Cast:

Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Director:

Peter Jackson

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Rating:

M (violence)

Running time:

144 mins

Verdict: A big finish, but a sightly empty one

And so it ends, with a hiss and a roar. Actually, many hisses and many roars - those from that dragon from the previous instalment going down in flames at the beginning. Then multiple orcs, goblins, bats, and trolls at the end, all joining in on the Middle-earth bar fight that gives this film its title and its 45-minute all-action centrepiece.

That battle only gets mentioned in passing in J.R.R. Tolkien's book. As depicted here, it's not exactly the stuff of bedtime stories.

On the Middle-earth battle league, this one is right up there with the ones of the previous trilogy.

It's also a lot funnier too, whether's it's King Kong-sized trolls head-butting their way through fortress walls, or seeing a famous comedian enter the fray upon the back of a kunekune.

Watch:
Interview with Sir Peter Jackson
Interview with Orlando Bloom

There's plenty of the Pythonesque splat-stick fun which Jackson delivered in his early works evident here, and some in-jokes too: "They've taken Stone St," shouts an extra in the panicked city of Dale (Google it).

That frenetic fun factor helps keeps this trotting along, lessening the deadening effect of some of the characters' over-stretched personal crises. That includes Thorin's, who, having crowned himself King Under the Mountain due to Smaug's exit spends way too much of the movie doing his paranoid voices-in-his-head megalomaniac thing due to the corrupting influence of all that gold.

Likewise the not-in-the-book doomed love between handsome dwarf Fili (Aidan Turner) and cute gal-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) might have tried to bring some Aragorn-Arwen ardour to this trilogy, but it ends up just feeling like one artificial, nailed-on subplot too many.

Yes, this is the shortest of the Middle-earth movies and it certainly has the most exciting beginning - we're dropped right into Smaug's Laketown blitz - of all of them.

But for its relative brevity, it still feels like something of a slog either side of that great battle. On a technical note, though I hadn't minded the high frame rate 3D versions of the other films, it was irksome on the Imax screening I attended - in the daylight scenes set in the great outdoors the landscapes got lost in the glare of the foreground detail.

Still, there are some spectacular sequences without any deja vu attached. Like Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman seeing off Sauron and his ghostly cronies like a sort of Middle-earth martial arts Avengers (though you do wonder if in this movie they solved the problem of disguising McKellen's advancing years by having him beaten up on a regular basis here).

And when Thorin faces his orc nemesis on a frozen lake, it's a heck of a fight scene which seems to say, "Take that, Game of Thrones".

But it's a movie of much dashing and bashing about, followed by an amble back home to where it all began by its title character who largely gets sidelined in much of this, as characters with better skillsets - running up collapsing masonry, riding mountain goats up cliffs - take centre stage.

Which leaves it as a movie with something of an empty centre, even if Martin Freeman's Bilbo was a solid grounding presence throughout the previous instalments.

All of that makes this something less than the supposed "defining chapter" of Jackson's time in Middle-earth as it's been billed. But action-wise , it certainly goes out with a very pleasing bang. As I've said before, there was little risk the Hobbit films could be better movies than the Lord of the Rings films, but they sure have been better theme parks.


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