The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 144 Minutes
Release Date: December 17, 2014
“In all the mountains there was a forging and an arming. Then they marched and gathered by hill and valley, going ever by tunnel or under dark, until around and beneath the great mountain Gundabad of the North, where was their capital, a vast host was assembled ready to sweep down in time of storm unawares upon the South.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Co-written and directed by Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the third and final chapter in a trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel, The Hobbit.
At the conclusion of 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the Dwarves reclaimed the Lonely Mountain, but failed to kill the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Unable to reclaim his precious treasure, the dragon fled the mountain and set his sights on laying waste to Lake-town.
The Battle of the Five Armies picks up only moments after, with Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) defending his home against the “Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.” Meanwhile, Sauron sends forth legions of Orcs to the Lonely Mountain to attack Bilbo and the Dwarves. With Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) at their side, the races of Men, Elves, and Dwarves must unite to save Middle Earth from the Dark Lord and his minions.
By far the shortest of Jackson’s Middle Earth films, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the most satisfying entry in this prequel trilogy. At 144 minutes, you wouldn’t call Five Armies concise, but it’s so action-packed and fast-moving that it feels lean. The film starts with a bang; Smaug’s attack on Lake-town is a stunning sequence that drops us right into the action – no long-winded speeches or shots of people walking – just fiery destruction.
Finally, at the conclusion of his 474-minute adaptation of Tolkien’s 300-page novel, Jackson brings some much-needed urgency to the tale of Bilbo Baggins. Once Smaug is dealt with (in spectacular fashion), the focus switches back to Bilbo and Thorin, who has gone mad with while searching for the Arkenstone. It’s during this cool-down period that we play catch-up with the series’ bevy of characters and establish the series of events that will lead to the film’s titular climax: The Battle of the Five Armies.
The battle is a full-blown spectacle, an intricate, beautifully choreographed sequence with all matter of orcs, goblins, and bizarre beasts. There’s giant worms, giant bats, giant elk, giant hogs, and of course, those giant eagles that always seem to show up at the last second to save the day. It’s eye-popping stuff, and like the final battle in 2003’s Return of the King, the action is anchored in emotion, propelling these beloved characters into situations that will shape the future of Middle Earth.
I’ve been pretty tough on these Hobbit films, comparing them to George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels. Jackson’s third Hobbit adventure, however, is a solid, satisfying conclusion to a story that was stretched too thin at its start. In 20 years, it’s possible that these films are seen as equal parts of a six-film saga instead of lesser works. A fond farewell (hopefully) to Middle Earth and its beloved characters, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is filled with fine performances, impressive special effects, and enough fun to make the whole journey to There and Back Again worthwhile.