The final battle for Middle England
Almost 13 years to the day since director Peter Jackson first transported us to Middle Earth, the Oscar-winning New Zealand filmmaker completes his tour of duty of JRR Tolkien’s novels.
It has been a long and sometimes gruelling slog since The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.
Giddy expectation has crashed and burned, with only a few smoldering embers for ardent fans to stoke in the hope that Jackson might redeem himself with this concluding chapter of The Hobbit trilogy.
Alas, The Battle Of Five Armies bids farewell to the hobbits, dwarfs and elves with a whimper rather than a bang.
The script occasionally deviates from Tolkien’s source text, contriving one superfluous and protracted interlude with elvish allies Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) to provide a flimsy bridge between the two series.
Jackson’s mastery of action sequences is beyond doubt – the two set pieces, which bookend this film, are executed with flair, precision and a miasma of impressive digital effects.
However, all that technical sound and fury without comparable emotional heft makes for wearisome viewing.
We should be thankful this concluding jaunt is the shortest of the six: a mere 144 minutes.
The company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), including Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), watches in horror as the mighty dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) incinerates Laketown.
As the flames rise, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) prepares to launch the last remaining black arrow at the beast.
His children seek cover with elf warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and badly injured dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
Nearby, the Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and sniveling henchman Alfrid (Ryan Gage) make their escape in a barge laden with gold.
At Dol Guldur, Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) escapes from the clutches of the Necromancer (Cumberbatch again) and beats a hasty path to the mountains, where various tribes will converge.
“You must summon our friends, bird and beast – the battle for the mountain is about to begin!” bellows the wizard.
As the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance, Thorin sacrifices everything in his selfish pursuit of the mythical Arkenstone.
The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies follows a similar template to earlier pictures, resolving plot strands including the forbidden romance of Tauriel and Kili as the blood flows in brutal fight sequences.
Comical interludes with Alfrid seem to jar with the darker tone that pervades this chapter, including the inevitable loss of at least one hero in the melee.
Freeman’s performance provides a flimsy emotional fulcrum while co-stars battle with their characters’ demons or hordes of bloodthirsty orcs.
As the end credits roll, accompanied by an original song from Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in The Lord Of The Rings saga, we feel a sense of relief rather than sadness.
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, James Nesbitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Billy Connolly. Director: Peter Jackson.
Released: December 12 (UK & Ireland)