It all comes down to this: one film to close them all. Peter Jackson’s sixth and final piece of the J.R.R. Tolkien cinematic puzzle in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. After being involved with this production for more than 13 years, Jackson can finally put to bed what some will surely proclaim to be his crowning achievement. Not to disrespect any of the rest of his films — King Kong and The Frighteners are still two of my favorites, and we can’t forget the fact that he cut his filmmaking teeth on hilarious splatter films (Bad Taste, Dead Alive) — but considering how much time Jackson has put into these films, it is quite the accomplishment for any director. So, how does Battle fit in and does it find time to end one trilogy while simultaneously setting up another? In one word: incredibly.
The Battle of the Five Armies opens with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) on the loose after being awakened in The Desolation of Smaug and he’s terrorizing the fishy little Laketown. Dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) is still recovering with the aide of Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), while the rest of the town flees for their safety. It’s all up to the honorous Bard (Luke Evans) to stop Smaug and save the folken. Meanwhile, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is dealing with Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) case of dragon sickness and will stop at nothing short of killing his friends to find the Lonely Mountain’s Arkenstone. Outside, the titular armies are rallied by the Orcs — lead by Azog (Manu Bennett) — along with the Dwarves, goblins, elves, and Men of Dale, to make an attack on Erebor and everyone will make a final stand.
Jackson directs The Battle of the Five Armies with everything he’s got. While many found An Unexpected Journey to be meandering and aimless, others found The Desolation of Smaug to wander so far off the Tolkien-path but couldn’t deny the amount of fun they had. With Battle, Jackson finally cuts to the chase and delivers the best of the trilogy in a rip-roaring finale the prequel films deserve. The cast are as good as they have been for the entire series, with heartbreaking moments that shall not be disclosed here. My main complaint of the whole film is that Smaug winds up being not much more than a cameo, there’s only so much fire-breathing destruction you can handle in one film. We came here for the big battle, and that’s what we get!
While the film wasn’t shown at 48fps, I can’t help but think of how much better it might look. When downconverted to the traditional 24fps, there are moments of judder that take you out of the suspension of disbelief faster than the super glossy High Frame Rate ever could. I’m also tired of the low-contrast look afforded to the standard frame rate 3D. The film is very grey, and not a lot of fun to look at. Surprisingly, this is the shortest of all of the films, including the Lord of the Rings features. Instead of tacking on a million endings à la Return of the King, Jackson (along with co-writers Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro) mixes things up with plenty of big moments built into the battle to keep the film from feeling drawn out. However, I’ll still be waiting with baited breath for the eventual extended edition to see what was cut.
Make no mistake, nothing stops The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies from becoming what Jackson intends it to be: a grand finale to one of the greatest film franchises in film history.
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00BEZTMFY,054792822X,B00HWWUQWQ,0345538374]