It may not be better than its predecessors, and it still doesn’t come close to capturing the majesty of ‘The Lord of The Rings,’ but ‘The
Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ is the most entertaining of its trilogy, and an outlandish piece of visual filmmaking.

Director Peter Jackson loads this final installment with spectacular action set pieces that assault the senses with wall-to-wall computer-
generated effects and dizzying camerawork.

With ‘Five Armies,’ Jackson turns the series into an epic action thriller, forgoing the occasionally bloated, laborious pacing of both ‘An
Unexpected Journey’ and ‘The Desolation of Smaug.’

It’s a credit to Jackson as a visual filmmaker that this film succeeds at all. The screenplay is perhaps the weakest of all the Middle-Earth
films, relying heavily on clichéd action dialog and a scattershot, unfocused plot.

The film opens with the dragon Smaug laying waste to the city of Lake Town. It’s a great way to kick off a series that has bored as often as it
has thrilled.

Bard, a man of Lake Town, scurries across rooftops as the beast rips (and burns) his way through the city.

Do we really care about Lake Town or Bard and his family? Not really. But Jackson’s energetic direction fuels the sequence, and many that
follow.

Despite being set up as the chief antagonist through the first two films, Smaug is out of the picture minutes into ‘Five Armies,’ granting
head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield control of the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarven kingdom of Erebor.

Keeping the mountain, however, proves to be an even more daunting task. The now displaced Lake Town population seeks refuge, and the
Elves of The Woodland Realm show up to reclaim their ancient treasures which also reside within the mountain.

The Elven army is a particularly fun element in the film, moving in combat with the uniform synchronization of a flock of birds.

Unfortunately for all, Thorin has fallen into a gold lust (called dragon-sickness), having become obsessed with hoarding his newly obtained
treasure. The transformation of this character from noble warrior to greedy miser is handled abruptly, to say the least. Jackson also goes
overboard with slow-motion sequences where Oakenshield speaks in a deep voice and threatening manner that recalls Smaug from the
last film. Thank you for bludgeoning that metaphor into our collective skulls, PJ.

On the other hand, Thorin represents the only character with a significant arc in the film, and Richard Armitage’s performance has been one
of the highlights of the trilogy.

Unfortunately, the best bit of casting in the series (Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins) is once again underutilized. It’s a shame that a film
series called ‘The Hobbit’ rarely revolved around its main character, especially when Freeman is so perfect in the role. Here, Bilbo is
relegated to the background for most of the film, with only a few brief and endearing sequences to shine.

There are also tangential sequences involving Gandalf and Legolas that border on excessive, and hurt the narrative focus of the film.

When all the pieces assemble for the titular battle, the film becomes a full-on action extravaganza. Jackson throws restraint to the wind and
unleashes an endless series of battles, brawls and skirmishes.

And although character and plot suffer for it, the entertainment factor does reach a level of suitably guilty pleasure.

Jackson uses CG with reckless abandon, and the result is a film that could be classified as animated as much as it is live-action. The heavy
computer effects (in tandem with the digital photography) have given the entire trilogy an artificial look, but with these massive battles,
Jackson is able to exercise total freedom and enthusiasm in staging the over-the-top, ridiculous action.

The battle contains just about everything one could hope for, with Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Men, bats, eagles, trolls, giant worm things and
more.

If it seems like all I’m talking about is action, well, that’s really all there is. If you loved the character, drama, and poetic dialog of ‘The Lord of
the Rings,’ ‘Five Armies’ will most certainly disappoint. If you just want some wild action and superlative visuals, then you might just enjoy
this one.

One of my favorite sequences stars Legolas as he uses wild acrobatics to fight a giant orc on a crumbling tower.

I can’t say this is a good film by any stretch, but at least it drops the pretention and allows itself to have some dumb fun. Not to mention, it
has the shortest running time of the series.

As a Tolkien fan, I can understand if this assessment comes as a massive disappointment, but the series was a disappointment from the
very beginning, so it’s really no surprise. At least on some level it works, even if it’s far below what we expect from Jackson and Middle-
Earth.

The visual effects (overused or not) are very good, as is the production design and fluid camerawork (Which is enhanced by the regrettably
maligned high frame rate photography).

Composer Howard Shore’s contributions also can’t be understated. His music has been one of the few elements in these films that comes
close to matching the mastery of ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and is once again thrilling, emotional and thematically dense. This is intelligent,
passionate scoring, something not at all common in blockbuster films.

My overall feeling on ‘The Hobbit’ as a series is one of indifference. It had a great cast and portrayed many of the book’s most iconic scenes
with inspiration, but the expansion into three films sank what could have been a fun film or two. Call it greed or ambition, the films were
bloated and unfocused, and never came close to living up to their beloved source material.

‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ is more fun than the last two films, but still isn’t good enough to earn a genuine recommendation.

At least the series was consistent in its inconsistency. Yet again, the latest Hobbit film earns…

* * ½
(out of four)
THE HOBBIT:
THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Directed by: Peter Jackson

Written by: Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter
Jackson & Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard
Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Andrew Lesnie

Released: December 17, 2014; 144 Minutes