The final piece of the Middle-Earth saga is reasonably fitting, but will never escape the vast shadow of its predecessors.
We rejoin the action exactly where we left off, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s booming dragon Smaug laying a fiery siege on Lake-Town (a town unfortunately wholly comprised of wood). The deceitful greediness of the town’s ‘Master’ (Stephen Fry) is counter-acted by the sheer heroism of expert bowman Bard (Luke Evans). This opening sequence is utterly spectacular as Jackson’s camera expertly soars over the burning ruin of Lake-Town, following Smaug’s every move. It’s a brilliant way to open the film; unfortunately, the next two and a half hours struggle to compare.
The rest of the film is comprised of the eponymous battle, a huge, epic conflict between dwarves, elves, men, goblins, orcs with a few giant bats and worms thrown in, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without the eagles, again begging the question, ‘why not use the eagles from the beginning?’
Whilst only occupying around 20 pages in the book, in usual Peter Jackson style, this battle is drawn out for as long as possible. It is extremely enjoyable to watch; there’s tense showdowns between Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the main orc Azog (Manu Bennett), an extremely aged looking Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) still somehow managing to keep up with the action, and an excellent, albeit brief appearance of Billy Connelly as Thorin’s more stubborn cousin, Dain. However, Jackson adopts an almost computer game aesthetic in many of these sequences, especially when Legolas (Orlando bloom) ridiculously jumps away from falling debris and it looks like something out of a 90’s Nintendo game; this is somewhat off-putting, especially when many other sequences are often spectacular.
With this huge battle raging, and every life of Middle Earth clearly at stake, it still doesn’t really seem to mean much, it’s difficult to feel any strong emotional connection to the characters; none of them really stand out (nothing like our connection to Frodo and Sam in the original trilogy). Jackson poorly attempts to tug at our emotional strings with the romance between the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), a relationship that isn’t even mentioned in Tolkien’s book. Also in the pursue of Tauriel, is Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, a performance which is unbelievably wooden and even comparable to Joey Tribbiani’s acting in ‘Days of Our Lives’.
The one saving grace of Jackson’s finale is the performance of Martin Freeman as the real hero of the film, Bilbo Baggins. He’s not actually on screen as much as you’d like, and you really miss him when he’s not there. Bilbo carries an innocence and resilience that Frodo and Sam maintained in the original trilogy.
Unless an unnecessary cinematic adaptation of Tolkien’s ‘The Silmarilion’ arises in the coming years, (there is talk of a Netflix series) ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ should be Middle-Earth’s last foray onto the silver screen. To say this is a disappointing end to the saga would be slightly harsh, it is an enjoyable watch that is better than the first, but not as good as the second. The Hobbit trilogy will simply never escape the vast shadow of its predecessors, a shadow that has indefinitely changed the landscape of cinema for the better.