In the third and final part of the Hobbit trilogy, Bilbo and his band of dwarves have to deal with a vengeful dragon on their way to taking back – and defending – their lost home.
Director: Peter Jackson
Staring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Manu Bennett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee
Run Time: 144 Minutes
Release Date: 17 December (US)/Out now (Europe)
Whether Peter Jackson likes it or not, or wants it or not, The Battle of the Five Armies was ways going to be compared to Return of the King. The end of a trilogy, the battle-filled culmination of a story. But whereas King – and indeed the whole Lord of the Rings movie triumvirate – was criticised in some quarters for removing certain elements from its story, the third and final part of the Hobbit story – and again, the whole trilogy – has taken creative license and total embellishment to a new level.
The introduction of Tauriel and Legolas and role enlargement of Azog meant more story for Jackson to bring to the screen, on top of what Tolkien had already written for them. It’s easy to wonder that if those character choices weren’t made, would we even have a third film to talk about? The original plan for The Hobbit was a two-film deal, with the knowledge that the source material had plenty to fill running time. But following the overwhelming critical and commercial success of the Rings trilogy, no-one was going to deny Peter Jackson the chance to recreate his Tolkien trilogy magic with a prequel set some 60 years before Frodo Baggins and his fellowship set out to destroy a ring.
But before Frodo came Bilbo; a character who is truly one of a kind in Tolkien’s works. There really is no-one else like him, and in Martin Freeman, Jackson cast the perfect actor to play him. It took one viewing of An Unexpected Journey to see that it was a role he was born to play, and one viewing of The Desolation of Smaug to reaffirm that belief. And while here sees a more understated Bilbo, the emotion that Freeman puts into and gets out of the character is magnificent. We also get a little peek into the slowly-growing influence that the Ring is having – and will later have in the (previous) future trilogy – on Bilbo.
Freeman has truly shone during the trilogy and become undoubtedly the star of the show. However here he is not alone, as Richard Armitage finally delivers the king’s performance he has been threatening to bring for the first two movies. Thorin Oakenshield has always been the Aragorn of The Hobbit tale, so it is particularly fitting that, much like Viggo Mortensen took centre stage in the final part of the original trilogy, Armitage steps forward and delivers a performance that Oakenshield’s struggles need and deserves. Watching Armitage, in particular, during Thorin’s rapid decline from trusted leader to obsessed madman, and the golden floor epiphany scene, is a joy and really adds a level of emotion to the film.
Elsewhere, Evangeline Lilly is really given a chance to come into her own as Tauriel. The character’s creation for the film series caused controversy with many, but Lilly has put everything into the role over the course of the previous two films. Here, she really holds her own in scenes with Lee Pace and Orlando Bloom, something that shouldn’t shock anyone who saw her body of work over six years of Lost. Speaking of Bloom, his inclusion in these films was another bone of contention, given the absence of the character in the book. This clearly doesn’t mean much to the actor, with Bloom delivering another steady performance as he always has.
A staple of Peter Jackson’s movies has always been CGI and cutting-edge technology and it once again, to a certain degree, takes centre stage here. Unfortunately that isn’t necessarily a good thing. While Legolas’ oliphaunt-riding adventures were ridiculous yet spectacular, an attempt to give him a new moment here while battling Borg fall firmly in the ridiculous camp. Sometimes less is definitely more. Regrettably, the same can also be said when it comes to the CGI employed in the huge final war; in amongst the close-up shots of our heroes (and villains) doing battle, some of the computer-generated war falls short.
The film’s other main issue comes, ultimately, in it’s own creation. As stated, the original plan was for two films, with the third later added when Jackson came on board as director. To just tell the story as Tolkien envisioned would have required just the two movies. The addition of the third led to the aforementioned increased roles and character creation (there’s that creative license). Consequently, this leaves the film with the feeling of being padded out to reach a conclusion. Take out all scenes with Legolas, Tauriel and Azog, for instance, and what are you left with? As well as a more true-to-source outing, it would be much shorter as well. Speaking of which, with a run time of just under two and a half hours, it does feel that Jackson has been a lot more frugal with his scenes than he was when putting Lord of the Rings together. It shows in some of the scenes as well; Smaug’s story is wrapped up inside an action-packed first fifteen minutes, while the growing presence of the Necromancer in Desolation of Smaug is written off remarkably quickly. It does give us a delightful scene with Gandalf, Hugo Weaving’s Elrond, Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel and Christopher Lee’s Saruman.
All in all, the Hobbit trilogy does stand up well against the original series, though it never quite manages to get out from its shadow. A fair opening in An Unexpected Journey, a massive improvement with The Desolation of Smaug, and now a wonderful finale.
Yes, there are a few issues, but a much cleaner ending than that of Return of the King, plus sparking individual performances ensure that the trilogy ends on a high.