I’ll start out by assuring you that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is really good, a satisfying ending to director Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Hobbit movies. Smaug is vanquished, Bilbo returns to the Shire, and the dwarves emerge victorious from the epic battle between the forces of good, the forces of evil and the greed that Smaug’s massive gold horde produces in even the least covetous.
If you’ve read the book you already know the basics of the tale, a story far simpler than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. By splitting J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit into a trilogy, Jackson created lots of space for narrative discourse, for new characters (like the wonderful Tauriel), and for side stories that create an even richer and more interesting Middle Earth. All of this comes to fruition in The Battle of the Five Armies.
The second installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug, ended with Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the rest of the dwarves realizing they’ve failed to kill the monstrous dragon Smaug. He’s furious and is heading towards Laketown to wreak his terrible vengeance, even as Laketown resident Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), the man most likely to kill the dragon, is imprisoned and is forced to watch the destruction through the window of his cell.
Unlike the transition from the first film — An Unexpected Journey — to the second, the switch from #2 to The Battle of the Five Armies is remarkably seamless, picking up exactly where the second ends. Smaug must clearly be killed, but once he dies, word travels quickly through Middle Earth that his massive horde of gold and treasure is up for grabs.
The Dwarven leader Thorin, meanwhile, hunts madly for the Arkenstone, the symbol of Dwarven dominion over Erebor, the city deep in The Lonely Mountain. But Thorin is blinded by his greed, causing Bilbo and the dwarf Balin (Ken Stott) to conspire and hide the Arkenstone from Thorin, afraid of what will happen if he gets his hands on it.
Outside Erebor, armies begin their march to stake their claim on Smaug’s horde and long-simmering antipathies flare up as greed proves a potent brew. Sauron (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, who also voices Smaug) uses the Orc chieftain Azog(Manu Bennett) to muster his own dark army and march on Erebor.
Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his Elvish army appears, seeking Nauglamir, a great diamond necklace from Smaug’s horde, and try to negotiate with Thorin for its return to the Elves. Meanwhile Thorin’s cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) shows up with an army of Dwarves, reinforcements for Thorin, still barricaded in Erebor.
The elves and dwarves are poised for battle when, well, something happens that causes all of them to realize that there may be something larger going on in Middle Earth that they need to fight. Together.
Confused yet? There’s a lot going on and it would definitely be baffling to walk into The Battle of the Five Armies without having seen the previous Hobbit films, or at least having read the book recently. It’s so epic in scope, however, that unlike some of the really confusing moments in Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit trilogy holds together really well and is still enjoyable even if you aren’t a fanatical student of Tolkien.
The Orc chieftain Azog proves a most cunning enemy in the film too, laying an elaborate trap for Thorin and his fellow dwarves, along with the surprisingly brave and heroic Bilbo. These scenes are some of the most enjoyable in the movie, followed by some of the saddest. No spoilers, but as with all quests, not every one of our heroes survives this adventure.
Having said all of that, I will also admit that there were some shortcomings in the film, most notably some of the special effects that felt like they weren’t quite finished, and more than once I was pulled out of the narrative by poor green screen or poorly rendered effects. It’s not a major problem, but in a film that’s had so much attention lavished on it from a director famous for his detail, it is surprising.
I’m a huge fan of Jackson’s work and of the Tolkien books, including The Hobbit. While the films clearly expand on the book, they do so in a way that’s consistent with the theme of the narrative. Ultimately the cinematic trilogy stands as some of the best heroic fantasy action ever projected on a screen.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is terrific fun and while it’s not a perfect film, it’s definitely good enough for me to strongly recommend you go and see it on the big screen. And enjoy!