The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The final instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy is a brooding two-and-a-half-hour meditation on the futility of war, the redemptive power of friendship and the unbridled joy of watching gigantic monsters get crushed by falling debris. Playing more like a seamless continuation of the previous films in the series than a true sequel, The Battle of the Five Armies is gloriously over-the-top, delightfully idiosyncratic popcorn-entertainment of the highest calibre.
The film follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he tries to prevent his friend Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), king of the dwarves, from succumbing to an evil curse that is infecting his mind and causing him to turn on those he mistakenly believes are trying to steal his treasure. As elves and men form an alliance to topple Thorin, gruesome orc Azog (Manu Bennett) leads an army to capture the Lonely Mountain and kill anyone who stands in his way.
In the decade since The Return of the King, audiences have grown accustomed to seeing incredible action sequences on an epic scale. The Battle of the Five Armies sets a new standard for visual spectacle. As entire cities crumble and burn, Jackson gleefully revels in the destruction, stacking climactic set-piece upon climactic set-piece until the viewer is almost giddy from the carnage. Moments of broad comedy featuring the slimy Alfrid Lickspittle (Ryan Gage), presumably intended to dilute the violence, only serve to give the bloodletting a manic, unhinged quality. After watching a magical stag behead four orcs, it becomes clear that Jackson hasn’t quite left the splatter-horror of Braindead behind him.
For all the incredible CGI in the film, the most striking visual is Freeman choking back tears. Freeman imbues his performance with a warmth and humanity that’s otherwise lacking in all the talk of ancient birthrights, wizards and goblins, and his scenes with Ian McKellen and Armitage leave a lump in the throat. Although he occasionally feels like a supporting character in his own film, Freeman’s Bilbo is the emotional foundation upon which all else rests, and without him the audience would struggle to care about which side emerged victorious from the corpse-strewn battlefield.
The Battle of the Five Armies is a triumphant end to Peter Jackson’s exploration of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It may be overlong and action-heavy, but it’s an extraordinary example of visionary filmmaking on a blockbuster scale.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is released nationwide on 12th December 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies here: