The three-part saga centered upon title character Bilbo Baggins reaches a furious finale in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
Following 2012’s “An Unexpected Journey” and 2013’s “The Desolation of Smaug,” “The Battle of the Five Armies” is the most action-saturated of the lot.
In addition to the film’s five armies, various combinations of these battling creatures — dwarves, elves, wizards, humans, gnarled and dangerous orcs accompanied by their wolfish wargs and giant war-beasts — continuously engage in smaller skirmishes.
The sprawling confrontations and many sideline fights in “Five Armies” equal overkill. A few quieter, character-revealing scenes provide some respite. The demonstrations of love, loyalty and friendship that arise in those scenes remind us why the dwarves of Erebor and select other characters commit themselves to their seemingly impossible quests.
“Five Armies” drops moviegoers straight into the continuing “The Hobbit” story. “Hobbit” fans need no introduction to the feisty dwarves, Gandalf the wise and powerful wizard or Bilbo, the big-footed little fellow who’s the hero of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” the classic novel set in that mythological time and place, Middle-earth.
The movie begins exactly where last year’s “The Desolation of Smaug” stopped. Smaug — the treasure-loving dragon who has occupied the dwarves’ gold- and jewel-stocked Lonely Mountain for generations — flies from the mountain for the purpose of burning Lake-town and its human community of fishermen into oblivion.
“The Desolation of Smaug” features lots of Smaug, a fire-spouting, leering dragon given a voice most menacing by Benedict Cumberbatch. The British actor is a likely Oscar nominee for his performance in “The Imitation Game.” It’s disappointing that he makes just a cameo appearance in “Five Armies,” massively destructive though the cameo is.
Smaug and his merciless assault on Lake-town get “Five Armies” off to a spectacular start. The dragon makes multiple flyovers over the town, blasting streams of flame with each pass. As he prepares to strike, the throat at the base of his long lizard neck glows orange.
After the dragon has done just about his worst, the attacks on the good creatures of Middle-earth just keep coming. Waves of butt-ugly, single-purposed orcs march against a small band of dwarves who’ve reclaimed Lonely Mountain, the elves and an army of dwarves, led by the blustery General Dain Ironfoot, who’s unmistakably played by Scottish comic Billy Connolly.
Just who will join the Lonely Mountain dwarves in the battle becomes a big question. The negotiations — among hardheaded dwarves, the aloof elf leader of Rivendell and comparatively ordinary humans — turn into political drama.
It’s not giving away much to reveal that Smaug is indeed slain, thanks to the brave persistence of a human, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans). The dragon’s death allows the dwarves and their leader, Dwarf Lord Thorin Oakenshield (the fierce Richard Armitage), to dwell dragon-free in Lonely Mountain.
In no time, however, Thorin is gripped by “dragon sickness.” He’s obsessed with the vast mounds of gold around him. He further obsesses about retrieving the still unaccounted for precious gem that is the heart of the mountain — the Arkenstone. Thorin, his mind clouded in the fog of greed, grows unfit to lead the dwarves. As Middle-earth’s fate looms, the brave, if anxious, Bilbo steps up with a plan. British actor Martin Freeman returns as the resourceful hobbit to the rescue. Within this least amusing of “The Hobbit” movies, it’s a serious and thoughtful performance by Freeman, aptly tuned to Middle-earth’s calamitous situation.
A few other cast members effectively exploit the rare expressive opportunities they’re allowed in the action-heavy “Five Armies.” Evangeline Lilly, for one, playing elf warrior Tauriel, continues her forbidden romance with the dwarf, Kili. Aidan Turner, a Kili, and Lilly express their characters’ yearning as Tauriel and Kili endure love in a time of war.
On balance, “The Hobbit” trilogy — three films assembled by director Peter Jackson and his vast team from one Tolkien novel and the author’s extensive notes — doesn’t outshine Jackson’s earlier adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings.” Because Tolkien conceived “The Lord of the Rings” as a trilogy, Jackson and his screenwriters had three books of “Rings” material to adapt. In execution, each film in the series out-shown the one before.
Unlike the “Rings” trilogy, storytelling in “The Hobbit” films runs thin, especially in the “Five Armies.” A serious but not fatal shortcoming. “The Hobbit” trilogy remains an epic depiction of characters, fantastical creatures, armies and battles. It’s worth a sixth visit to Middle-earth.