It doesn’t take very long while watching “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” to get the sense that this was the film Director Peter Jackson has been itching to make all along.
Sure, from a financial standpoint it made plenty of sense to milk “The Hobbit” fan base for three films, but this trilogy has clearly stumbled from a creative standpoint in stretching out a story that realistically just needed two films to tell.
And with all the bothersome stage-setting, extended song and dance numbers and dull exposition out of the way, Jackson gets to focus on what he does best — creating lavish, sprawling action scenes that few blockbusters can match.
Picking up from the cliffhanger from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition) (Blu-ray + Digital HD),” the fire-spewing dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is angered after the dwarves successfully drive him out of their homeland Erebor and is taking his vengeance out on the people of Lake-town.
Meanwhile, the dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage, “Into the Storm (Blu-ray + DVD)”) is reveling in his reclaimed treasure at the expense of his fellow dwarves, his pledge to assist his Lake-town ally Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and raising the ire of the elves by retaining valuable elven heirlooms hoarded in Eerebor by Smaug.
Only the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman in his strongest work in the role yet), is willing to do anything to prevent a major tragedy from occurring.
Unbeknown to Thorin, the dark lord Sauron is planning his own assault against Erebor and dispatches his army, led by Azog (Manu Bennett, “Arrow: Season 2 [Blu-ray]”) to conqueror it.
Sauron first has to deal with the captive Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, who impressively always provides a sense of dignity and importance even while bashing orcs), whose disappearance has raised concerns with his allies Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee).
Jackson and his fellow co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guilermo del Toro still seem a bit too preoccupied with connecting “The Hobbit” trilogy to “The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King Extended Editions) [Blu-ray]” saga staging significant battles and action spotlights around characters who would be more prominently featured in “LOTR.”
Character development is still somewhat spotty — Lee Pace’s elven king Thranduil remains more complicated and engaging than any character besides Thorin.
The subplot between dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, “Lost: The Complete Collection Seasons 1-6 (Blu-ray)“) never manages to feel anything more than forced for the sake of tacking on a romantic subplot.
Conveying the book’s humor also remains elusive for the screenwriters as the jokes frequently fall flat and feel especially ill-timed amidst the more serious action-heavy scenes. These problems have been consistent throughout the trilogy though so it’s hardly a new problem and aren’t as glaring due to the extended battle scenes.
It’s here where Jackson shines. The films have been building to this epic confrontation and as the five armies converge it’s a wondrous action spectacle that’s worth the ticket price culminating in a well-realized battle on icy mountaintops.
Jackson’s prequel saga has failed to live up to the expectations of his adoring fanbase in much the same fashion George Lucas encountered with his “Star Wars” prequels [“Star Wars Trilogy Episodes I-III (Blu-ray + DVD)]. Similarly “Five Armies” gives Jackson his “Revenge of the Sith” moment with a spectacular finale that recaptures magic and sense of awe of the original trilogy and leaves you anxious to revisit the saga all over again.
Rating: 8 out of 10
**Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures