly crowned king, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is willing to do just about anything, and his burglar hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is beginning to take notice.  After Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his company make their way to Erebor and infuriate the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smaug decides to unleash his fiery fury upon the people of the Laketown.  Panic and devastation ensue for all who happen to be in the path the magnificent dragon is blazing.  With his home now in terrible danger, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) must find some way to rescue his family and his people.

Elsewhere, the board is set and the pieces are moving.  With only the dwarves and Bilbo at Erebor, Thrandull (Lee Pace) sees an opportunity to take back what belongs to his the elves and takes his army to the mountain.  Led by Dáin (Billy Connolly), the Ironfoot dwarves march toward Erebor as well to see Thorin crowned king.  Lastly, Sauron (Cumberbatch) orders Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) and his army of orcs to march on the mountain.  The necromancer, however, has a doubly deceptive surprise for the other armies marching toward Erebor.  When Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) free Gandalf (Ian McKellen), he rushes to warn them of Sauron’s looming treachery.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is undoubtedly the best of The Hobbit trilogy.  While it has nothing on The Lord of the Rings films, it does offer director Peter Jackson a chance to do what he does best.  If this trilogy has proven anything, what he does best is not bringing the frivolous adventures of Thorin and his company of dwarves to the big screen.  What Jackson does best is make war in all its glorious savagery.  With his cast of characters reprising their roles one last time and his crew once again rising to the challenge, The Battle of the Five Armies does truly take us there and back again to Middle Earth one more time.  With a runtime of only 144 minutes, he does it much more efficiently this time around.

The scale and scope of The Battle of the Five Armies is nothing short of massive.  The visuals are once again breathtaking as we witness a spectacularly thrilling battle unfold on the big screen.  The gorgeous panoramic shots of New Zealand, the CGI used to create the multitudes of soldiers, and the unending cinematic suspense are the products of impressive direction and execution from Peter Jackson.  As war rages, I can't help but wonder how much better the series would be regarded if Jackson were to have brought this kind of dark, compelling storytelling to the previous installments.  After all, Tolkien himself went back to update The Hobbit with the appendices to The Lord of the Rings.  There's a precedent.

Though Middle Earth mainstays such as Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom have certainly depicted their characters in grimmer times, the rest of the cast must adjust to the noticeably darker tone in this final installment.  For the most part, they get the job done.  Martin Freeman's manly take on Bilbo certainly thrives with this tone change.  He continues to be much more respectable than Elijah Wood's Frodo ever was.  As Richard Armitage transforms his character Thorin Oakenshield into a greedy monarch, he brings the right level of menace to shine in this darker setting.  I'm not as sold on Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman or Lee Pace as Thrandull, but my qualms with the cast are few overall.

There are certainly things I would change about The Battle of The Five Armies.  One in particular would be to set the film's opening as the ending to The Desolation of Smaug.  There's no need to have held this scene from the prior installment given the way in which it was executed.  That being said, I'm not going to list out my gripes with the film because I'm satisfied with it on the whole.  Taking us full circle and setting the stage for The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson delivers the goods one last time.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies gets a 0.03% rating.  Have a few wine coolers with this one.