“Farewell, good thief” – everything must come to an end, and so it is for the second trilogy by Peter Jackson which transports us back to Middle Earth one last time. It is the epic finale to Bilbo’s unexpected adventure in the company of the dwarves and their leader, Thorin Oakenshield. This last chapter is marked by an stark bleakness – forget the greenery of The Shire, here be dragons (quite literally). Even more than in The Return of the King, The Hobbit reminds us that it is not only monsters who succumb to darkness, but also heroes. There is great tragedy in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and the spectacle of Jackson’s battle sequences doesn’t spare to show the horrors that war brings.
After the climatic ending at the end of The Desolation of Smaug, the third film starts exactly where we left off. Smaug destroys Lake Town and burns it to the ground – only Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) dares stand against him. Thanks to a black arrow which had been passed down to him by his ancestors, he succeeds in slaying Smaug. The survivors of Lake Town, headed by Bard, seek refuge in the ruins of Dale. Back in Dol Guldur, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is rescued by the White Council who can no longer deny that Sauron has returned. The spirit of the Dark Lord is banished to the East where, as we all know, he is going to regain its strength. Fearing for the future of Middle Earth, Gandalf journeys to Erebor where Thorin (Richard Armitage), now King under the Mountain, has succumbed to the dragon sickness. The Arkenstone, the gem that would bestow upon him the power to rule, is still gone. In his madness he starts suspecting his company of treason – no one is to be trusted, except perhaps Bilbo (Martin Freeman). Meanwhile, King Thranduil of Mirkwood (Lee Pace) reaches Dale with an elven army; he is ready to attack Thorin in his stronghold in order to reclaim what is owed to him. Similarly, Bard wants the King Under the Mountain to honour his word and give the people of Lake Town enough treasure to rebuild what they have lost. Thranduil and Bard strike an alliance. However, Thorin sternly rejects any peace talks. In secret he summoned his cousin Dain of the Iron Hills (Billy Connolly), to come to his rescue. As the opposing forces rally for battle, Azog (Manu Bennett) joins the battlefield commanding an army of orcs bred for a single purpose: war.
As promised by the title, this final chapter offers a breathtaking battle between dwarves, elves, men and orcs. It’s epic and huge in scale – it takes up more than half of the film – still, Jackson never repeats himself and the audience remains hooked to the screen throughout the film. The fighting doesn’t only happen on the battlefield and Thorin faces the greatest challenge of all: he witnessed his grandfather succumbing to the dragon sickness and the fear of becoming the same has made him blind to the truth that the treasure has took hold of his heart. Armitage infuses all the complexity of a tragic sovereign in this character – he is both Macbeth after the witches foretold his future, and Richard III going to the extremes to secure his power. It is a shame that all this human stories got lost in the overly-digital scenery of The Hobbit movies. For once, I believe the good old orcs of the Lord of the Rings were far more menacing than these digital creations. The effects for some of the creatures (e.g. Thranduil’s elk) are also overdone in CGI, which makes the whole viewing extremely distracting. Nonetheless, one cannot but wonder at the grandness of the universe that Jackson and his team created from a set of books which were deemed unfilmable for a long while. It is undeniable that these six films – The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – were a true labour of love. LOTR fans will certainly enjoy the little connections between the two sets of films, and those new generations who will now watch them will do so with a whole new perspective.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the grand finale the Hobbit trilogy deserved even if not on the same level as The Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will be released in UK cinemas on Dec 12th.