Of all the eye-popping, pulse-racing spectacles that range across the six films of the Middle Earth Opus that is The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, perhaps none is more awe-inspiring than director Peter Jackson’s dedication and passion for these projects. More than the CGI or famous source material, his willingness to commit to these stories is an accomplishment almost too extraordinary to fully comprehend, especially standing on the edge of goodbye to the series with its final installment, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
In some ways, it is difficult to separate the piece from the whole: The Battle of the Five Armies is part of the epic, a film that cannot stand on its own, yet it is that interconnectedness that contributes to its success. The film begins with no recap or melodic voice over by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett); Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) has left the Lonely Mountain, bathing Laketown in fire. Before the title card even appears, the loathsome worm has been destroyed by Bard (Luke Evans) and his trusty black arrow. All should be well. Except that corruption of power, greed, and longstanding feuds poison dwarves, elves, and men alike. Thorin Oakenshield, the newly recrowned dwarf King Under the Mountain is most affected, much to the dismay of his band’s sole hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). On the cusp of war, the three armies must unite to fend off murderous orcs. Commence battle extraordinaire.
If the battle scenes of The Two Towers and Return of the King are your favorite parts of these films, then The Battle of the Five Armies will be heaven. Essentially one long battle scene which showcases its major characters (including the ingenuity of Orlando Bloom’s ever crafty Legolas), the movie luxuriates in many aspects of what is exceptional about all these films–fantastic action and effects, epic scale, and neatly-knotted narrative. What this film lacks, perhaps more than many of the others, is the title character. Why this series works on the page and on the screen is much due to J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of the hobbits as the focal point. In his vast fantasy realm, the halflings, with their love of food and disdain of adventure, ground the narrative. They are the audience’s relatable everyman. Bilbo’s scant screen time, while narratively necessary, is a reminder of why Hobbits are so key to the story.
The Battle of the Five Armies is neither the best nor the worst of the series. It stays safely in the middle and is a fine note on which to exit.