The Hob­bit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

End of the road

SFX - - Cinema -

Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

12A | 144 min­utes Direc­tor: Peter Jack­son Cast: Martin Free­man, Ian McKellen, Richard Ar­mitage, Luke Evans, Evan­ge­line Lilly, Or­lando Bloom, Ai­dan Turner, Billy Con­nolly

Of all the Hob­bit

tril­ogy, The Battle Of The Five Armies was ar­guably Peter Jack­son’s big­gest chal­lenge. With most of the stand­out mo­ments from the book al­ready out of the way ( Gol­lum, the spi­ders, the bar­rel chase, the nat­ter with Smaug), this was a film based around a skir­mish many con­sider a foot­note that takes place af­ter the real story is done. How could Jack­son pos­si­bly base an en­tire epic movie on such nar­row foun­da­tions? Surely this would be where the folly of split­ting a brief source novel into three movies would be well and truly ex­posed?

We needn’t have wor­ried. While it’s not up there with his Tolkien cy­cle’s best, this is a fit­ting end ( or should that be mid­dle?) to Jack­son’s saga, one that man­ages to mix block­buster spec­ta­cle with some in­ti­mate, ten­der char­ac­ter mo­ments. That it works at all is down to two key film­mak­ing de­ci­sions: mak­ing sure this is the short­est jaunt to Mid­dle- earth yet ( there’s no room for un­nec­es­sary filler here), and hold­ing back the end of Smaug’s story to open this movie, even though dra­matic logic tells you it should have been wrapped up last time out.

It’s a choice that proves bang on the money, be­cause while it left us with an un­sat­is­fy­ing cliffhanger for The Des­o­la­tion Of Smaug, the dragon’s as­sault on Lake- town opens this third film with the killer hook it needs. With­out wast­ing time on any kind of flash­back or pro­logue, we’re launched straight into the sil­ver­tongued lizard’s fiery bomb­ing raid, as the soon- to- be- for­mer res­i­dent of the Lonely Moun­tain lays waste to the town be­low. It’s a won­der­ful se­quence ( al­beit one that’s over too quickly) that in­stantly seizes your at­ten­tion, even though it feels like it’s a left­over from a dif­fer­ent movie – it’s like open­ing The Em­pire Strikes Back with Luke Sky­walker blow­ing up the Death Star.

And there’s the co­nun­drum. Had the dragon not been in The Battle Of Five Armies, the movie wouldn’t have hung to­gether. Once Smaug de­parts ( and surely that can’t still be a spoiler af­ter nearly 80 years), we’re launched into nearly an hour of pos­tur­ing, ar­gu­ing and re­flect­ing as var­i­ous armies get ready for war. ( We know they’re get­ting ready for war be­cause they say so. Many times.) It’s an ef­fec­tive crescendo to battle, but in a film that’s ef­fec­tively one long fi­nal act, it would have made for a pretty medi­ocre open­ing.

When things do fi­nally kick off, the fight proves worth the wait. With sev­eral fac­tions camped out­side the newly freed Dwarf strong­hold of Ere­bor, the scale is pitched some­where be­tween the tense siege of Helm’s Deep and the sprawl­ing scrap of Pe­len­nor Fields. Okay, there’s a lit­tle bit of An­chor­man 2 to the way more and more groups join the battle – you al­most ex­pect Wes Mantouth and his Chan­nel 9 Evening News team to trash talk an Orc – but it’s mar­shalled ef­fort­lessly by Jack­son, who pulls all the dis­parate el­e­ments to­gether in a way few di­rec­tors could match.

The battle is end­lessly in­ven­tive, with the Orcs, Elves, Men, Dwarves and Ea­gles dis­play­ing nu­mer­ous in­ge­nious tac­tics, and rid­ing enough steeds to sus­tain pretty much ev­ery verse of “Old MacDon­ald”. Also, Jack­son knows when to punc­tu­ate the car­nage with a gag or a ten­der mo­ment, mak­ing this the an­tithe­sis of Michael Bay’s hu­mour­less, con­fus­ing Trans­form­ers: Age Of Ex­tinc­tion.

Yet de­spite the war­mon­ger­ing ti­tle, fo­cus­ing on the ac­tion would be do­ing The Battle Of The Five Armies a dis­ser­vice. Even at its most talky, it’s com­pelling stuff, reap­ing the re­wards of char­ac­ters built- up over two- and- a- bit movies

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