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After twelve years, we have finally reached the sixth and final film in Peter Jackson’s immensely popular Middle Earth series, with The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Who would have thought that by the time the series was over, we would be looking at two trilogies, both totaling well over twenty hours of footage and story, and bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved book series and world to life. While the first series of films were beloved by audiences and critics alike, The Hobbit series hasn’t been as fortunate. What started as a simple three hundred page book has now become three films, for better or worse, and has taken us on a very detailed and expanded tale of Bilbo’s journey out of The Shire and back again. While the first film in this new trilogy is the weakest of the bunch, this last film is a step above it, but the problem is it all feels like it should have been in the second movie.
Jackson’s series is epic, and rightfully so, and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is no exception. In fact, next to The Return of the King, this may be the most epic film, as it’s almost two and a half hours of pure action. Jackson has crafted a film full of beautiful visuals, gorgeous battles, and outstanding action, all in this “Defining chapter of the saga”, as it is being sold as. The film can hardly be considered boring, and from the opening moments of Smaug attacking the village, the film just hits the ground running, and it never really stops. As the shortest film in the entire series, it’s great that it moves so quickly and it doesn’t feel long, really managing to make a great finale of popcorn entertainment.
The film’s final battle lasts an astonishing forty five minutes, throwing every orc, goblin, bat, troll, dwarf, elf, and hobbit they can into the mix by the time it’s over. Every character gets a moment to shine, or in the cast of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, he gets five or six really spectacular moments that really stand out. Jackson has always found a way of making these epic battles seem almost intimate, and it’s really what makes these films work. We care about the characters, and their lives, so watching them in battle is always exciting, as our hearts race and we cheer for them. One small problem though, especially in the case of Legolas, is we know where he ends up, so there’s really no sense of danger when he battles. That always seems to be the biggest problems with prequels, but it’s one that’s easy to look past as long as you’re enjoying the ride.
The biggest problem though, and this has been this whole trilogies overall problem, is it just feels like excess. What could have, and started out as two movies, has been prolonged into three films, and it has really hurt them. As epic as the battle sequences are, the film really doesn’t have a narrative, next to Thorin going crazy as the gold poisons his mind, and he wants to go to war. It’s all fine and well, but it feels like it should have been left in another film, but in interest of making a full series with more story and battles, they’ve overall hurt it by expanding it too much. Thankfully, even with the little plot that seems to be left, Jackson takes us on a tour de force of spectacle, reminding us just why we’ve loved his Middle Earth films so much. That’s really what this film has going for it, and it really never stops being entertaining, even if it feels like a longer third act to overall story, not a proper film.
One thing that continues to be true for the series though is the acting is phenomenal from everyone involved. Martin Freeman was always the perfect choice for Bilbo Baggins, and he is fantastic once more in his final bow as the character. He brings the sweet, loving, and overly optimistic hobbit to life with ease, and it’s one of the best cases of art and actor being perfect for each other. Richard Armitage is also great as Thorin, bringing the mad and crazed side of his character to life with delicious intrigue, and you can’t help but be mesmerized by him every time he’s on screen. Ian McKellen gives a fantastic final performance as Gandalf as well, and as the only actor in the series who is in all six films, it’s great to see him going out in a big way. But it’s really Luke Evans as Bard who steals the film, and he continues to prove to be one of the most charismatic actors working today. Everything he has popped into over the last few years, whether the film was good or bad, Evans has always been fantastic in it, and he shows here why he should get a chance to headline his own franchise. He is a fantastic actor, and Bard ends up being the most emotionally compelling character of the film, and the one who has the most to gain, as well as lose in the film.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is a fitting finale for Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga, and while it didn’t necessarily need to be three films, the film is still fun to watch. What Jackson has managed to craft over the last twelve years has been a truly remarkable experience, it’s one that many of us will agree we are glad we took. It’s weird to finally say goodbye to Middle Earth, but it’s great to see it closing out in such a proper way. There’s not a really more perfect conclusion for this series that could be had, flaws and all.