“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Movie Review

     Director Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” not surprisingly finds itself in the precarious position of a film which exists not as a whole, but as a part.  When viewing this, the final chapter of his Hobbit trilogy, it’s important to recall as much as possible from the previous two installments, so as to have each of the film’s three acts flow within your mind properly.  With both of the first two installments concluding with a sort of a cliffhanger ending, “Five Armies” is merely the conclusion to the hours of exposition in the first two parts and it does its best to give the series an exciting and climactic send off.  Jackson and his team have created a vibe not unlike his own “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” in which a number of armies have descended upon a specific place and look to do battle on a massive scale.  If your reaction to the first two Hobbit films was lukewarm due to a lack of action, than this is definitely the film you’ve been waiting for. 

     “Five Armies” begins where “The Desolation of Smaug” ended in which Smaug was en route to Lake town to put on his own brand of a fireworks display.  This left Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his band of dwarves, along with their burglar, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), to finally claim their homeland, Erebor, and the immense treasure that comes with it.  It doesn’t take long for Thorin to begin to take his role as their leader to new heights, as he begins to suffer from a condition the characters refer to as “dragon sickness” and thus his decision making skills come into question.  Essentially, the final chapter centers around all of the forces seen in the previous installments, descending upon Erebor for a number of various reasons.  For the Orcs, led by the series primary antagonist, Azog (Manu Bennett), it’s simply to wipe out the other armies for purely evil reasons.  For the Elves, led by their king, Thranduil (Lee Pace), it’s about receiving a promised share of the riches within the mountain.  For the remaining people of Lake town, led by Bard (Luke Evans), whose village was laid to waste by Smaug, it’s to cash in on a promise to help rebuild the town and the lives of those affected by Smaug’s attack.  As for the Dwarves, Thorin seeks to defend his newly reacquired homeland and has no plans to give up any of its riches, nor does he plan to fulfill any of his promises.

     There are numerous other plot threads which have existed at least since the second film which Jackson intends on closing here and others which were designed as a bridge to the “Lord of the Rings” films.  In one sequence, we revisit a caged Gandalf (Ian McKellen) of whom you may recall had just found out the identity of Sauron, who becomes the driving villainous force behind the events of the “Lord of the Rings” films.  When several notable characters arrive to aid him, including Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), you see a nifty bit of foreshadowing when one of them is tempted by Sauron, but is able to resist.  As we know from viewing the “Rings” films, one of that group doesn’t resist for much longer.

     Jackson dedicates well over an hour of what clocks in as the shortest of the series, to one of the most complicated and elaborate battle sequences ever put to film.  Just the sheer size and scope of what he has accomplished here is impressive as thousands of CGI Elves, Dwarves, and Lake town residents take on a seemingly endless supply of snarling Orcs.  Within the various battles, there are several other more focused conflicts brewing.  Strategically speaking, Thorin knows if the Orc’s leader is taken out, they will then be easily defeated.  This sets up several one on one battles that are intercut with the large scale battles going on in the valley in front of Erebor.  Jackson stages fighting within the town outside of Erebor, as well as the battle field in front of it, and then moves up a snowy icy mountain where many of the final rumbles take place.  These sequences are busy, but they are well edited and easy to follow.  With all that is at stake and with all that has occurred in the first two films needing a satisfying conclusion, it seems as though Jackson has effectively put the right characters into the right moments to shine so as to create the kind of spectacular conclusion audiences expect.  In particular, series favorites Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) are a part of several thrilling action sequences that feature their trademark acrobatic fighting styles and they don’t disappoint.

     To look at “Five Armies” as a stand alone film experience would not be the proper way to evaluate the merits of what is meant to be one story spread out over the course of three films.  “Five Armies” functions solely as the climax of a story that took nearly six hours to get to when viewing the other two films, thus the reason it doesn’t really break any new ground in the beginning for resolution later. This was never going to be about new characters or new situations, as we always knew Azog and Thorin were on a collision course and at some point would meet face to face.  We also knew eventually Bilbo would make it back to the Shire still in possession of the ring and Jackson, in true “Return of the King” form, treats us to an extended ending that positions the characters for their transition into the events of “The Lord of the Rings” films nicely. “The Battle of the Five Armies”  GRADE: B    “The Hobbit Trilogy”  GRADE: A