Bilbo and the company of dwarves continue their journey to its epic conclusion.
Peter Jackson brings his adaptation of the Hobbit to the end with a fairly predictable bang, and it’s definitely my favourite entry in this middle-earthian trilogy.
To some degree, that’s down to the fact that this movie is by far the furthest removed from Tolkien’s original. Fans may baulk but this was a necessary step in expanding the world (and the running time) and the result is that many of the events, plot-lines and major characters are entirely new.
That means more surprises and much less sense of being slavishly bound to a text. Thorin’s story, for example, is massively beefed up and gives the film an overly theatrical but emotional core that’s far from Tolkien’s fairly frivolous fantasy.
But the biggest and most successful change definitely comes at the end, when the action really kicks off. Famously in the book, Bilbo is knocked unconscious early in the titular Battle of those Five Armies and misses out on all of the sword and slicing stuff. That’s not how Jackson works.
Instead, he mounts an extended 30 minute mini-movie, complete with the familiar massed ranks of CGI armies which quickly becomes fatiguing. But the addition of a couple of characters allows for another smaller battle within that framework, which is genuinely thrilling and breathless stuff.
I have to say I was shocked and delighted by the focus on this encounter – many large-scale movies feel the need to flit from one major character to another in cross-cutting chaos that removes any sense of real peril. But Jackson stays razor focussed on this ultimate encounter, and crafts some of the best set pieces I’ve seen this year.
So the action is strong and Martin Freeman nails the few dramatic scenes he’s given (especially moments with Richard Armitage) but it’s not all flawless. That cross-species love story makes an unwelcome return and an emotional loss from the books is milked just a little too much. And whoever thought the film needed a painfully irritating character like Ryan Gage’s Alfrid needs their head examined.
All things considered, The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t a classic in the mould of Fellowship but it is a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish and also has the massive advantage of a streamlined running time (if you can say that about 144 minutes) and a keen sense of when to finally end the story.
It’s been a long road for Peter Jackson and this is a fitting conclusion to one of the most startling cinematic achievements in modern memory.