Thirteen years (and several billion dollars) after it first appeared on our screens, Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga has seemingly come to an end.
It may offend the more delicate among us to discuss Film in terms of grosses and bums on seats, but even in the age of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was still a financial force to be reckoned with.
While its certain to bring in more than enough filthy lucre to keep its producers stocked with lembas bread for the rest of their lives – its predecessor managed a nifty $958 million – how does The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies hold up as a work of cinema?
From Smaug the Magnificent fiery descent on Laketown to its eponymous culmination, The Battle of the Five Armies certainly isn’t lacking in scope: with a poster that promises ‘The Defining Chapter’, Jackson & Co. aren’t about to let anyone down on the action.
Hordes of vicious Orcs, golden Elves, and iron-hewn Dwarves collide on the desolate plains beyond the Misty Mountain, but, however perfectly rendered, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s in the build-up that Five Armies has its most difficult task, namely bringing together and paying off the innumerable plot threads from the previous two films.
With Smaug summarily dispensed with – if you’ll excuse the 75-year-old spoiler – after a conflagratory face-to-face with Bard the Bowman (Dracula Untold’s Luke Evans) atop a flaming bell-tower, the film quickly turns to Bilbo, Thorin, Kili, and the rest of their (mostly superfluous) party. Thorin has the so-called Dragon Sickness, spending his days wandering through mountains of gold, pining for the legendary Arkenstone, and generally giving Richard Armitage an excuse to glower at people. As such, it’s up to Bilbo to prevent all-out war when the imperious Thranduil (Lee Pace) arrives at the gates to claim his due.
Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is still a captive of the all-too-familiar Necromancer – as, by the way, is Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), who almost immediately vanishes from the film never to be heard from again.
Also, Elven maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is conflicted over her feelings for the aforementioned Kili (Aidan Turner) – again, he’s one of twelve, so you can forgive the confusion – while Legolas (an icy, still cheekbone-y Orlando Bloom) is clearly feeling the sting of her rejection.
If this feels like a lot of narrative to convey, that’s because it is: The Battle of the Five Armies offers story in abundance, as well as spectacle.
There’s only so much you can say about a work of fiction that already looms so large in the collective consciousness of the audience: whether or not they’ve read the book or seen any of the previous films, The Hobbit is a megalith, one that does not easily come apart for the sake of analysis.
There’s just so much of it, so many characters: Stephen Fry’s grimy Master of Laketown; cut-price comedy Wormtongue, Alfrid (Ryan Gage); Billy Connolly – yes, that one – as a belligerent, shock-topped Dwarven commander; even Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) get in on the action.
It’s the sort of film you can write a thesis on, though it’s hard to know what the angle would be. There ‘s one highly effective nightmarish sequence where a sickly-skinned, photo-negative Galadriel faces off against a seizure-inducing figure of evil; another that resolves a major point of conflict by subjecting the character in question to hallucinations including an audio montage.
There are the wonderful small touches – Bilbo and the acorn, the foreshadowing of Saruman’s folly – that almost make you forget about the stuff that doesn’t work; like the weightless CGI Azog the Defiler (an invisible Manu Bennett).
While more tech than heart, The Battle of the Five Armies works its canonical tragedies for all their worth; showing every agonized moment on its character’s faces, even as the 12A rating forces it to avoid the fatal wounds. Kids will enjoy it for the grandness and “humor”; adults may appreciate the completion of Bilbo’s arc.
Martin Freeman, meanwhile, remains the franchise’s MVP, capable of bringing humor and pathos with just the furrowing of his brow. Ian McKellen is cruelly underutilized in his final performance as Gandalf, but at least we can hope it got him away from the green screen for a bit.
With talk already circulating about The Silmarillion, one of Tolkien’s great histories of the fictional world he created, it’s possible we might find ourselves back in Middle Earth before too long. That being said, there’s a definite sense of culmination to The Hobbit, of a story coming full circle.
A beast of massive contradictions, the trilogy is much like the dragon at the heart of it, sitting over a vast treasure: mighty, seemingly impervious to harm, and, most of all, it’s not going anywhere, whether you like it or not. In the end, all we can say is “quel marth”.
Who knows what the Extended Edition may bring.