Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage
: Peter Jackson
: M (violence)
A less ponderous and more business-like affair than the two previous films, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is an action-heavy finale that serves up superlative bombast without losing sight of the emphasis on character that sets these movies apart from their peers.
Unlike the previous five Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptations, The Battle of the Five Armies does not open with a pre-title flashback, which speaks perhaps to there being very little left of this world remaining that hasn't been portrayed on screen. Instead we pick up right where the second film left off, with Smaug the dragon about to desolate Laketown.
It's a bravura sequence, which gives way to the build up to the titular skirmish, and then the conflict itself, an intense fusing of the epic and the intimate that offers up innumerable classic Jackson moments.
The sense of The Hobbit trilogy being something of a victory lap has always been offset by the obvious glee Jackson shows when portraying fantasy action - he clearly enjoys pushing the creative boundaries in this field, and really pulls out the stops here, both in the epic battles and the various one-on-one fights that climax the conflict.
There are plenty of new beasties rolled out, including some that should delight (or infuriate) Frank Herbert fans. But the breakout star of the film may be the mountain goat that Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) rides into his final showdown with white orc Azog (Manu Bennett).
Martin Freeman has always been a more appealing lead actor than Elijah Wood, if only for the very English wryness he brings to Bilbo. Although his presence in the titular battle has been beefed up from the book, most of the film's strongest character moments belong to Thorin and Elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace).
Billy Connolly is also a welcome presence as Thorin's cousin Dain, and he delivers perhaps the coolest moment in the film when he headbutts a helmet-adorned orc with his bare forehead.
It's pleasing to see that Jackson didn't let the most persistent criticism of the LOTR trilogy - that it had an overly drawn-out ending - push him towards abruptness in concluding this story. There's an appropriate sense of closure in the denouement, nicely infused with some nods to the coming storm.
Paradoxically, New Zealanders are sometimes a little more ready to be cynical about these films than overseas audiences. We shouldn't let that cloud our view. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is yet another remarkable achievement from Jackson and his collaborators, and functions as a more than fitting conclusion to This Thing of Ours.
From the archives:
Lord of the Rings reviews: